Sunday, July 17, 2011

Another Side of Tel Aviv – Average Dining Experience at HaTraklin

HaTraklin – Nahalat Binyamin 41

Last week I decided to travel abroad but instead of driving to the airport and getting on a plane I took the number 5 bus to the central bus station in Tel Aviv. The central bus area like many central stations around the world is considered a seedy, dangerous and run-down part of town, frequented by the homeless and the sex trade. But while these groups exist in this area of Tel Aviv it is also very different and unique.

Many may not know but Israel suffers from a refugee / asylum problem and I am not talking about the Palestinian conflict. Rather the influx of refugees from Africa and in particular from Sudan and Eritrea. Hundreds of refugees cross the Egyptian / Israeli border every month looking for asylum in this country. The problem is not with the refugees themselves but with lack of ideas, legislation or just how to deal with the growing asylum influx (not unique to Israel).  Most of these asylum seekers end up in the central bus area of Tel Aviv.

I am not going to get into the politics but want to describe what the area is like from an insider – outsider viewpoint. Arriving at the new central bus station I walked down Yesod Hamaala Street the main thoroughfare of this neighbourhood. The first thing one notices is that it is a busy bustling street with hardly any white Israeli’s, the whole street is filled with people from Sudan, Eritrea and South East Asia. It is an odd feeling, but not an unpleasant one, as there is no sense of danger here. The street is lined with shops, bars and clubs catering to one ethnic group or another and as such intimidates you from visiting. The area is also lined with traders selling second hand goods on the street sort of reminds me of the African street traders in Italy. Though the key highlight for me was the lively wedding of Sudanese/Eritrean origin with traditional dancing – real interesting to watch.

Other observations included that there are very few African woman on the streets but many men (this may cause women to be fearful) but on the other hand mostly female South East Asian women. This is probably due to that most asylum seekers from Africa are men while it is mostly female South East Asian women who deal with the elderly in Israel. I didn’t see many restaurants but am sure there must be some real ethnic gems in the area.

The one thing that did annoy me is the filth and squalor – it is as if the city council is pretending that there is no foreign community in the bus station area (hoping they will go away) and while the rest of Tel Aviv is relatively clean this area stinks and is filthy. I don’t think that the filth will scare these people away rather just make them feel unwelcomed and annoyed.

Behind the main street is a large park and in the evening it is packed with groups of African men trying to cool off. Unfortunately here as well it is filthy and I wish the council or another group would take an initiative to clean up the area.

Overall a fascinating trip 5 minutes from the centre of Tel Aviv yet a thousand miles from the rest of Israel.


The one regret from my trip ‘abroad’ was not trying some of the local food but I found it both difficult to locate and slightly intimidating. Regardless venturing the five minutes back to Israel proper I took a chance in trying out HaTraklin which is a bistro specialising in meat dishes.

The restaurant itself, like several in Tel Aviv, has a nice large interior with a rectangular bar and a loft like feel. I am getting the impression that this is the typical casual dining style of environment which exists in Tel Aviv.

Arriving at 8pm we were one of the first to arrive and be seated. The menu was large and inviting with lots of meat orientated dishes and an interesting 6 course tasting menu from a reasonable 98nis (price depending on which main course you order). I am always interested in tasting menus so we decided to go on this option.

The tasting menu is divided into three courses with the first including smoked aubergine salad and a beef Carpaccio followed by chicken liver and Bresaola finished off with bunless hamburger and sausage.

The first course was tasty but not unique, the aubergine salad tasted fresh with a nice smoky flavour and the Carpaccio with balsamic was gentle and tasty. Both are nice but no reinvention of the wheel. The second course was our least favourite as I am not a fan of chicken liver (it did taste fresh and chickeny) and Bresaola served with melon which was fine if dull. Our final course was also mixed as when the burger came the usual fear overcame the brunette and I and her facial expression said it all – along with the comment ‘it tastes like Israeli beef = not tasty’. I have to agree and say that it was not great. The sausage on the other hand tasted nice with good flavour, texture and spices and one is given a choice out of three options for the spiciness of the sausage.

Unfortunately the meal is too meat heavy, a problem when not all the dishes are at a high level and that bloated feeling made us skip on the dessert, especially after one of the diners sitting near us  jumped in horror after being confronted by a cockroach on the floor (hey this Tel Aviv in the summer and we are inundated).

Our meal was accompanied by two glasses of good Israeli red wine with the bill ending up at 300nis. Overall a mixed experience that left us disappointed and where we won’t return.

2.5 stars our of 5


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