Sunday, July 10, 2011

Learning About Israel through Reality TV – Tasty Salads at Haj Kahil

Haj Kahil – Raziel 18, Jaffa

Israel loves reality TV! There are so many programs and variations blasting nightly from the television set; Survivor, Pop Idol, Big Brother, Masterchef, Trinny and Susannah etc.  It amazes me how many shows there are in such a small country, it feels like you are bombarded 24/7. One of the funniest results of reality is the explosion of the minor celebrity population. Israel is also in love with celebrity and most contestants fulfil their celebrity dream (even if only for a short time), while newspapers and paparazzi follow every move of their ‘exciting’ lives.

I am not a fan of this genre, but saying that there is merit in watching some of the programmes. I even recommend people who are interested in learning more about Israel and Israeli society to watch a few episodes of Trinny and Susanna and Masterchef. Do I hear shock and horror among the readers? The reality is that Israel is generally portrayed in an emotive and agenda ridden light abroad. Programmes and documentaries such as UK channels 4 ‘The Promise’ is so loaded that it is no surprise that people have a warped image of Israeli society. Most programmes and documentaries focus on the Palestinian / Israeli conflict, and while this is an important and on-going affair, it prevents people learning about what the country is all about and one reason for the surprise many people have when visiting Israel.

Obviously reality TV is also a warped version of the truth, but it is by far the closest type of Hasbara (explanation) that one can find on TV. For example, Trinny and Susanna (which is conveniently partly in English) visits / meets different towns and people in Israel and one can quickly learn about the complexity of various ethnic groups in this country. Yes it is staged but so are the so called ‘documentaries’. Masterchef (which I personally can’t stand) is a good reflection on society where the emphasis is less on food and more on the importance of family and personal stories. This is a very strong Middle Eastern trait, which exists far less in the US and European versions of the show.

I am not a fan, as why do I need to watch programmes that highlights the society I live in? But I do recommend it as an easy visual introduction to life and society in Israel – far better than any ‘expert’ documentaries that currently exist.

Haj Kahil

Eastern and Arab food is very popular in Israel and rightly so. There is nothing better than having a table full of freshly prepared salads followed by a meat or fish dish. There must be hundreds if not thousands of these types of restaurants in Israel. However, as with any successful dining concept there are few good and many bad examples such as the ‘the brothers’ which I classified as average in an earlier post.

Today I would like to recommend a good version, which is also a very good place to take visitors. The restaurant in question is Haj Kahil in Jaffa (near the clock tower). I almost surprise myself in recommending this place as Haj Kahil has been around in another location and it has only ever been average. But recently a new and more upmarket version was opened near the fashionable flee market area of Jaffa.

The restaurant itself is modern with tiles and an open grill area and bread taboon oven. There are many waiters and it seems this place is always full.

The concept as with many of these types of establishments is to first fill your table with many different salads followed by choosing a main meat or fish dish. One reason I like this place is that the salads are slightly different than your average Arab or Eastern restaurant. In the average place it is usually a mixture of chopped salads, cabbages, pickles, aubergine, tehina and hummus. But here they add to the mix avocado, small aubergines, tuna, red spiced tehina, spicy aubergines. In addition, one can order from a selection of speciality salads which includes cactus with labne cheese and herbs and leaves native to the hills in Israel. To me this is a big plus and have also notice that the salads change on a seasonal basis. To wash down the salads one can orded a jug of lemonade and mop it up with a warm and fresh taboon zatar flat bread. All the salads taste fresh and are delicious.

On this occasion and as per normal we were stuffed by the time our main courses arrived but being clever we only ordered one skewer of lamb and one of kebab. As mentioned in a previous entry skewering beef or lamb is a bad form of cooking as you are usually left with chewy meat and tonight was no exception. I have to admit I am getting used to eating the meat like this and with the sear and spices it is not necessarily unappetizing. The kebab on the other hand was tasty.  

In addition to the standard mains we ordered, the restaurant serves house special mains which primarily represents northern Israeli Arab food such as stuffed lamb (tasty if expensive) and kebab cooked in sauce and  baked with a bread covering the dish (interesting and tasty).

The food is tasty, though it is the salads that stand out more, while the mains are less unique in flavour. The one thing which is different here and which I think is a shame is that dark Arabic coffee with a baklava or other cake is not served on the house thoug it is common in many other Arab restaurants. They do exist for an additional cost and are tasty but having become spoilt by other restaurants I believe that should they integrate this tradition as one would leave far more content and with a bigger smile.

Overall a nice place in a nice area, for both locals and tourists

3.5 stars out of 5


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