If one can be allowed to mix concepts, I would describe the food at Shoashuka and Geula as heimish and Libyan. This unassuming restaurant, located in a small shopping area in Kiryat Matalon, Petah Tikva, not too far from the Beilinson Medical Center, is open for lunch from 11 a.m. until the food runs out, around 4 p.m.
On the day we visited, a steady stream of medical staff and hi-tech workers in the area came in to eat a very substantial lunch before heading back to their wards and computers.
The brainchild of Eli Shoashi, who himself worked in hi-tech until a year ago, the restaurant is the realization of a childhood dream.
“I always loved to cook,” says Shoashi. “Even at work, if there was an outing for the employees or a karaoke evening, I was always asked to prepare the food.”
In June 2012 he left his job and three months ago opened his restaurant. His mother, who was born in Tripoli, is Geula, and much of the food is based on her recipes.
She also helps with the cooking.
The small eatery is decorated with Libyan motifs. Clothing and tarbushes are hung on the walls, and old copper coffee pots and finjans are perched on the shelves.
The menu is quite extensive, and the names of the dishes are all rather exotic and foreign; but a glossary is thoughtfully provided, explaining what the strangesounding words mean.
Not knowing too much about Libyan cuisine, we left the choices to our helpful waitress.
For starters, she brought Libyan gefilte fish made from fresh merloza (a kind of cod), a huge cutlet big enough for four diners. It was delicious, very soft and digestible and flavored with a mix of spices that I learned later was baharat.
When Shoashi took us into his spotlessly clean kitchen, he showed us how he makes the baharat. It is a blend of five spices and dried rose petals that he grinds with a mortar and pestle that his mother brought from Libya, which he reckons is over 100 years old.
For his starter, my dining companion had mafrum (NIS 16), a cooked potato stuffed with minced meat. A rich brown gravy came with this dish, and one could detect paprika, ginger and nutmeg among the flavorings.
For vegetarians, the restaurant has a good system whereby the vegetables and the meat for the stews are cooked separately. For non-vegetarians, the meat is added to the vegetables at serving time.
On our table we had a dish of tehina that was creamy and just the right texture. It had a rich, satisfying flavor and was topped with highquality olive oil.
The basmati rice that came with the main course was flavored and colored with turmeric and garnished with carrot and coriander. It was perfectly cooked, every grain separate and just the thing to soak up the marvelous gravies and sauces.
My main course was that old favorite chreime, or oriental fish, a Friday night specialty in Sephardi homes (NIS 45). It was made with sea bass, quite my favorite fish, and it was almost literally swimming in a very spicy tomato sauce with lashings of paprika harifa (red pepper). I loved every mouthful.
When my husband’s main course arrived, he exclaimed “Cholent!” It looked exactly like the classic Ashkenazi Shabbat dish with meat, potatoes and white beans. But it was actually kamunia. If not cholent, it’s a close relation (NIS 48).
Another dish that found its way to our table was selk, made from fresh spinach, meat and beans.
Although the meat is stringy and not the best steak, it was delicious and very soft, testifying to long, slow cooking.
Shoashi does takeaway dishes as well but emphasizes that his food is nourishing and certainly not junk food. Sandwiches are also available (NIS 28 to NIS 32).
Dessert is limited, as no doubt it was long ago in Tripoli. Mainly it’s baklava and sweet tea.
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or until the food is finished. Shoashi stays until late, cooking the next day’s stews. He loves what he does and says he doesn’t miss his computer in the slightest.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Shoashuka and Geula
2 Hasivim Street Kiryat Matalon, Petah Tikva
Sunday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.