Haj Kahil 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the heart of Jaffa, home to Arabs and Israelis alike, stands a famous
clock-tower that overlooks the city. The clock-tower is a testament to the
transitions that the city has undergone between rulers and generations
throughout the years. It is no coincidence that the Kahil family chose the
corner directly opposite to this historical site for their new restaurant, Haj
Over a century ago, the Kahil family made their living by driving
the “Diligence”– a horse-drawn wagon meant for city transportation, and now the
emblem of the Kahil family restaurant – from the restaurant’s exact spot,
opposite the clocktower.
Today, Haj Kahil offers an authentic Arab-dining
experience in an equally genuine atmosphere.
Upon entering the
restaurant, you are received by the warm smell of fresh laffa bread baking from
a coal oven nearby. On display in what would normally be a dessert case are
different types of skewered meats – evidence to the foods freshness and a
promise of the hearty meal to come.
The walls are adorned with Arab tiles
and pictures of the Middle East – a perpetual reminder that the food you are
about to indulge in is not only unique to this region, but to this restaurant,
Although the space can easily seat 100, it feels more like a
grandmother’s kitchen. The tables are set for at least four people, as the
portion sizes demand a healthy appetite. And with a menu that offers such a
mouth-watering variety of options, you’ll want that extra table
The menu brings you back to a simpler era, when these dishes were
cooked over coals in the Galilee. The ingredients, grown locally in Israel, are
as fresh as if they had been grown and picked from the table itself.
Furthermore, the seasonal menu enables the chef freedom of creativity, and
provides patrons more than one reason to return.
Our meal began with a
colorful presentation of 18 different salads in cup-sized bowls (NIS 25- 45 per
person). The salads varied considerably from one another, including a tart
apple-ginger mix; sautéed kale and onion; fresh cucumber in thick labne cheese;
tahini drizzled over fried cauliflower; and a ripe avocado spread. One bite of
each salad was enough to shock your taste buds into preparation for a meal so
uncommon you had to force yourself to put down the fork in order to leave space
for more dishes.
The salads were accompanied by homemade hummus (NIS 20),
a Kahil family specialty, and warm laffa bread covered in za’atar. Next came
lamb kebabs (NIS 65) cooked on cinnamon sticks. The spice added a unique
sweetness to the meat that left me sucking the cinnamon stick dry. This was
accompanied by a Middle-Eastern version of Italian fare: fried cheeses. Unlike
most cheese-sticks, these were wrapped in phyllo dough and cooked to a nongreasy
The main dish, and a Haj Kahil specialty, arrived with
impressive stares and gasps of amazement from nearby diners: lamb-neck stuffed
with rice, ground entrecote, and almonds (NIS 370).
The dish cooks for
seven hours at low heat into a tender and fragrant feast that can easily serve
six. The earthy flavor of the lamb and rice evokes images of the farm that each
ingredient came directly from as the meat slides easily off your fork and into
your expectant mouth.
The meal is a creation of Chef Omar Iluwan, who
specializes in Palestinian tastes of the Galilee, and was chosen by Haj Kahil
manager, Aiman Abuliel, as the only viable person for this job.
and his staff visit every table throughout the night to ensure each diner’s
Finally, kanafeh dessert (NIS 24), a traditional Arab
sweet-cheese pastry baked in shredded phyllo dough and topped with pistachios
and rose water, is served, baked to a flawless crisp, and accompanied by dark
Turkish coffee with cardamom spice. Unlike most hot drinks, this one is served
in a shotsized glass, and sipped slowly to relish its rich taste and potent
It is no surprise that each meal tastes as if it was personally
cooked in a family kitchen for the diner himself as Jaffa’s clock-tower has
always been the Kahil family’s home.
Now the Kahil’s open their home to
you to delight in authentic Palestinian food and charm.The writer was a
guest of the restaurant.Not kosher Haj Kahil, Raziel 18 (Clock Square),
Jaffa, Tel Aviv. (03) 518- 8866.