Libya in Jaffa

Guetta is a family business started by the matriarch of the family, Leah Guetta, grandmother of the present owners.

August 8, 2019 12:56
3 minute read.
Libya in Jaffa

Guetta. (photo credit: TOMER CARMY)

None of us is ever likely to travel to Libya any time soon. But for a taste of Libyan food, there’s no better place than Guetta in Jaffa, which serves homey Libyan cuisine passed down from the generation of Jews who lived and thrived in Libya, before hotfooting out of there in 1948.

Guetta is a family business started by the matriarch of the family, Leah Guetta, grandmother of the present owners. She was a young girl when she reached Israel but with clear memories of the food her mother and grandmother had served.

Summing up my first impressions of Libyan cuisine, I would say that it makes clever use of vegetables, rice and grains to make the meat go further, it is never bland, and it’s filling without making you feel bloated.

Our wonderful waiter Ashraf, a Bedouin who has worked as headwaiter in several top establishments, took care of our gastronomic needs, choosing the menu while simultaneously waiting on several other tables.

He suggested we begin with a selection of salads, and these duly appeared: standard-like tehina, olives and pickled carrots, and the classic Libyan concoction of carrot, pumpkin and sweet potato known as cherchi, delicately spiced with a wonderful texture (NIS 12 per person).

A plate of spiced fish appeared as another starter, two fillets of white fish – sea bass and Nile perch swimming in a peppery tomato sauce with red peppers and eggplant garnish. It was very good, and the fresh white bread to dip in the sauce was just right (NIS 40).

More dishes arrived – herbed chicken, vegetables stuffed with black lentils and rice, meltingly soft chicken with potatoes, and we ate with relish, assuming they were main courses.

Suddenly Ashraf appeared with two glasses of arak and explained that these were to clean the palate for the main course. Heavens! We thought we’d just eaten it.

“Not at all,” said Ashraf. “Now it’s time for something serious.”

He then brought a couscous complet, fluffy grains and a side of braised vegetables with meat, a classic mafrum – sliced potatoes stuffed with minced beef, a meat and tomato stew and another that had the addition of mangold leaves. (All mains about NIS 50.)

As we enjoy exotic flavors and love trying something a little out of the ordinary, we sampled everything and decided that Libyan food is definitely our cup of tea.

After this banquet we were barely able to move, but Ashraf assured us we would be fine after the special tea with which the meal was to end.

Two small glasses of brown liquid arrived at our table. The warm drink contained cloves, cardamom and cinnamon and some shelled peanuts at the bottom of the glass. It was sweet and pleasant to drink, but we were unprepared for the litany of attributes that Ashraf ascribed to it – good for digestion, fat-burning, antibiotic and with some aphrodisiac properties thrown in for good measure. It certainly tasted good, as did the semolina cake with dates which accompanied it.

The tea worked its magic and within a short time we were able to get up from the table, find our car parked outside and drive home, replete.

Guetta also does a tasting menu that costs NIS 159 for two, and this would seem an excellent way to try out an exotic and different cuisine.

6 Jerusalem Blvd.
Tel Aviv/Jaffa
Tel. (03) 681-3993
Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

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