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A tajine (or tagine) is a painted and glazed clay pot with a flat circular base and a large cone-shaped cover that rests on the base during cooking, designed to promote the return of condensation to the bottom. It is particularly used in North African cuisines of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. It is customary to use this slow cooker to prepare Moroccan specialties such as stews served with couscous.
Hatajeen is the name of the kosher restaurant opened in Jerusalem in 1997 by Eli Martziano and Gabby Toledano. The Moroccan decor with the wall of tajines of all sizes (available for purchase from NIS 18 to NIS 200) adds to the ambience as much as the yellow tablecloths, yellow napkins with silver napkin rings and decorative burgundy china from France.
When you walk into the large dining room, which seats 120 and is open for lunch and dinner, you feel as if you have stepped into another country.
Martziano originally owned Cafe Rimon on Rehov Luntz in 1979, then Cafe Patriot, but he says, "I wanted to do something Moroccan. My parents were Moroccan, and I was born in Morocco." (He was seven when the family came to Israel.)
He looked for a larger place and found it on Rehov Yad Harutzim in the industrial district of Talpiot. It was natural to call the restaurant Hatajeen because of the role of the tajine in Moroccan cooking.
For the past 10 years, Ismail Aldoda has been the chef at Hatajeen. Aldoda, born 54 years ago in Hebron, spent two years after high school learning about farm machines. "Then I got married, but I couldn't make money for my family. I had seen my mother cook, so I chose this profession," he says.
For the first 12 years, he worked in the Hungarian restaurant Europa on Jaffa Road. Then he went to Cafe Rimon, where he worked for eight years with Martziano. "Eli helped me," he says. "So when he opened Hatajeen, I went with him," says Aldoda, who is married and has nine children ranging in age from nine to 34.
"We are like a family," says Roi David, manager of Hatajeen for the past year. "Eli and Gabby are like parents. If you have a problem, you come and talk with them. You see them more than you see your wife and children!"
In the restaurant, Martziano chooses the dishes on the menu and then asks Aldoda and Toledano for their ideas. "We see what the customers want and we choose the menu," adds David. Soon the menu will be translated into English.
If he has time, Aldoda also makes new dishes. "I come to work at eight in the morning. Every day I cook," he says. "Everything is fresh every day. I finish at 11 or 12 at night."
The focus of the restaurant is catering and take-out. Eli Martziano says, "Eighty percent of the restaurant is catering for parties, bar and bat mitzvas, pre-wedding henna parties and other family events."
The Moroccan hafrena, an oval-shaped pita-like bread, comes from the commercial bakery Duvdevan, which makes it especially for them. Hafrena is also the name of the adjoining room, which draws a large lunchtime crowd for take-out. A salad bar offers 18 choices; four large copper pots that look like tajines hold harera (Moroccan vegetable soup with chickpeas and lentils), vegetable soup, sofrito (meat and potatoes), and other dishes to take out. Four orange clay pots contain toppings for couscous, which sits in another tajine.
There are three tables for eating in the restaurant and several more outside.
Hatajeen is located in Talpiot at Rehov Yad Harutzim 15. Tel: 672-5255. It is open Sunday through Thursday from noon to midnight for lunch and dinner; on Fridays, half the restaurant is open until 2 p.m. On Saturday evenings the restaurant is open only for private parties.