A little Jaffa gem

The family-run Abu el-Abed restaurant offers patrons tasty and authentic Middle Eastern food.

jaffa gem_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jaffa gem_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
From the moment I set foot in the Abu el-Abed restaurant in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood, I knew I was in for an authentic experience. Everything about the place, from the busy somewhat grimy exterior to the old-style authentic interior, gave the impression that it has been been around for some years and has enjoyed serving the local community. The neighborhood has received some bad press over the years, especially since a film was made about the violent gangs that rule the streets. However, every time I have been to the area neighborhood, I have been greeted by friendly locals and good, honest, authentic food.
In existence since 1949, Abu el-Abed has been serving traditional Arab recipes in a family-run environment. After being seated at our modest-looking table, the owner (who was also the manager and only waiter) took pride in telling us that the kitchen is a combination of Palestinian and Lebanese cuisine, which makes for an interesting and unique mix. Even though the service was friendly and beyond the call of duty, it was sometimes a little slow and sloppy because, as with many of these places, there was only one waiter dealing with the whole restaurant, and he was trying to be everyone’s best friend. I liked the personal approach a lot, but it was sometimes frustrating to have to wait longer than necessary at certain times. However, all this just added to the authentic experience, and my friend and I were not too put off.
The menu, which is quite extensive, is broken down into five meal plans, ranging from NIS 29 to NIS 69, with each offering a few options for main course and varying amounts of salads and other extras.
For starters, we went for the NIS 29 deal, which included humous, chips, felafel, one hot and one cold drink.
The humous was freshly made and had a slightly smoky taste, which we both enjoyed. The chips and felafel were pretty standard but tasty nonetheless.
We shared both our main courses because we could just not decide what to go for. The first one we ordered was part of the NIS 49 deal. It included six house salads, Lebanese kebabs and a hot and a cold drink. The four lamb kebabs were served in a traditional metal dish with a tomato, garlic and chickpea sauce topped with grilled eggplant. The dish was seasoned with lots of local herbs and tasted very fresh. As we were being served, the owner took great pleasure in telling us that they grind the meat every day in the kitchen themselves. This attitude towards fresh ingredients really came through in the taste.
The second dish we ordered was from the NIS 59 deal. It included eight of the house salads, the hot and cold drinks and a main dish which comprised half a roast chicken served with fried onions and local spices on a bed of laffa bread. The combination of the fried onions and great seasoning, along with the crispiness of the chicken skin, was a winner. The laffa bread soaked up all these great flavors and was a great accompaniment.
We did receive a lot of the house salads, which did not match the uniqueness and mix of flavors of the main courses. They were the standard cabbage, eggplant and tomato dishes that you get at any other Middle Eastern style restaurant. This does not mean that they were not tasty, but I would have liked them to match the high standards that the rest of the food reached.
We were too full for dessert, so we took advantage of the hot drinks included in our deals and enjoyed the informal and hectic atmosphere. We sat and watched locals come in and serve themselves from the counter, old Arab women popping their heads out of the kitchen every so often to check that their hard work was being appreciated, and the owner treating each customer as if he had known them for years.
We were also lucky enough to have the owner tell us his interesting stories. He explained that if we were to order any kind of fish from the menu, it would come directly from the fish shop next door and we would be able to choose it ourselves.
In an attempt to convince us, he proceeded to take us next door where there was indeed a fresh fish shop. He explained that he doesn’t see the point of keeping fish in his restaurant that he will have to thrown away each night if the man next door can do it for him. We were convinced and decided that the next time we go back, we will most certainly be ordering the fish.
Slightly off the beaten track and far from the comforts of central Tel Aviv, Abu el-Abed is a hidden gem that should definitely be explored. The service is not the best and the setting is nothing to write home about, but the simplistic charm gives this place an edge. If you are looking for honest yet unique traditional Arab food at reasonable prices, then it cannot be missed.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Abu el-Abed, Yefet St. 92, Jaffa. Open 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday to Saturday. Tel: (03) 681-4665. Not kosher. Deliveries available