All in the family

An authentic Arab-dining experience, in an equally genuine atmosphere.

Haj Kahil 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
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 Kahil.
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, as well.
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 space.
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 golden perfection.
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.
Abuliel and his staff visit every table throughout the night to ensure each diner’s satisfaction.
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 effects.
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.