Sahara in the Galilee

A northern restaurant offers an authentic and delicious meal, as well as traditional hospitality

stuffed lamb neck from Sahara restaurant (photo credit: courtesy)
stuffed lamb neck from Sahara restaurant
(photo credit: courtesy)
While driving in the North looking for a place to eat, there is no need to get lost in forgotten alleys of some industrial park or find yourself at a dead end after following your GPS instructions.
No need to dry the rivers of sweat down your back, either. If you find yourself in the area of Afula wondering where you can get a decent meal, Sahara may be just what you were hoping for. Located near a gas station on the road leading north from Afula, you can’t miss this impressive building – and you shouldn’t.
Built where an old khan once stood, the decor of the restaurant follows the fashion that was common in the area 150 years ago.
The stone used in the rebuilding was carefully collected by the owner from nearby villages. Keeping old traditions doesn’t end there. The cuisine is based on that of the Zuabi tribe, who arrived in that area from the Iraqi-Syrian border more than 200 years ago.
Before the meal, you can sit in the lounge that is set in the shade.
Lemonade or coffee is served by the attentive staff while you relax.
Opened in 1999, Sahara offers a cuisine known as Syrian-Shami, which is characterized by slow-cooking methods, use of local fresh produce and special seasoning mixtures. Cooking and baking are done in the wooden ovens (the tabun) or on the charcoal grill. There is no use of electric or gas stoves.
Freshly squeezed orange juice and water are served at your table before you even have a chance to look at the menu. The salads that follow are all fresh and crispy. We chose cauliflower in tehina sauce, which was very good; humous (also good); Moroccan carrot, chopped vegetables, peppers in garlic and green tehina, complemented by warm pita freshly out of the tabun outside. But don’t stuff yourself with the salads and bread because the meat and fish dishes cooked in the tabun or on the grill here are not to be missed.
We chose the muhmar, a whole baby chicken in sumac, stuffed with bulgur, onions, ground lamb and pine nuts, baked in the tabun (NIS 55). The chicken was good but a little dry. The best dish of the meal was stuffed lamb neck, a dish served in many restaurants now, but here it had that extra something that made it superb. Hard to say if it was the quality of the meat, which was very good, the stuffing (rice and pine nuts) or the seasoning, but it was simply perfect. On the side we tasted the fricky, a green wheat salad and tabun-baked potatoes.
Another specialty at Sahara is lamb baked in the tabun over rice and yogurt sauce (NIS 95).
The finale was served on the vast porch overlooking the valley towards the Carmel Mountains and Nazareth.
Thousands of twinkling lights and a soft breeze allowed us to relax and enjoy the Oriental sweets; knaffe, baklava, watermelon and strong coffee.
Hillal Zuabi, one of the owners of the restaurant, is very proud of his place. He says all their suppliers are chosen very carefully and attain the standards of the chef of the Jordanian royal family, who created and designed the menu when he was in Israel a few years back.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Not kosher
At the crossroad near the Nien village,
between Afula and Kfar Tabor
Tel: (04) 642-5959
An average meal costs NIS 80 –
NIS 110 per person.