Guetta: Libyan cuisine in Jaffa that is as good as ever - review

Having visited the place several years ago, we were ready for another sampling of the authentic Libyan cuisine we had experienced on our first visit.

 Guetta (photo credit: ALEX DEUTSCH)
(photo credit: ALEX DEUTSCH)

The owners of Guetta, a Libyan restaurant in the heart of Jaffa, seem to subscribe to the view that if you are on a winning streak, don’t change course.

Having visited the place several years ago, we were ready for another sampling of the authentic Libyan cuisine we had experienced on our first visit, and found that the menu was identical to the one we enjoyed then. Other than adding a lick of paint and updating the bar, the restaurant, situated on Jaffa’s Jerusalem Boulevard, is just as it was.

The place was established by the matriarch Leah Guetta, who left Libya when it became uncomfortable for Jews and brought its culinary secrets with her. Her picture adorns the wall of the small, cozy restaurant, which is now run by her two sons.

Shilo, one of the brothers, greeted us one evening recently and suggested we try the tasting menu, which costs NIS 196 for two. This sounded like a great idea, and we settled down to enjoy some authentic Libyan cuisine.

 Guetta (credit: ALEX DEUTSCH) Guetta (credit: ALEX DEUTSCH)

Enjoying authentic Libyan cuisine

For starters our waiter brought a selection of salads, which included tehina and olives, pickled carrot, matbuha (spicy tomato ), white pickled cabbage and the famous cherchi (also chirchi and chershi), which is a dish of mashed carrots and pumpkin with a piquant dressing of caraway seeds and plenty of garlic. This was eaten with fresh white bread on the side. All the salads were fresh and provided an interesting variety of tastes.

We were also required to taste the chreime (Sephardi fish course), made from Nile perch in a very peppery sauce, which was excellent.

Our waiter, Amir, who lives in Jaffa’s Old City, proceeded to bring a string of main courses, several different bowls filled with a variety of meats, and a plate of fluffy couscous to go with the different sauces.

One dish was heavily flavored with cumin, and resembled chili con carne with some kidney beans thrown into the mix; yet another had haricot beans and reminded us of the Shabbat cholent. The famous mafroum was a kind of layered potato and meat casserole flavored with the baharat spice mix, which the Libyan hausfrau made herself but today you can buy in the supermarket.

It was far too much food for us to finish, but we managed to taste everything and found it all spicy, interesting and something exotic for our Ashkenazi palates.

For a sweet finale Amir brought us a piece of Safra, the renowned semolina cake with added dates, honey and rosewater. We ate it slowly, savoring every delicious mouthful and enjoyed the cinnamon tea, with cloves and cardamom, which came with it.

The last time we visited, the waiter ascribed all kinds of magical properties to this tea – fat-burning, good for digestion, antibiotic, and an aphrodisiac into the bargain. I can’t guarantee any of that, but it certainly brought a sweet ending to what had been a very satisfying and enjoyable meal.

Guetta6 Sderot YerushalayimTel Aviv-JaffaTel. (03) 518-7818Open: Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. until one hour before Shabbat.Kashrut: Tel Aviv Rabbinate

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.