What’s the difference between a job and work? This question led Fanta Prada, the owner of Tel Aviv’s Balinjera, to open her restaurant near the Carmel Market. Speaking to a group from Birthright about her story when we arrived, we learned about her background. Hailing from Ethiopia, she immigrated with her family through the desert, ultimately finding refuge in her historic homeland, Israel.
“Our identity and sense of community got shattered and pushed away, getting weaker and weaker. As a result, I felt I needed to distance myself as well.”Fanta Prada
For Prada, coming to Israel had its challenges: “Our identity and sense of community got shattered and pushed away, getting weaker and weaker. As a result, I felt I needed to distance myself as well.” She was unruly as a child, “I did things that were against my culture and tradition. I wanted to be just like everyone else,” she laments.
Ultimately, she reconnected to her roots and identity, leading her to quit her job as a lawyer in the prosecutor’s office and open her restaurant, Balinjera as well as a community center in Florentine, Tel Aviv. For Prada, staying true to her roots is the bare minimum, “to be well rooted is to know and be aware and to be proud of your culture and history. A person who is not connected to their roots, cannot survive in this world,” she says.
She expresses this sentiment through her food, something which made sense when trying it.
Staying true to her roots through food
Although it wasn’t my first time eating at her traditional Ethiopian restaurant, hearing her story helped bring color to the food. The restaurant sits two blocks from the beach on the corner of Malan Street and HaKovshim Street. Not so large inside, it is brightly decorated and has a number of seats outside.
We were greeted with Habesha, an Ethiopian beer, and tea with a hint of cinnamon. As guests of the restaurant, we were served their best dishes. We started with an eggplant dish served with Ethiopian tehina and salsa alongside dabo, a fluffy sweet bread. Simple, yet bursting with flavor.
We then had the delight of sampling the star of the show – a set of eight stews atop injera, a sweet and tangy flat-bread made from teff flour. Each delicious stew had its own flavor, ranging from savory to spicy. This was accompanied by a refreshing, simple salad made with lemon and olive oil.
Ethiopian food in general is served without silverware. It is eaten by scooping up the stew with the injera. This makes for a fun and interesting dining experience, not least because it forces you to put away your phone while you’re eating.
More than anything, Balinjera represents what is so beautiful about Israeli culture – Jews who came from all corners of the globe sharing their traditional recipes with each other to create an inclusive, thriving and diverse society. I would recommend you visit Balinjera to see what they have to offer.
BalinjeraMalan Street 4, Tel AvivPhone: 03-5252527Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11:00-21:00, Friday 10:00-15:00Kashrut: Rabbinute
The writer was a guest of the restaurant