Nissim Nahum (who everybody in Ashkelon calls Niso) has been a fisherman for 37 years and it is clearly his passion. He shows me video clips of a recent catch of a 300-kilo tuna on one of his three fishing boats. For decades he has supplied restaurants and fish shops around the country with fresh fish.
Nine years ago, he decided to open a restaurant called Niso The Fisherman on the marina in Ashkelon which was then just starting to expand. As part of his contract with the Ashkelon municipality, he had to open on Friday and Shabbat meaning, of course, that he had no teudat kashrut although all of his food was kosher.
“I made a lot of money, maybe 100,000 shekels every Friday night, but I wasn’t happy,” he told me on a recent Friday afternoon. “I’d leave my house embarrassed – I couldn’t make kiddish and have Friday night dinner with my family.”
About four years ago, he says, the municipality changed its rules and allowed restaurants to close on Shabbat and get kashrut certification. Niso says that he immediately did so, and that somehow he is making the same amount of money per year as he did when he was open on Shabbat.
“I’m so happy now and I get to have Shabbat with my family,” he said.
If you haven’t been to the marina in Ashkelon recently, it’s worth a trip. The beach is beautiful and there are more than a dozen restaurants along the marina, both kosher and non-kosher.
We have good friends, Beth and Leo Newmark, who live right next to the marina. There is by the way a growing group of “Anglos” in Ashkelon who eagerly patronize many of the kosher restaurants. When Beth and Leo invited us for Shabbat, we happily ditched our young adult children and made the drive to Ashkelon.
What's it like getting dinner at Niso the Fisherman in Ashkelon?
The Ashkelon marina is a happening place. Friday afternoon it was packed, and when we went for a walk late Shabbat afternoon it was also hopping with lots of families.
Niso the Fisherman is towards the end of the marina. When we arrived around 1:30 on Friday afternoon it was almost empty but it quickly filled up with several large parties celebrating birthdays. There was also Guy, a Chinese man married to an Israeli who speaks fluent Hebrew and had brought two Chinese guests for lunch.
The place is not fancy with dark wood tables and paper placemats but has a fun family vibe to it. The menu is extensive with not only fish dishes but a kid’s menu of shnitzelonim and hamburgers. Interestingly at the table next to ours everyone ordered meat rather than fish and the food looked fresh and delicious.
Niso told me that since a lot of Mizrahi Jews eat fish on Friday night, they might want meat for lunch on Friday. But we were there for the fish, and we put ourselves in Niso’s hands.
The “salatim” which usually come with a main course cost NIS 20 per person. We didn’t try them but from a glance at a neighboring table they looked fresh although nothing particularly unique or out of the box. We did try two unique appetizers – both of raw fish. The first was a seviche (NIS 75) in which the cubes of bonito were served in little pani puri shells with vegetables and olive oil, and the other was a carpaccio of very thinly sliced meagre fish (NIS 74). Both were delicious.
For the entrée we had a whole meagre fish served with roasted tomatoes and scallions (NIS 29 per 100 grams) that had been swimming in the nearby ocean just a few hours before. The difference between fresh fish and fish that has spent even a day or two in transit is amazing. There was no fishy taste at all, just a clean fresh bite.
But for me the real star was a dish that I think we got by accident that had been ordered by another table. Their loss! It was a fillet of sea bream (lavrak in Hebrew) that was prepared the same way as the whole fish with roasted tomatoes. I can’t even describe how good this was – just that I want another one right now!
After a nap, I headed to the beach for a quick swim before Shabbat. At least so far, no jellyfish and the water was beautiful. Ashkelon is an easy drive from Jerusalem and at least you know you won’t go hungry.
Niso The FishermanAshkelon MarinaHours: Sunday-Thursday 11 AM – midnightFriday 11 AM – 4:30 PMKashrut: Atara and Beit YosefThe restaurant is accessible
The writer was a guest of the restaurant