Port authority

Get ready for some off-the-beaten track culture and cuisine in the Arab-Jewish city of Jaffa.

jaffa port 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jaffa port 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Today's Jaffa is not always seen as the "bride of the sea," the title it earned during its 4,000-year history as a vibrant port city, center of regional trade and hub of cultural importance. To many, Jaffa is simply a suburb of Tel Aviv, often overlooked and underrated. But in addition to its rich past, modern Jaffa maintains a distinct atmosphere and unique flavor as a mixed Arab-Jewish city with a great deal to offer. Despite crumbling buildings and neglect, the city is still constantly developing and worth exploring in order to sample its tasty cuisine and abundant culture, which reflect its diverse population. Here is a sampling of Jaffa's special cultural and culinary treasures off the traditional tourist path. Abu Hassan One of Jaffa's staples, Abu Hassan offers some of the best humous and fastest service anywhere in the country. Popularity has meant Abu Hassan has surpassed the capacity of the original restaurant, overlooking the sea at Rehov Dolphin 1, leading the owner's sons to open a second branch on the corner of Shivtei Yisrael and Yehuda Hayamit streets. Even with the additional venue, be prepared for a wait around lunchtime as humous aficionados from all over Jaffa, Tel Aviv and beyond gather to indulge in freshly made, creamy bowls of humous. There is no menu, and options are limited; Abu Hassan serves humous, ful and musbaha (or any combination of the three), all of which come accompanied by warm pita, raw onion and a zesty lemon juice. Abu Hassan's regulars are diverse, ranging from neighborhood locals to uniformed soldiers and from Tel Avivians to international tourists. Since space is tight, expect to see these groups bumping elbows and even sharing tables, as the place fills up during the lunchtime rush. Opening early, the Abu Hassan family ends the day when the humous runs out, which is typically by 3 p.m. Corner of Shivtei Yisrael and Yehuda Hayamit streets. Rehov Hadolphin 1, Ajame. (03) 682-8255 Vegetarian, no kashrut certificate. Markaz As the local community projects branch of Sadaka Reut, an Arab-Jewish youth organization based in Jaffa, the Markaz (meaning "Center" in Arabic and Hebrew) is striving to create a young artist community. Offering both formal groups and an open space for creativity, Jaffa youth come daily to participate in and create art, music, poetry, photography and more. These projects aim not only to foster artistic talent in local youth, but also to provide a venue to promote empowerment, dialogue and a "safe space," both literally and figuratively, as the center operates out of a municipal shelter in the heart of Jaffa. Open every weekday, the Markaz is typically crowded with youth of all ages speaking Arabic, Hebrew and Russian, engaging in a variety of projects and activities. Although the focus is on youth at this exceptional center, projects work on outreach as well, hosting events and exhibitions to showcase the youth's art and projects, and to involve the greater community of Jaffa. Yafa Cafe and Bookstore Co-owned by an Arab-Jewish team, Yafa strives to be a cultural center and model for coexistence as well as a cafe and bookstore. Yafa (the Arabic name for Jaffa) was born out of a desire to fill the void of Arabic-language bookstores in the city and create a venue for Jews and Arabs to meet. Today the shelves are lined with a selection of books in Arabic, Hebrew and English and the kitchen is stocked with a selection of both traditional and less traditional food and beverages. Additionally, the shop serves as a venue for cultural events including poetry readings, lectures and classes in the spoken dialect of Palestinian Arabic. Rehov Yehuda Margoza 33, corner of Rehov Yefet. (03) 681-5746. Not kosher. Arab-Hebrew Theater Igal Ezraty, The Arabic-Hebrew Theater director, holds audience discussions after performances of Longings, a play which explores individual pinings for home and homeland. The shows at the Arabic-Hebrew Theater are varied in style, message and language; some involving both Arab and Jewish artists, others offer a stage for an all Arab cast. The theater's location in the mixed city of Jaffa is not coincidental and many of the plays address issues such as identity, civil rights, minorities and Arab-Jewish coexistence, which reflect some of the challenges facing the local community. All of the performances make use of the enchanting space, with its stone walls and arched ceilings in Jaffa's Old City. Arab-Hebrew Theater Rehov Mifratz Shlomo 10, Old City of Jaffa. (03) 681-5554. http://www.arab-hebrew-theatre.org.il Piece of Cake bakery A visit to Piece of Cake will be sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. The tiny shop across the street from Abu Hassan's sons on Rehov Shivtei Yisrael is often packed with customers scrambling to reach the pastries, breads and burekas, which come fresh out of the ovens straight to the shelves throughout the day. The intoxicating scent from the kitchen wafts out the bakery doors, tempting all those who walk by. Don't miss the chocolate cake. Rehov Shivtei Yisrael 11, corner of Yehuda Hayamit. No certificate, but all kosher ingredients and closed on Shabbat. Jaffa Bar If you are looking for a place to relax with a drink or bite to eat at the end of the day, Jaffa Bar is just the spot. Sit either inside around the bar or outside in the alleyway/romantic patio. Jaffa Bar is one part of chef Nir Zook's trio which has taken over a small pocket of the Old City right off Rehov Yefet and includes Noa bistro and Cordelia restaurant. These stylish establishments mix modern menus with the stone walls of the ancient city for an alluring ambience. Although these venues give a taste of the breadth of offerings Jaffa holds, the city is full of other haunts to discover. Spend a day, a weekend or a week in Jaffa and you may find yourself quickly enamored of the city, its rich history, unique relationship with Tel Aviv and multifaceted present. Rehov Yefet 30. (03) 518-4668, http://www.cordelia.co.il. Not kosher.