ketter ha'mizrach

ibn gvirol street in tel-aviv has seen constant changes through the years, yet one place stays the same. it is a reminder of the colorful roots of the city and its settlers. "ketter ha'mizrach" which means “crown of the east” is a culinary staple of tel-aviv. it's been in the same spot for 56 years and run by the same family, currently by the three shamai brothers; abraham, haim and nissim. you would be hard pressed to find any true tel-aviv resident who does not know of Ketter and their seductive kobbe.
the restaurant opened in 1952 by the boys' mother, initially as a
workers' restaurant, based on traditional syrian jewish cuisine. as kids, they used to come and help around by doing the dishes and serving the clients. this is where haim learned how to cook his mom's traditional dishes. after their military service, the boys officially joined the restaurant, enjoying their mother's cooking until her death at a young age of 56. haim became the main chef and with time added some modern and popular israeli food, including shawarma which he spices with his own secret receipt. do not let the modest look of the restaurant fool anyone, this has been a feeding place to jewish liberty warriors, politicians, hungry artists, celebrities. "... and most importantly, years of hapoel tel-aviv players, the workers sports club." says the head waiter with a comforting smile, only a dad can give. he is called "abba" (dad) by most of his clients.

haim, one of the three brothers

i was cordially invited by haim to "open a table," which means to sit down and eat from a table filled with food. haim, in his early 60's, a man with a kind hard face and mannerism only tel-aviv can produce. he spoke gently and did not make too much eye contact. maybe he was worried i would find some deep culinary secret there. such was the case until a plate of falafel was served to us. this was no ordinary israeli falafel, there was a kic
k to it. "it is the hot green peppers that you are tasting," he said with pride, a sneaky smile and perfect timing. this "old school" tel-aviv man lit up as he talked about the food. i got a glimpse of a tanned teenage tel-aviv boy, helping his mother. the falafel tasted wonderful.
these days the kitchen is being run by shukri, an Israeli-arab, who has been working there for 27 years. he started as a dishwasher during his teenage years. shukri has 3 important rules for a restaurant success; cleanness of the restaurant, good food and communication with the clients. the ketter has it all.
"all the food is fresh and prepared from scratch," says the ever smiling shukri. everything, from the main dishes to the salads is being prepared daily and usually runs out before the end of the day. the menu contains their famous shawarma
, falafel, stuffed peppers, kobbe, schnitzels, shakshuka, all sorts of cooked vegetables such as okra and green peas, and of course fresh salads. the assortment of colors and smells that drift out of the small and efficient kitchen is so intoxicating it makes one forget the smoke and noise that tel-aviv bombards you with. this is a place where one can get warm home cooked food in the middle of the quick falafel fixes, thai noodle and pizza joints that have taken over the city.

shukri showing his love to the soccer team hapoel tel-aviv

by the time this interview was completed, i had enjoyed fresh falafel, meat balls, kobbe, rice, cabbage salad, hummus yemenite bean soup, tomato soup and shawarma. each of theses delicacies deserves it own blog entry, but all in good time. every time we eat here, it is like visiting an old aunt that makes this certain dish that only she knows. i just wanted to give you a taste of a small magical place in a small magical city in a small magical country that is changing yet always stays the same.

ketter ha'mizrach is located on 115 ibn gvirol street, tel aviv. tel: 03.522.7718

some of the great food that was served to us

*כתר המזרח

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