Jaffa Memories, Tabbuleh and Mafia Men

by Sarah on May 2, 2009

My grandmother has lived in Jaffa for almost 50 years with her Jewish, Muslim and Christian neighbors and she knows who is kind and deserves her respect and compassion and who she should be wary of. She has learned her diplomacy in the UN of life, and voices her discontent in subtle ways. She is blind to nationality, religion and to the color of your skin but sees only actions, which is the only thing she judges and nothing more.
Jaffa is an ancient port town with layers of history, a mille-feuille, from the biblical times to the present, each layer hiding another beneath it. Until 1965, when the port of Ashdod diverted the shipping lanes, Jaffa was the main port of entry to the Middle East and had strategic importance in controlling the area. The Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, French, British and Jews all make up its intricate history. Violence and upheaval have been the norm, with sudden population shifts and changes, each group clinging to its history with the disregard of all others, as proof of their rightful ownership, a tug of war which is still going on today. Jaffa, considered Tel Aviv’s poor neighbor, is still undergoing transformation. An electric train is being put in and real estate prices are rising from those betting that this train will bring change to the area. Many who were born here have left, trying to escape the poverty and crime and hoping for a better life somewhere else, anywhere else. The ones that have remained are only the diehard, those with strong connections to the town or family or those with no other options. Prices have been rising all around them but many still live in poverty, except now among dilapidated houses and mansions. For those who have stayed, their real estate is their prize for being faithful, and proof that they were right to never leave. Here is where my grandmother lives and where her children have left long ago.
We took a walk around the neighborhood, where my mother grew up, her memories superimposed on everything she sees. My boys listen intently, enjoying her stories about the old places and characters my mother remembered as a girl. So many changes; new houses, crumbling old ones, unfamiliar faces but the same scraggly street cats. We passed her old school, and when we reached her childhood home she noticed someone familiar,
“Noora! Noora is that you?”
“Mazaaaaal! Where have you been all these years?”
Thirty years have passed but memories are strong. It is her pretty young neighbor, the one that could always be counted on. Now both are grandmothers but they tell each other,
“You have not changed a bit”. She also tells my mother,
“Your grandmother should never have left us, now she lives across town and all her children have moved, she is left with nothing, but I am still here and could have watched over her”. She is right of course.
My mother introduces me “She is my daughter, she loves to cook” and in the midst of their emotional reunion I can’t help but ask, “and how do you make your tabbuleh?” She tells me with parsley, green onions, a bit of tomato, burghul and mint. “But cut up the mint at the last minute because it will get black, and we eat the tabouleh with lettuce.” They make plans to meet during the weekend and then Noora turns to me and says “If you have any questions about our food, you can call whenever you want and I will help you.” Noora is a Christian Arab and has her own traditional recipes, different from my grandmother’s.
We continue walking to Yefet St, the main road that crosses Jaffa. The most famous butcher in Israel, Hannawi is located close by and vegetable venders, bakeries, spice shops are going about their business. Hannawi is owned by Christian Arabs who have contributed to Jaffa’s cultural and religious institutions, including my grandfather’s simple Kurdish synagogue. He is an amazing business man and has branches in several locations across Israel as well as two (or perhaps more?) mansions in Jaffa. The kids are getting hungry and I hop into a bakery for warm sesame bread while my mother waits outside. When I leave she whispers to me,
“He is from the mafia! The man that sold you that bread is from the mafia!”
“Really, how can you tell?”
“His beard, you can tell from the shape of his beard!”
I raised my eyebrows at this, I am such law abiding citizen that this sounds like total nonsense. I don’t say anything else, from experience she is probably right and if not I still like the story better like this. So if you happen to be on Yefet street, go to the bakery, the one not too far from the butcher’s shop and take a look at the baker’s beard and tell me if he looks suspicious.

This Lebanese and Syrian salad is made primarily of parsley, scallions, tomatoes and specked with burgul grains. Sometimes other herbs such as mint are included. Parsley is high in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, B and iron. Pars the ancient capital of Persia, where parsley grew indigenously is the derivation of parsley’s name.

3 bunches of flat leaf parsley, washed and thoroughly drained
1/3 cup burghul
1 bunch green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 large tomatoes, finely diced
2-3 lemons, juiced
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil
½ cup pomegranate seeds for garnish
Wash the burghul and soak in a cup of water. After ten minutes, drain and set aside.P
ick through the parsley, removing yellowed bits. Chop the parsley leaves very finely. (Don’t include the stems.) Finely dice the tomatoes, slice the green onions, including the green and white parts of each scallion, and chop the mint (chop it last because it darkens). In a large bowl, combine all of these ingredients.
In a bowl mix the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper thoroughly, then add this liquid mixture to the chopped vegetables and burghul. Mix well.

***Unlike Burghul which has been parboiled, cracked wheat needs to be cooked before using and should not be used in preparations like tabbuleh salad unless cooked. Some versions use finely shredded lettuce in place of some of the parsley making for a lighter dish.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sally - My Custard Pie June 28, 2010 at 11:12 pm

One of the simplest dishes but so delicious. The taste of the herbs and the sharpness of the lemon makes you feel like you are eating a week’s worth of vitamins in one dish.


Sarah June 28, 2010 at 11:50 pm

thanks, I feel so righteous after eating tabbuleh, such a healthy food ;-)


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