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Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's no trouble... really!

We are nothing if not creatures of habit.  When my family finds something we like we tend to come back to it again and again.  This especially applies to when we eat out.

Every time we go to the north of Israel we make a point of driving through the Jordan valley, even if it would be faster going another route.  The reason is a little falafel joint in Beit She'an called Falafel Zahava.

Tourists and Israelis who don't know any better often pass this unassuming eatery by in favor of the air-conditioned places in the mall next door (including a kosher McDonald's).  But Zahava's is quite simply the best food in the country.

Aside from unbelievably fresh falafel and salads, Zahava makes great shwarma as well as world class meatballs (served in fresh baguettes).

We get to Zahavas only a couple of times a year, but each time we come she greets us like family.  They must get hundreds of customers every day, but she not only remembers us, but also recalls what we like and where we're from!

On our way up north  this time we piled out of the car and were met at the door with shouts of "Oy mami... look, our friends from Gush Etzion are here and we just ran out of meatballs!!!.  Can you wait a little while, I'll make some up special for you."

We decided to have Falafel for lunch and ordered the meatballs subs to have for diner once we reached our destination.  Needless to say, the food was incredible... even better than we remembered.  While we ate, a tour bus full of Americans pulled up and the Israeli guide ushered them over to Zahava's.  As they lined up to order I whispered in the tour guide's ear, "You know it really isn't fair bringing them here... any falafel they'll eat in the future can't possibly compare to this".  He smiled sagely and nodded in agreement.

However, the real experience of the vacation came on our way back home.  We had planned to stop at Zahava's for a late dinner after a long afternoon in Tsfat and then push on for home.  However, we stayed in Tsfat much later than expected and didn't reach Beit She'an until after 9:00PM. 

As the lights of Beit She'an came into view we tried to prepare the kids for the possibility that Zahava's would be closed.  And sure enough, when we got out of the car and walked up to the place, Zahava and her sister were just doing the final 'sponja' (the Israeli version of mopping) of the floor and taking out the trash.  When she saw us we got the usual warm greeting, and without hesitation she asked us what we were hungry for.  She assured us that it was no trouble to 'warm something up' and ran to put on an apron.

Anywhere else the owners and staff would have waved us away with a short, "Sorry, we're closed", but not Zahava.  Even though she and her crew had been on their feet in the blistering Jordan Valley heat all day, she greeted us like we were the first customers of the day.

Yonah and I each had an incredible chicken shnitzel in pita with hummus and salad, Ariella had Shwarma and Gilad had two (!) meatball sandwiches.  (My) Zahava wasn't really hungry but asked if she could just have a small salad.  Before the words were out of her mouth, Zahava was preparing a big plate of fresh salad fixings with tehina, pickles and olives for her.

We all sat out at the tables in the cool evening air enjoying our food while Zahava, her sister and a younger guy (who might also be a relative) finished cleaning the place to a glistening shine.  All the while, an older woman sat at a nearby table beaming at us as we ate. 

We finished just as Zahava and her sister were putting the finishing touches on the place and started locking up.  She came outside and checked to make sure we'd enjoyed out dinner.  When we thanked her profusely for staying open to make us dinner, she turned to the older woman at the next table and began speaking in an unfamiliar language.  After a few moments she turned back and said, I was just telling my mother (in an Iraqi dialect of Arabic, it turns out) that you come to me all the way from Gush Etzion... the real Israel.  Her mother leaned in, grabbed my wife's face and gave her a big kiss ... and if possible, beamed even more brightly at all of us. 

We wished each other a sweet and prosperous new year and parted ways.  It was a special moment and warmed us all the way home.  I'm already trying to think of an excuse to pass through Beit She'an again soon.

Posted by David Bogner on August 28, 2008 | Permalink


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I've just eaten and yet you managed to make my mouth water. This little place is going to get dozens of new visitors.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Aug 28, 2008 9:58:45 PM

Only in Israel! Great story....and now I'm craving falafel :)

Posted by: SaraK | Aug 28, 2008 10:01:08 PM

Thank you for the dining tip. And for the lesson. One of my favorite Israeli expressions is "hu yode'a nimus" -- "he knows manners."

Zahava is probably so kind because you and (your) Zahava "know manners," and have always treated her as if she and her "art" matter very much.

Call your mothers, and tell them that they did a good job. (Mrs. Mizrachi says so.)

And I give you the bracha that your very polite children who "yod'im nimus," will have equally warm stories to tell.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Aug 28, 2008 10:38:52 PM

ok -- we have our place for on the way to eilat, now we'll have a new place for on the way north -- thanks!

Posted by: nikki | Aug 28, 2008 11:08:33 PM

Do you realize that next time you're camping you're going to have all of us trailing behind?

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Aug 28, 2008 11:19:05 PM

The "real Israel" is Zahava and her family!

Posted by: Mark | Aug 28, 2008 11:52:59 PM

No pictures? ;P

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Aug 29, 2008 12:23:19 AM

What a great story. I KNEW that Zahava had to be Iraqi even before you said it. They are endlessly hospitable.

Posted by: Raizy | Aug 29, 2008 12:47:25 AM

I wish I would have known - you could have stopped by Kibbutz Geva and said hi to our friend. She would have love to given you guys a tour of the Kibbutz. It's an awesome kibbutz and one of the oldest.

AND being that you were (I'm assuming) in the Golan, we could have hooked you with another beautiful family who is so full of life and generousity.

Maybe next time.

Posted by: jaime | Aug 29, 2008 1:24:01 AM

You're like the Zagat guide for Israel. First the coffee shop in the German Colony, then Sima's and now this place. Stop making me HUNGRY!

Posted by: orieyenta | Aug 29, 2008 3:54:44 PM

Zahava Felafel is nice. But if you want really good felafel in Afula, go to Golani

Posted by: David | Aug 29, 2008 4:08:42 PM

Thanks, David. Thanks a bunch. Now that we are back in golus and I am staring glumly at everything in the produce store thinking, "Those are vegetables? They don't smell like vegetables."

Posted by: uberimma | Aug 29, 2008 6:10:41 PM

drooling here
ever thought of being a restaurant critic?

Posted by: Hadassah | Aug 29, 2008 8:59:33 PM

Service, service, service. It's the new "location" in my book. People who are glad to be in business and want the customers to be satisfied and happy.

I may come to Israel just to go to that restaurant! ;o) <-- not wry!

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Aug 30, 2008 11:15:32 AM

Thanks for the beautiful story... all of us in Israel know a place like this, and we love it that way!

BTW, I really enjoyed your talk at NBN... caught it on webcast reruns (I was caught mid-flight and missed it real-time).

Great advice, great writing. Keep it up!

Posted by: A Living Nadneyda | Aug 30, 2008 11:45:07 PM

So, can we have directions? Is it on the main drag? On the left?

It's been a year or two since I last passed through Beit She'an.

I still remember when passing through Beit She'an meant driving down four blocks.....

Have you been to the archeological park there? It is phenomenal!

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Aug 31, 2008 1:50:26 AM

ps -- if we are already on the subject of amazing places to eat. The absolute best Chinese restaurant in Israel is another half an hour north, in Tivera (Tiberias). These day, you have to make reservations for the Pagoda restaurant a day or two in advance. (maybe more). The food is fantastic and the portions are generous. (3 full meals is enough for the five of us. At least, it was the last time. The kids keep growing, and eating more!)

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Aug 31, 2008 1:55:12 AM

i love israelis....

Posted by: Tonny | Aug 31, 2008 12:10:46 PM

OOOOOF! We only go to Beit She'an on Pesach (for the juggling festival)

For felafel, I love the place in Afula.. tchik tchik tchik wheeeee!

Posted by: triLcat | Aug 31, 2008 11:57:04 PM

I live practically next door, and didn't know of her reputation.
Thanks. RivkA's friend. Bracha s.

Posted by: bracha` | Sep 5, 2008 1:26:06 PM

OK, I just checked the on-line Israeli yellow pages for falafel joints in Beit She'an and there is no Falafel Zahava listed. I think we're gonna need more info to find this place...

BTW, you have no idea who I am, but my daughter just started Pelech this year and is in Ariella's class. I thought of introducing myself when you posted about Pelech, but apparently having our daughters in the same class wasn't nearly as exciting to me as the prospect of finding a new place to eat up north...

Posted by: Mona | Sep 7, 2008 9:21:44 PM

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