When Fortuna was six-years-old she made aliya from Tripoli http://www.or-shalom.org.il/index.asp (the capital city of Lybya http://www.livluv.org.il/Index.asp?CategoryID=61 ) to Israel. It was the mid fifties, and her family was settled in the Sharon area in a Ma’bara (מַעְבָּרָה, transit camp for newcomers in Israel). When she grew up she got married and continued living with her growing family in the Sharon area in a place called Kadima (קָדִימָה)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzoran-Kadima (well before the Kadima political party J). They were raising strawberries in the winter time and tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini in the summer time. They lived in shacks and worked in the fields. At noon, Fortuna brought pots with special cooked food of the Jewish people from Tripoli to the fields. The young and older men of the family took a break from their agricultural work to enjoy the wonderful food.
Buildings began to rise in the area in place of the shacks. One day, when Fortuna’s father was riding his Vespa (motorbike), he met a contractor who suggested trading the Vespa for a house. Soon, the family was settled in that house (now you may get a whole fleet of cars for the same house). Fortuna’s son, Nissim, did not like school much and when he was fourteen, he dropped out. A friend saw him wondering around the streets, and asked him to give a hand at his kitchen. The food liked Nissim, and Nissim liked cooking – a new roman began. From that moment on, Nissim did not stop cooking – cooking for his friends, cooking for the family, cooking as part of his military service, cooking, cooking, cooking.
Everyone pushed him to open his own restaurant, and in 1997, he stopped his car next to “no place” in Kadima, and decided that this is where he was about to open his restaurant. He learned all the secrets of the North-African food from his mother, and made the necessary changes needed when transferring a 5-dish pot to a restaurant-size pot. His mother came to work with him at the restaurant and taught him all she knew. Nissim learned to listen to the food, to feel the products, to sense his customers, and to listen to his mother.
Nissim and Fortuna preparing Couscous
And this is where I came to meet him – in between the pots, serving food and taking care of an interesting variety of customers. A friend introduced me to the place, and after one “Tbecha” I was hooked. The meat was so soft and the flavors were so different from what I was familiar with, yet so interesting and tempting. I had to take my kids to try it as well, and my friends, and my family. The only problem is that this place is open only for lunch (אֲרוּחַת צָהֳרַיִם, aruxat tsohorayim), and only four days a week.
So, what’s on the menu?
When you sit down, you get some fresh salads served with generously sliced fresh basic bread. The most interesting salad is the Chirshi salad, made of pumpkin cooked with spices and mashed.
Nissim at the Salad bar
The basic of all north-African foods is the Couscous (קוּסְקוּס, kuskus), a rice-like dish made of granulated moistened semolina wheat, steamed with oil, and salt. Couscous is tasty as-is, but it also takes the flavors of all the food that is put on top. When I first came to the restaurant, I tried it with Tbexabiselk. Fortuna explained that Tbexa means stew in Arabic, and the stew consists of meat, beet leaves, beans, and potatoes. It is flavored with cumin (כַּמּוֹן, kamun), garlic (שׁוּם, shum), and paprika (פַּפְּרִיקָה). When eating it, the meat dissolves in the mouth and makes your tummy feel warm and satisfied.
There are many other dishes like Mafrum – potatoes filled with meat-balls, deepen in flour and egg and deep-fried. Then cooked in tomato sauce and served with no pangs of conscious; and chreime (חְרַיְמֶה)- a fish cooked in hot tomato sauce.
I think you’re hungry enough by now, so I stop!
The name Nissim (נִסִּים)means miracles in Hebrew and the North-African dishes made with much love and oil at his place may well remind you of the Hanukkah miracles and prepare you to the upcoming Hanukkah holiday!
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