When the “weekend” is only one day long people tend to seize the 24 hours for all they’re worth. Every Friday feels like a festival of preparation in this country. People work half a day and gather up last-minute necessities before things close, and nearly every interaction from Thursday on ends with “Shabbat Shalom,” regardless of whether you spend your Saturday in synagogue or at the beach. Although there is a lot to do on the day of rest in the largely secular city of Tel Aviv, Jeff and I have found that we like staying around Yafo and the southern beach area or at most riding our bikes up to the Tel Aviv port. The area from the Yafo Port to Bat Yam (the city to the south) has recently undergone a huge renovation. Bike paths, parks, green space and walking paths stretch for 2 or 3 miles along gorgeous blue-green waters at the bottom of the Ajami neighborhood.
For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Ajami is a neighborhood that was recently made famous by the Oscar-nominated film by the same name. The film tells of violence, tension, poverty, drugs and desperation among the Jews, Muslims, and Christians in this “slum.” While I am sure all those things did and do exist in Ajami — a neighborhood can’t earn such a notorious reputation from nothing — the picture Jeff, Auralee and I see on our bike rides, strolls and picnics there is a very different one.
Today, on our way to one of the many grassy knolls overlooking the sea, we stopped at the cookie man in upper Yafo. The cookie man has lived in the same building on an out-of-the-way street for 60 years. Though somewhat famous (he’s been written up in local papers three times), he has retained his little window’s original, humble appearance which, except for a homemade sign, does little to entice passersby and certainly does no justice to the treats inside.
Crisp tahini and almond cookies as well as soft little date spirals are just some of the sweet treats at the cookie window, but the real prize is a fully packed picnic of jachnun and roasted eggs with all the fixings, available on Saturday mornings from 7:30 am until … it runs out.
We were joined by a dog, who we first assumed was after our jahnun, but actually just wanted some love.
For more on jachnun (Yemenite food of the gods), including a recipe, see my friend Liz’s blog. I will be trying out some recipes on my own just as soon as we are settled in our new apartment with a real oven. Meanwhile, I will have to “make do” with the cookie man’s jachnun, which, let me tell you, will not be difficult.