She remembers those days better than yesterday. Back then, as a child in Tripoli, she would sit on the straw mat in the large kitchen next to her Grandmother and Mother. She would watch them pick the legumes, separate the beets from the stalks. Rolling, mixing, placing huge pots on the wickets. A sweet smell of cinnamon and roses would rise in the air, mixing in with the aromas of fresh meat and bread. She always waited for the moment they would trust her, when she, too, would be able to help with the selection, the olive-picking, the filling. In the meantime, she could mostly watch, and sometimes, she would be trusted enough to knead the dough of the Frena bread.
Slow and steady. She was observing. Learning to identify the smells, determining whether the spices are fresh enough or not. Growing up, she mastered the secrets of the kitchen, making more and more dishes on her own. She was conquering the kitchen, becoming its’ queen.
When Saada grew up, she married a handsome, slightly older man. Later, with a small baby in tow, they made the arduous journey to the Land of Israel. They found a new home in Pardes Channah, and were busy building their life here. But oh, her heart! The heart always missed a bit of Tripoli; The luxurious house they left behind, the beautiful tea glasses (and the sweet mint teas!) she inherited from her mother, the aromas of the kitchen, and her beloved little brothers running around, messing everything up.
This was replaced with a tiny apartment, where she raised her children. But at least she was in the Land of Israel, which her ancestors always dreamed of. Life was difficult. She, too, had to contribute her share, to make a living. She cleaned other people’s houses, but always kept her heart open. Never missing an opportunity to share with them the wonders of the Mediterranean cuisine.
Slowly the locals, originating from different countries in the world, were introduced to the flavors of her home. Sure enough, they became addicted to the Mediterranean tastes Saada created for them. These intense flavors were not only exotic for them, but also saturated with the love and taste of a home. Rumour spread, and food made by Saada became a hit.
One thing led to another, and a long line of people stood every day next to a small dining place she opened. People wanted to taste the Mafroum, the Couscous and dozens of other unpronounceable names of dishes unknown to them.
Saada is not young anymore. Her hands are no longer as quick as they used to be. Her face is full of signs of wisdom. Her eyes long for her partner and the beloved Tripoli of her childhood, where everything was so young and promising. She sits in the small restaurant she opened 40 years ago, on her plastic throne. Now it’s her son’s turn to manage the business, and she can stare at the skyline, rolling the course of her life in her head, and occasionally remarking: “More Bharat, more cumin, there are no measurements, you should cook from your heart.” Says Saada the queen from her plastic throne.
There is still a line of people standing outside her place. Nowadays, they are more in a hurry. You know, everybody is in a hurry today. They stop by, just for twenty minutes or so, to enjoy the tastes and smells of the Libyan cuisine
There are no traffic lights in Pardes Chana. Only traffic circles. At the central one, where the “Sea Road” meets “The Sons’ Road” I couldn’t miss the big, old-looking, orange sign -“Saada”
Armed with a camera, I finally reached the small restaurant on the corner. To my surprise, my host’s name is Max. Apparently, he owns the place. As you could guess, Max arrived in Israel from the Former Soviet Union, like me. Tashkent, Uzbekistan. That’s where his family escaped to during World War II, when they fled Belarus. So where is Grandma Saada? “There is no grandmother,” says Max. So why did you call this place Saada? “After Grandmother Saada” says Max, and I feel confused. But I’d rather eat first and resolve my confusion later.
Max “opens a table” as we say here in the Middle East. All of a sudden the table is packed with goodies; Tabegha Ben Selek (a stew with a concentrated beet leaves sauce called Pkaila, and Tabegha Kemenia, which is essentially a version of Cholent for me), handmade couscous, carrots with pumpkin salad called Tirshi.
Max cooks in large pots. Despite his experience cooking for high-end modern restaurants- this method of cooking is his favorite. You may call it slow cooking- large pots, a small fire, over many hours. This way, the relationship between the ingredients and spices transforms into a perfect synergy, creating old-new mysterious flavors.
I sneak into the kitchen. My favorite, Mafroums, are waiting to be cooked. A skilful hand fills the slices of potatoes with a meat filling, fries them and sets them, gently and densely enough, to be prepared in the sauce. I inhale the aroma- a little cinnamon, some roses. Goodbye diet.
Max is not only a generous host, he is also always willing to share. So he easily gives out his secret to his Mediterranean recipes, with soviet style precision.
After years in professional kitchens, he decided to open his own place, one that will delight the hearts of people, and leave him time for his kids.
The restaurant is named after his partner’s (Oren) grandmother, who is originally Yemenite. Grandma Saada passed away years ago. But through this place, they manage to keep her spirit of hosting, and warmness – a place where you can always come back and feel welcomed. For Max, it’s not a matter of your origins. As long as you cook from your heart, you may cook any kind of dish, and it will turn out delicious. As you can guess, you can feel that there is a big heart in the small kitchen of Saada.
So see? Perhaps I did not find queen Saada here, but I could definitely enjoy her spirit and the traditional flavors of many Tripolitan grandmothers.
And as I imagined, there is a line of people standing at the small wooden gate, hungry and waiting for a plate of comforting food at Saada.
Hello Pardes Channa!
If you guys are around- stop by Saada (סעדה בית של אוכל)- at Pardes Channa, Derech Habanim.
Max has shared with me some of his recipes. If you would like your home to smell like Saada’s palace in Tripoli, don’t hesitate, roll your sleeves and make it!
My favorite (but laborious) dish is the Mafroum: http://eatwithsima.com/mafrum-recipe/