★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Middle Eastern, Meat, Fish, Arab, Sambousak, Abulafia
7 Yefet Street, Tel Aviv – Yafo
Sunday – Saturday (12:00 – Last customer)
I can’t believe it took me two months since my arrival in Israel in September to visit Abulafia, which I remember frequenting with my family during every childhood visit to Israel. Despite many efforts to go earlier, it was only in November that I finally took Doug to try Abulafia for his first time. I’m pretty positive he’s thrilled with the new addition to our Tel Aviv culinary experiences—he loved his sambousak (a semicircular pocket stuffed with various fillings).
I prefaced our visit by telling Doug many stories of Abulafia’s fame. It’s located in Yafo (Jaffa), just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Clock Tower. Since its opening in 1879, Abulafia has drawn a religiously diverse crowd, bringing Muslims, Christians, and Jews together to eat sambousaks, beigalehs, and toasted sandwiches.
Over the course of six generations, every member of the Abulafia family worked at the bakery, beginning their tenure cracking eggs around age 10 and eventually graduating to preparing the dough and working behind the counter alongside Christian, Muslim, and Jewish workers. The bakery employs individuals of all religions and has become a symbol of peace and coexistence in a land surrounded by inter-religious conflict.
But Abulafia is about more than just peace and coexistence. It’s about delicious food, iconic items, and the satisfaction of a nostalgia-induced craving. I personally think their most famous food is sambousak. For those who are unfamiliar with sambousak—think of a calzone, but less greasy, not fried, softer, filled with different things, and sometimes topped with seasonings.
I ordered a potato sambousak with yellow cheese and a hard-boiled egg added. It was everything I remembered it to be and more. The potato filling blended wonderfully with the melted cheese, complimenting the creamy egg yolk beautifully. The dough was soft and rewarding, filling me up slowly with each savory bite.
Doug, meanwhile, was reveling in his own sambousak experience. He had ordered the zatar sambousak, which came filled with a ricotta-like cheese. He added a hard-boiled egg and Bulgarian cheese to it (the more cheese, the merrier! Right?) It was divine—the creamy texture of the cheese and egg mixed together, enveloped by a perfect balance of crunchy and soft parts of the dough, which was sprinkled generously with a slightly spicy, herby zatar that gave each bite of the sambousak an aromatic kick. Not a single bite lacked any element. And, he excitedly pointed out, the sambousak was the perfect size and shape for holding with one hand while talking or with two hands while eating.
Our friend ordered the eggplant and cheese sambousak. Although I didn’t try it, seeing the seasoned eggplant nestled alongside cheese inside the fluffy sambousak shell definitely made me want to go back for seconds.
As I sat munching on my sambousak with Doug and our newly-made friend along the Tel Aviv tayelet on a windy November day, I remembered my past Abulafia experiences. I flashed back to late evenings strolling along Yafo’s Yefet Street, lined with holiday lights for heaven knows what reason. I remembered my parents ordering for my brother and me as we eagerly awaited our treat. I wished for the days when we would stand near the storefront, sharing our orders and enjoying people-watching amidst the hustle and bustle constantly surrounding the bakery.
With the wind in my hair, the sun in my eyes, and a sambousak quickly disappearing in my hands, I added another memory to the ever-growing Abulafia album in my mind.
A few months after our first visit, we went to Abulafia again with Doug’s parents. The sambousak was delicious as ever. My spinach one was truly fantastic—earthy greens combined with creamy cheese, rich egg yolk, and a touch of spice, enveloped in soft dough with a crispy edge? How could it not be amazing?
We’d also recommend their sachlab, a warm liquidy, starchy pudding traditionally served with cinnamon, nuts, coconuts, and raisins. Their sachlab came without the raisins, but had a delicious chocolate piece with crunchy puffs inside. On a windy, overcast day in Yafo, it just couldn’t get any better.