Friday morning at Zalmanico, a street food joint that opened in Jaffa a year ago, near the veteran butcher shop of the late Zalman Galkop. Yehuda Arzouan, who always wears a peaked cap, is roasting spicy green peppers, merguez sausages and eggs sunny-side up, with lovely yellow yolks, on the plancha grill.
He’s also preparing a Tunisian platter for another customer: hard-boiled eggs, pickled tuna, anchovies, pilpelchuma (a popular North African hot pepper sauce) and charred slices of challah (“That was my grandfather’s breakfast, and the first thing you put in your mouth before drinking alcohol”).
On Fridays, especially since the start of the coronavirus crisis, customers often take prepared goods home. On the kitchen stove are home-style pots of chicken patties in lemon, a dish of calf cheeks and tonsils, and “a mixed marriage” – slow-cooking veal and lamb.
On wintery Fridays, even if they’ve temporarily been forgotten by the folks suffering in this steamy cauldron, Arzouan prepares chamin (a meat stew eaten on Shabbat), which is a nice tribute to the Polish-North African combination that gave rise to this new Jaffa “hamara.” Traditional Polish cholent (the European version of chamin) – browned potatoes, kishke, marrow bones, short ribs, breast meat and oxtail cooked for 14 hours – was served with a mixture of fresh herbs and Tunis-style lemon (the mixture – gremolata and ossobuco in Italian cuisine – lightens the flavor and texture of the heavy dish).
Zalmanico’s chopped liver, which is prepared before weekends and even more intensively before the holidays, has already acquired a reputation. Not only due to the similarity to the original dish, which was usually prepared in Eastern Europe with goose fat rather than austerity-driven substitutes, but because the butcher’s home – or the eatery in which a butcher is a partner – will always have the best and freshest raw ingredients for preparing the simple-complex delicacy that’s become part of the Israeli cooking canon.
Gilad Biton, the only cook who works with Arzouan in the modest kitchen, tries to discreetly wipe away a tear as he chops onions for the liver. But the regular customers won’t miss an opportunity to make a remark: “Did the Holocaust get in your eyes?” asks a customer who has become a regular, chewing pita with kebab and watching what’s happening behind the counter with interest. “Bro, I’m Moroccan. That was a very strong onion,” says the cook defensively, to the laughter of those present.
The level of Holocaust jokes and ethnic stories soars when Moshe Galkop (the son of Zalman) enters the hamara in order to check something about the electricity. The man who grew up in the home of a Holocaust survivor who survived life in the Lodz Ghetto is the first to laugh about subjects that most people would politely sweep under the rug.
“The way to live at home was lots of black humor,” Moshe explains. “My father belonged to that group of survivors who put everything behind them in order to live. As if to say, ‘I survived, I won and I have a family. Now let’s eat and drink’ – the two things he loved most in the world aside from the city of Jaffa.”
A family tradition
Zalman Galkop was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1930. “I know I’m the 11th generation of butchers,” says son Moshe. “When you examine the family tree, you see that all the Galkops in the Lodz region dealt in meat, starting in the 19th century: butcher, butcher, butcher, meat trader, and here and there some shoemaker creeps in – and almost all of them were murdered in the Holocaust. I recently discovered that a Galkop who fled from Lodz in 1904, after receiving a draft order from the Russian army, arrived in Liverpool and opened a famous kosher butcher shop that is commemorated to this day in the city museum.”
Zalman Galkop, his two brothers and his mother were among some 800 Jews who managed to survive in the Lodz Ghetto until the end of the war. “My father and my older brother worked in a sausage factory and shared the food they received with their younger brother and their mother,” Moshe says. “My grandmother emerged from the Holocaust with three of her children, and another eight children whom she took care of when they were orphaned. Polish Jews typically don’t have a big family, because they all died in the Holocaust, and the people we called ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ in my childhood were those children and their children.”
In 1959, Zalman Galkop opened a butcher shop bearing his name on Jaffa’s Jerusalem Boulevard. Moshe, who was born in 1967, grew up in the meat and butcher trade.
“I love it, but in those days it was obvious we would have to follow in our fathers’ footsteps even if we didn’t like the profession. People forget today, but the 1970s in Tel Aviv were still modest and ascetic. Almost nobody ate out. After school, I would be sent to bring lunch to Father and to help him – and only in the early ’80s did people who had traveled abroad begin to ask for aged meats and become familiar with cheeses they had tasted in Italy or France.”
The butcher shop eventually became well-known and supplied meat to many famous Tel Aviv restaurants. Moti Haim, who married one of Moshe’s sisters, joined the staff. Zalman was just short of his 90th birthday when he passed away in May 2019. Five months later, his heirs opened Zalmanico, together with Arzouan.
“We thought for a long time about opening a place next door that would serve the meat from the butcher shop. But only after Father’s death we did realize what character we wanted to give it,” Moshe says. “Father was a simple man, after all. My grandmother used to say that if she didn’t know where he was born, she would have thought he was from Jaffa. He was a Pole among Poles, but food and alcohol were the essence of his life, and he really loved the simple, old-time Jaffa places where they served ouzo and small plates to the strains of Greek music.
“Yehuda, whom I met when he was working in the kitchen of Reviva and Celia [a restaurant with branches in Tel Aviv and Ramat Hasharon], fit in here naturally. He’s not from Jaffa originally and didn’t grow up on vodka and Ashkenazi food like my father. But something about his personality and his touch in the kitchen was the essence of the Jaffa-Israel mishmash.”
Shock and awe
Yehuda Arzouan was born in Moshav Sde Tzvi, southern Israel, in 1982. Until he was 13, he and his family alternated between their moshav and the suburbs of Paris.
“My father immigrated to Israel from Morocco in 1952. My mother’s family moved from Tunisia to France, and I spent most of my childhood in neighborhoods where most of the population was Muslim and African,” Arzouan recounts. “We were the only Jewish family in our building [in Paris], and the memories of the food from my childhood include lamb and couscous at the weddings and funerals of my Muslim neighbors. I recall unforgettable couscous that I ate on Grandfather’s knees during a consolation call, and I remember praying that someone would die soon so I could eat it again!”
After attending an agricultural boarding school and doing military service, Arzouan returned to France in order to study to be a pastry chef with Pierre Hermé. “I always loved to cook and I wanted to be a chef, and I had the idea of being a pastry chef. But because I’m a French citizen, they placed me in a study track with 16-year-olds and I didn’t find myself,” he says.
When he returned to Israel, he started working as a cook in the Retro restaurant at the Le Meridian Eilat Hotel. “Rafi Cohen and Israel Aharoni established the restaurant and created its menu, and after a year I realized that I wanted to learn from the source. I showed up in Tel Aviv with a knapsack – I didn’t have a place to sleep yet – and I told Rafi Cohen I wanted to work with him at Raphael.
“The first time I saw the kitchen, I was in shock: at the size, the silence and the awe with which everyone treated him.”
In the next 15 years, with the exception of a break to study film at Sapir Academic College, Sderot, Arzouan worked as a cook and chef in the kitchens of local restaurants. “I’m the Forrest Gump of Israeli cuisine,” says the charismatic man with the beard and smile. “I’ve been everywhere and I’ve worked with everyone.”
As mentioned, he met the Galkops while working at Reviva and Celia. “I drove Moshe crazy, telling him we have to open a place. One day he called and said a warehouse adjacent to the butcher shop had become available. Since then, I’m here. I’m excited to be part of their long family tradition, and I’m excited that I can also express the history of my family and my own history.”
Since the opening of this bijou space, with a long counter for seating in the elongated area and a few tables on the sidewalk, its owners have been forced to deal with the almost-total closure of the area by the municipality (due to work on the light rail at Jerusalem Boulevard) and the coronavirus. “But 95 percent of our clientele is local and people who return day after day,” Arzouan says. “And they’ve kept us alive.”
“For Jaffans – and not only for them – the butcher shop has been a magnet for meat lovers for years,” says one of those returning customers. “Zalmanico is a surprising and delightful twist in the plot: the raw ingredients are of a very high quality, but it also brings other culinary traditions and more affordable pricing,” they add.
There’s no substitute for all the experience accumulated by Arzouan while working in professional kitchens, and because the hamara was tailored to his requirements, he’s involved in the preparation of almost every dish. Even ostensibly simple dishes – an exceptional roasted butcher’s cut, a wonderful sandwich of beef cheek with mustard and pickle relish, or a Tunisian brik – provide an experience the likes of which is hard to find in the many street eateries that have opened in Israel in recent years.
The little street where the hamara is located, which is blocked on both sides because of the construction work, has over the past year become an eventful mini-universe that’s fascinating to observe, starring butchers, cooks and regular customers.
On Fridays, when people can enjoy a small shot of alcohol from noon, the tables overflow into the alley opposite. Indeed, there are times when it seems as though Jerusalem Boulevard will return to former glories at any moment and the heroes of “Hashetah Hagadol” (featuring stories about Old Jaffa) will show up around the corner.
“I brought color to their Ashkenazi story,” says Arzouan of the Galkops with comic seriousness. “I taught them to hug. Before they met me, they didn’t know how to hug.”
“He talks as though he hugs,” sighs his cook. “Bro, you’re the least hugging person I know.”
“I’m a big hugger,” Arzouan replies, ”even if not physically.”
Zalmanico’s chopped liver
Moshe Galkop: “The secret of chopped liver, as we used to prepare it in Eastern Europe, is the goose fat: there’s no substitute for its rich taste. In the years when it was hard to find goose fat in Israel, for reasons of austerity or for other reasons, they created less tasty substitutes such as chicken fat or margarine. Today, goose fat is imported regularly from Hungary – and besides, it’s impossible to find chicken fat.”
Yehuda Arzouan: “The Poles will eat the chopped liver as is, on a slice of bread and with raw onion on the side. My Tunisian version is to char a piece of challah over the fire, spread a generous smear of harissa over it and place the chopped liver on top.”
Meatballs with leek in pomegranate molasses
For the meatballs:
1 kg. beef (chuck steak or short ribs) ground twice
1 bunch of finely chopped parsley
1 bunch of fine chopped coriander
1 bunch of fine chopped spearmint
2 slices of bread soaked in a little water, thoroughly squeezed and crumbled
2 fine chopped garlic cloves
1 finely chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
1 black pepper
1 tsp. ground allspice
2 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
oil for frying
For the sauce:
1 leek, the white part only, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
salt and black pepper
2 tsp. ground allspice
2 cups chicken stock or water
Zalmanico’s chopped liver
1 kg. fresh and cleaned chicken livers
2 medium-sized white onions
8 hard-boiled eggs
200 grams melted goose fat (schmaltz) or vegetable fat
salt and black pepper
oil for frying
Meatballs with leek in pomegranate molasses
The meatballs: Combine all the meatball ingredients into a uniform mass and form small balls.
Heat a little oil in a skillet, fry the meatballs until they brown and transfer them to a plate.
The sauce: In the same skillet where the meatballs were fried, brown the leek until it’s soft. Add the garlic, pomegranate molasses, salt, black pepper and allspice, and mix.
The moment the sauce in the skillet bubbles, add stock or water, bring to a boil and add the meatballs. Cook for about 45 minutes on a low flame. Decorate with spearmint, parsley and pomegranate seeds.
Zalmanico’s chopped liver
Divide the onion into three parts: slice one third widthwise into thin slices, chop one third into small cubes, and cut one third into coarse cubes.
Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the onion slices until they’re brown and crisp.
Place the large cubes of onion in a skillet with two tablespoons of oil and three tablespoons of water, and fry over a low flame until they turn light brown.
Set aside the finely chopped onion.
Melt the goose fat in a skillet and when it’s hot sear the livers in it until they’re pink inside and browned outside (medium-cooked). Set aside to cool.
Grind the contents of the skillet in a meat grinder or in pulses in a blender, together with the eggs and cubes of caramelized onion. After grinding, mix with the finely chopped onion.
Season with salt and black pepper. Place the fried onion on top.