For the past two weeks I’ve been hearing constantly about Muftak. Friends and colleagues kept on talking about it and my Instagram and Facebook feeds seemed to be bombarded with delicious images and videos. To be honest, I don’t know who was the first to discover the place, who was exposed to it and spread the rumor around – but I can only envy him or her.
Anyone who passes by this small eatery, at the junction of Shlomo Street and Har Zion Boulevard, on the outskirts of the “new” Central Bus Station complex, won’t notice anything unusual. The red sign above announces Miznon Bis. Apparently a previous vestige of what was here before; only on the door, in small letters, does it say Muftak (Turkish for kitchen).
The truth is that anyone who enters won’t discover anything unusual, unless he knows ahead of time what’s hiding here. A plancha (flattop metal grill) that’s not very big, a standard salad stand, a tray of burekas, a medium-sized skewer of shawarma, and there’s also kebab and chicken breasts, everything in a pita, a baguette or on a plate. On the face of it, no more and no less than hundreds of similar fast-food places and stands (which are not always inviting) in Tel Aviv in particular and throughout the country in general.
But I already knew, and so did most of those who were already seated at the few tables at the site. Those in the know will ask for “Shawarma Iskander,” most people will simply ask for “that,” while pointing at the order that is already making its way to one of the hungry people next to them.
So what is “that”? The first part of the magic takes place in the kitchen in back, where on an oval plate they place soft pieces of bread, with tomato sauce and velvety butter cooked in a pot poured over them, and add two small mounds of yogurt on the sides. Then the plate goes to the front of the stand, and a portion of shawarma is placed on it.
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When you think that that’s it and you can begin, they pour on butter that was melted in a finjan, a small metal coffee pot, until it turned liquidy. Another slice of hot pepper, tomato halves seared on a grill – and you get a magnificent dish, no less. The price, incidentally, is 50 shekels ($14).
And it’s almost superfluous at this point for me to write that it’s amazing. In any way you choose to eat it: You can mix everything together, the bread and the yogurt and the sauce and the shawarma, and gobble it up; or you can use your fork to fish out pieces of bread, stick on a piece of meat dripping with juice and butter, dip it in a little sauce, spread on a little yogurt, and enjoy yourself slowly. Whatever you do, you’ll get one of the most terrific meals in all of Israel.
The shawarma is good in itself – delicately seasoned, leaving room for the distinct mutton flavors; the reddish sauce is thin, sweetish and buttery; the contrast comes from the thick and tart yogurt; and beneath it hide the pieces of dough, suffused with sauce, fun and airy. Great. When you finish, you’ll find it hard to understand how you ate shawarma until now. It’s not certain you’ll be able to compromise on anything else in the genre in future. And in brief: The relationship between you and shawarma will be divided into life before and after Muftak.
Behind the eatery there’s a charming Turkish family, which moves genially between the kitchen and the grill. They know what they have, and that’s why even the young boy in front – with the confidence typical of real winners – wasn’t afraid to tell all those seated that one of the secrets of the food is the butter, which comes especially from Turkey and is cut into large pieces for the sauce and for the final act of its composition.
“And the kebab is outstanding too,” he told me, so I ordered it too (27 shekels in pita). This kebab has no secret, only fresh meat ground on the spot every day and placed on the skewer when you order. The result – a lovely kebab, big and long, embedded with tiny pieces of red pepper; its only shortcoming is that it’s roasted on the hot, greased iron surface rather than over a charcoal grill.
I don’t usually use this column to complain, but I have often done so here about the absence and/or deterioration of shawarma stands in Tel Aviv, and about the crisis in relations between the Israelis and Turkey, which has adversely affected the popularity here of the wonderful Turkish street food. But if all that was necessary only for the moment when I encountered this portion of shawarma at Muftak, it was all worthwhile.
Muftak, 110 Derech Shlomo, Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv. 054-9072666. Open: Monday-Friday, 9 A.M. – 9 P.M.
Frankfurter in Berlin, Fat Dog in Tel Aviv
Fat Dog, a new hotdog stand that opened a few weeks ago at the corner of Derech Yafo and Hahalutzim Street, is an interesting experiment. A type of missing link between the cheap and unpretentious hotdog stands that are found everywhere and at every event, and up-to-date eateries that cater to advanced gourmands. You won’t find the artisanal, hand-made, sophisticated hotdogs, but rather the familiar classic “smooth” factory hotdogs, which turn on a rotisserie grill. On the other hand, the owners of the place aren’t ashamed to declare – and even to write on the sign outside – that as far as they’re concerned, they’re as good as Berlin and New York, no less.
The result really is something that is more like the American “hotdog” and the German frankfurter, and to the accompanying trend of eating them in the local streets and stands there. At Fat Dog (a cute name; maybe I would have been deterred had I not once eaten at a hotdog stand in Brooklyn named Bark – they offer four types of hotdogs that come from a local supplier: chicken, beef, pork and vegan (17-29 shekels).
You will also find the basic ketchup-mustard-sauerkraut here, but the relative innovation – compared to similar simple stands in the city – is the option of somewhat more interesting, and nonkosher, toppings: spicy bean chili, cheeses (cheddar, gouda), pineapple, bacon and hot barbecue-curry sauce (2-7 shekels).
The various combinations, some of which we chose and the others ordered at the recommendations of the workers there, were all good. The cheeses, which were melted by being heated briefly, added juiciness and flavor that were really fun; the pineapple, combined with the chili sauce, provided a sweetish-spicy contrast; the barbecue-curry sauce is a very nice creation; and the bacon, despite the above comment, is an excellent addition. The nachos were tasty and warm, but the dip that came with them wasn’t spicy enough.
I could write that Fat Dog is no more and no less that what you would expect from an independent, young, almost homey hotdog stand. At the same time, it’s better to be accurate: Although Fat Dog is no less that what you would expect from it, the additions, the informal atmosphere, the reasonable prices and the fun actually turn it into something more.
Fat Dog. 1 Hahalutzim Street (corner of Derech Yafo), Tel Aviv. Tel: 077-2145250
A wok to queue
“I really can’t understand this line,” said a woman waiting behind me in the orderly line that formed outside the first branch of Wok to Walk one evening last week. Maybe she was right; after all a line at Wok to Walk is somewhat strange – it’s a well known chain, with worldwide branches, that has become popular with tourists looking for a quick, inexpensive solution. Also, its absence from our streets until now – despite the chain’s Israeli roots – has enabled similar versions and imitators to establish themselves here before it (with varying degrees of success).
The concept is simple: You choose the base (several choices of noodles, ordinary or whole-grain rice, quinoa or a vegetable mix; they cost 21.90 shekels here); what to add (chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu, vegetables – each is priced separately, 1.5-12 shekels; and in addition, they add to your portion one of eight different “Asian” sauces. All that is supposed to create an endless choice of combinations for you, and a portion whose average price is around 40 shekels.
On the internet I compared the Israeli menu to that offered in London, Amsterdam and Barcelona, and there are very few differences – in variety and price – so this is an almost perfect copy for fans of the chain, rather than a compromising localization, which is such a downer in other cases.
We chose white rice with beef (12 shekels), mushrooms, broccoli and cashews (4.5 shekels each) in Saigon sauce (garlic and black pepper; for a total of 47.40 shekels); egg noodles with chicken breast (10 shekels), bacon (12 shekels) and spinach (4 shekels) in Bali sauce (with a peanut base; for a total of 47.90 shekels); and udon noodles with shrimp (10 shekels), peanuts and coriander (1.5 shekels each) in a “hot Asia” sauce (for a total of 34.90 shekels).
The rice left us ambivalent. On the plus side, the sauce was very tasty, with dominant flavors of black pepper and garlic, not just a generic soy sauce, but something relatively original in the familiar genre of Asian fast food. The pieces of beef were also fine; not superior, but entirely satisfactory and without an aftertaste and the rubbery texture that usually characterizes this choice in similar places.
On the other hand, there were two main problems with the portion. First, the rice was undercooked, and second, the mushrooms were cut too large and coarse, and here the short time they spent in the wok is entirely to blame, as it was not long enough to soften them; I have nothing against raw mushrooms, but not in a dish like this.
The portion of egg noodles, chicken and bacon was generous. In general it can be said that you’ll leave Wok to Walk quite satiated. There were lots of pieces of chicken and bacon, but what was clearly missing was actually the sauce – except for a slight aroma of peanuts, we didn’t detect anything, either in the taste or in the texture.
The fat udon noodles were nice, and went well with the numerous baby shrimp that filled the portion (although they’re of the frozen type, they’ll do just fine). The sauce was nice, although despite the warning on the menu (three flames to denote maximum spiciness) it was more of the piquant-smoked type and really didn’t send us in a search for a nearby source of liquid.
Wok to Walk. 52 Nahalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv: 03-9441918Open all week long from 2 P.M. - 11 P.M.