I went with Ben and Nathan to Keton, on Diezengoff. I’ve been trying to persuade Nathan to come here since we first became friends, but he has been reluctant.
I like Ben a lot. He is handsome, and, oh, enormous, 6’ 4” or 5”, at least a head taller than me, and has a gentle quality about him. He has had health, business and money problems in the last two years. He doesn’t, at least to me, moan about his troubles. I kvetch about mine, freely. My brothers are being insufferable, as unhelpful as you could imagine. Nathan says, If they’re a bitch, be a bigger bitch. I don’t know if I can, or even want to be. One day this will all pass.
Anyway, Keton. Ben isn’t Jewish, but loves the food of poor, Jewish, Eastern Europe; stuffed chicken neck, fish heads, calf’s foot jelly. Keton has all of them, although fish heads are only available at weekends. Food like this used to be easier to find in exciting, world food destination, Tel Aviv. (It is a pr lie that Tel Aviv is those things; hummus, falafel, shakshuka and sabich are still what it does best. Also, top tip! never order a hamburger in Israel).
The restaurant is not a big space, six or seven tables inside, four out, and is full soon after we arrive, just before seven. Everyone wants to sit inside, for the air con. Our combined age is 163, yet, by some margin, we are the youngest customers.
I like coming here on Friday night, when there is Yiddish karaoke. There isn’t a stage, or disco lighting, no screen with the lyrics scrolling. Someone will be eating their dinner and, without putting their fork down, will take the microphone, sing their song, in Yiddish, then return to their meal. It’s one of my favourite things in Tel Aviv.
There is only one waitress, but she works hard and she may give the best service I’ve seen in this city of atrocious waiters. We never have to wait long, indeed, our mains arrive before we’ve finished our starters. Look, this is not a fancy place. It’s best just to relax and enjoy it for what it is rather than for what it isn’t.
We shared two plates of chopped liver, topped with crisp, fried onion, and I could have eaten more. When I was a child, my mother used to serve it with an ice cream scoop, balls of it, topped with grated hard-boiled egg. At Kiton, it came with fresh, fluffy, sliced white bread, which was unexpected on a Saturday night. I’d thought all Jewish bakeries were closed on the Sabbath, but, it seems, I’m as wrong about that as I am about so much.
A man at another table pointed at me, his hand trembling, and said, Itzhak Stern sat there. I expressed a mild, but pleased, surprise. He continued, Do you know who Itzhak Stern is? and mimed playing a violin. I did, as it happens, we all did. He pointed at the wall behind me, where earlier patrons, including Itzhak Stern, had signed their names.
The whole room joined in with this conversation, it’s that sort of place. Another customer was delighted that young people like us knew what this old fashioned food was, let alone ate it. Nathan asked her if she thought he had a goyische punim, and everyone laughed and we went back to our dinner.
For main, Nathan had a beef stew that tasted home made, which is a compliment. Ben had veal tongue, about which he was enthusiastic. I was safer, and had veal schnitzel, because I love it. It was as good as any I’ve eaten. We all had mash, which had not been passed through a sieve, and green salad, that was dressed only with a wedge of lemon. Israel is, mostly, ignorant of the pleasures of a decent vinaigrette.
The reason I have no photos of any of it is, well, this sort of food is stubbornly unphotogenic, brown and unglossy. You won’t often see it on Instagram. It all tasted better than it looked.
After, we walked to the place on Ben Yehuda for ice cream. I had strawberry and vanilla. It seemed right for the nostalgic food theme of the evening.
Today’s word: tzuh-ir – young – צעיר
See also Yiddish karaoke