It all started with my Gourmet Culture Club – a series of lectures and lunches that I hold in my home. Topics vary, attendants vary, but its always a group of interested, interesting women. And the common denominator is they want to get together, have fun, and eat well.
We planned a reunion, to celebrate a few July birthdays and just to meet again. Our restaurant du jour was “Sudfeh”, an extraordinary place serving nouvelle cuisine Arabic cuisine in Nazareth. What a day it was!
First, the July planned meeting got postponed until August. (Try planning a get-together with a bunch of women – see how many dates you have to try!). Then, one of our group, Ola, observes the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, when no eating is allowed during the day – so our rendezvous had to be before the start of Ramadan. We finally got it together.
Rachel arrived at my house, having just landed the night before from Sweden. “Nothing is going to stop me from joining you – I canceled everything!”. Then we drove to the train station to pick up Nizza, who came in from Tel Aviv. She left her restaurant “Boccaccio” in the capable hands of others for the day, in order to be with us. And off we went to Nazareth.
Now, I’m probably the only person on earth without a GPS in the car. Would I remember how to get there? With the help of a wise husband, and two women who certainly know their way around this country, we made it – it record time!
We waited on the road for Aml, who was coming from the village of Tur’an. Thank God for cell phones, we could keep in constant touch. Yeah, and try talking to someone on your speaker phone when the other occupants of the car are excitedly chatting away. “Where are we, ask her what village this is.” “Oh, look over there – that shop looks so interesting.” “Wait, are we at the right mall?” “Could this be Nazareth, no I think we’re in a small town.” “Ann, can you hear me, I’m at the light, I’m coming up right behind you.” Then Aml, on the phone with Ola who’s in her car “Yes, over there by the mall, Anne’s waiting in the car.” A black car pulls up, the driver gets out, he opens the door, out comes Ola and walks over to our car. Drivers are swerving out of the way, traffic is merging because the lanes are blocked (no, not because of me). She gets in, kisses all around. Excitement, talking, where’s Aml?
Aml pulls up and still on the phone, tells me to follow her to where she’ll park and then join us. We follow. I’m feeling like I’m in a bad spy movie. She pulls a U-turn and parks. Runs across the street, ignoring the traffic and slips into my car. More kissing, smell of lovely perfumes, excitement. Nizza’s phone rings – her daughter is nearby for business and would love to join us – where are we? Oh sure, try and explain it to her.
Aml directs me from the back seat in between talking to everyone. We reach the promenade of Nazareth with its beautiful views of the city beyond. Oops, she tells me I just passed the gallery she wants us to see. Do another U-ie, and park. We all pile out and head over to this little cute gallery. There are so many of us we can hardly fit in there – but its owned by a lovely woman, Mary Farah, and she and her co-worker are so happy to host us. Palestinian handicrafts, Moroccan ceramics, and all kinds of goodies.
Ola buys some lanterns – part of the custom for Ramadan. We’re happy, but hungry – when do we eat? Back to the car, drive a bit, remind Aml to stop chatting and guide me to the restaurant. She does so – perfectly! We get there, find an easy spot in the parking lot and get to the restaurant, where they’re eagerly awaiting us.
Nizza’s daughter Meirav is already there – more kisses and happy chatting. We take a table by the window – nice views of the restaurant and the street below. Let the feast begin!
There are some words of Arabic between Aml and Osama – our sweet young waiter. He starts to bring out goodies from the kitchen. Salad after salad of delicious fresh vegetables, nuts, goat cheeses – all yummy. Suddenly there’s a commotion. What is it?
A woman is making a fuss – in Hebrew. I don’t pay attention but the others do and they tell me that we’re in her seats. What seats? The place was empty when we arrived. Apparently she reserved the “table by the window” for her American guests, but she didn’t specify which window. Obviously, we were at the window she wanted. She didn’t stop complaining, and Nizza, the gentle soul among us (who’s well aware of customer issues) suggests that we move. Why not? We don’t care. We’re just happy to be in each other’s company and to be fed. We get up, glasses in hand, and move ourselves to another table, Osama takes care of bringing us the food. Big mouthed lady doesn’t even say thank you!
After we fork our way through the salads, its main course time – batter fried shrimp with a spicy chili sauce, rolled chicken stuffed with goat cheese & herbs, goose breast in a wild berry reduction sauce, and grilled eggplant with home made tehina on top. It doesn’t get much more delicious. We’re all deliriously happy as each entree exits the kitchen and arrives at our table.
Best of all, though, is the feeling amongst the group of us. We chat away about everything: the international women’s club that Ola and I belong to and the plans for our committee in the new year (we’re calling it “World on Your Table” so you can imagine what the main course of that committee will be!); my new book which is about to come out of the closet (or computer, as the case may be), our lives, our loves, etc. etc. Put women who like each other together and what great times come out of it!
When it was time for dessert, we were all full to the gills, but of course we didn’t say no. Out came dates in caramel sauce with vanilla ice cream and halvah, chocolate souffle cake with vanilla ice cream and an excellent creme brulee. And Mary the owner arrived! That was a delight – meeting the woman who started the restaurant. After several years in the Cultural Ministry, and trips overseas, and a post-graduate university degree, she turned her hand to food. She found this gem of a place, with arched ceilings, stone walls, and charming courtyard and just knew she could turn it into a meeting place offering great food, delicious drinks and an enchanting ambiance. That’s just what she did!
Towards the end of our feast, the big-mouthed lady came over and remembered to thank us for giving up our table. I said I was going to send her our bill, she didn’t smile. She grilled us about what we each do, handed out her business cards, and went merrily on her way. Gave us some good fodder for gossip!
And so, that’s my Nazareth with the ladies story. Can’t wait to go back there!
Sudfeh’s number is: 04 656-6611
And Mary’s gallery can be found at: www.maryfarah.com, Her number is: 054 571-8217