Ramadan at Noa Bistro

Chef Nir Tsuk and his staff prepare a Ramadan feast with traditional dishes to enjoy the fasting – or non-fasting as for some the case may be – and in any case to enjoy local produce with a distinct Noa flair.

The Ramadan holiday has begun and Muslims around the world are spending their days fasting and their nights celebrating and feasting. At the Noa Bistro in Jaffa, one of famous Chef Nir Tsuk’s culinary projects, the ethnically-mixed kitchen staff is preparing a feast for any visitor to enjoy. Orit and I arrived just a bit before sunset to sample the classic dishes presented in the pre-fixe menu and experience a bit of the unique atmosphere in this cozy cavern-like restaurant.

Situated in an alley just next to the ancient city of Jaffa, Noa is an artfully decorated café-style restaurant featuring rotating bi-monthly exhibits of local artists. The lighting gives the feeling of evening in an ancient castle while the plethora of plants adds a hint of vibrant life to the room. The bathroom is most certainly worth a visit, with their unique sink made of an amalgamation of three old pots filtering the water from the pipe into the basin. The water takes its time meandering down this maze to your hands, mirroring the overall chill vibe of the restaurant.

The meal involves many courses, all featuring dishes based on locally produced goods and traditional recipes combined with the chef’s techniques. The meal opens with two types of fresh bread, baked on premises for all of Tsuk’s eateries and rotating daily, with butter and a pesto made from grape leaves and garlic in olive oil. In contrast to a traditional Muslim Ramadan feast, a cold pitcher of arak and grapefruit juice with mint garnish accompanies the meal (Muslims are forbidden from drinking alcohol). Almost immediately, an exciting array of salads and the soup arrive as well to the table. As this meal progressed, we realized that despite the delicious-ness of all the dishes, we would have to pace ourselves to taste all of it!

The salads were an array of traditional Middle Eastern specialties: exquisite grainy hummous with a strong garlic flavor, smoky-flavored roasted eggplant salad, grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, cherry tomatoes in raw tehini, Arab vegetable salad dressed with more than a hint of parsley, lemon and olive oil and zucchini stuffed with rice and meat and served with a fresh tomato sauce. The soup, a delicious labane (sour cheese somewhere between cream cheese and yoghurt in taste) broth with homemade croutons, arrived along with the salads. The vast array of color in this opening course is most striking at first, but the essential tastes brought out in each dish soon take over the senses. The kitchen at Noa Bistro definitely has a sense of taking each vegetable and complimenting its unique flavor.

For the entrée one has a choice between fish and chicken. The former, a filet of sea fish, we had Corvina, on a bed of fish-broth infused rice with a fresh tomato sauce. The latter is a spring chicken, stuffed with chicken-broth infused rice and lamb served on a bed of its own rice. Our hostess shared that the kitchen prepares vats of different batches of rice each day uniquely paired to their relevant dishes, rounding out the flavors.

The final treat of this meal is the desert: kadayef. Kadayef is a staple in the Arab bakery. A half-circle shaped dumpling is lightly fried and filled with slightly sweet, spiced cheese. Not too sweet and not too large a portion, this dessert closed the holiday feast with a simple elegant touch. The Ramadan Feast at Noa Bistro started a week after the start of the holiday month and will continue until mid-September.