256 Ben Yehuda
“I never liked writing about seafood restaurants,” says Ovad, a former food writer as well as frequent diner of Chupack and childhood friend of the owner, Gaddi. Ovad further explains, “People always assume that seafood restaurants are going to be expensive and out of their price range, so they don’t give them a chance.” I must admit, he has a point. My husband Adam and I walked by Chupak plenty of times and upon seeing the plates of whole fish on the tables, we quickly assumed it was just another pricey Tel Aviv fish restaurant. What finally compelled us to walk through the door was a combination of the sight of a glimmering plate of lightly fried calamari and shrimp through the glass window and an immediate craving for said dish. This dangerous combination forced us to throw all financial caution to the wind.
As soon as we stepped through the door into the wooden enclosed patio, which was surrounded by glass and perfect for people watching, we were hypnotized. Seeing all the foods, inhaling each unique smell and hearing the noise around us in this busy little restaurant, our mind strayed further away from the cost and much closer to the food. Within minutes we were surrounded by a plethora of salads and dips, each one an Israeli classic but made with a personal touch. From my first bite I could tell that each dish is made from scratch. The traditional spicy carrot salad made with red and green peppers is enhanced by blood oranges, the pickled garlic and cabbage is seasoned to celebrate both the elements of sweet and salty, the herring (Gaddi’s mother’s recipe) is slightly smoked and delicately salted without an oily aftertaste. The sour cream, red onion and caviar dip and the house made tehina are perfect accompaniments to the basket full of fresh baked wheat and white rolls.
Adam already had his mind (and stomach) set on the fried calamari. I opted for whole fish, after being informed that the Red Sea fish are delivered fresh daily. That day there was a selection of ten choices ranging from Denise to Rockfish. I chose the Denise fish, which is prepared whole on an open fire grill. The calamari was superb, lightly fried to maintain the integrity of the fresh flavor of the calamari. The fish was so fresh and meaty it hardly needed anything but a touch of lemon to enhance the flavors. All the while, the server kept refilling the complimentary pitcher of soda water.
On subsequent visits as we enjoyed other dishes, we were happy to find that the quality of food remained consistent. The mussels are prepared either with a white wine and garlic broth or in the provencal style with herbs, fresh tomatoes, and garlic. The only disappointment is the pan seared shrimp with creamy garlic sauce. The richness of the sauce overpowers the dish. Otherwise everything on menu is scrumptious and provides appealing flavors while maintaining the essence of the seafood.
While savoring the seafood is a joy on its own, one cannot ignore the feeling of delight when the check arrives. Almost every dish is under 100 shekels and even a bottle of white wine is less than that, something unheard of in Tel Aviv. My curiosity led me to ask Ovad how Gaddi gets away with selling such fresh seafood at such a fair price. Ovad simply answers, “Gaddi is an honest man, he isn’t doing this to be rich, he is doing this because he loves it and he barely raises the prices above cost.”
When I come to find out about Gaddi’s humble past, his honest nature makes a lot of sense. Gaddi’s parents immigrated to Israel from Poland in 1922. They were one of the founders of kibbutz Tel Yossef, one of the first kibbutzim established as a haven for Jews located in the north-eastern part of Israel in the Jezreel Valley. After living a kibbutznik life, Gaddi joined the navy seals. It was during this time he developed a love for everything aquatic; the vastness of the sea, the life within the sea and the source of food provided by the sea. He knew that after the army he wanted to do something related to food and opening a seafood restaurant was a natural choice for him. In 1995 the restaurant Chupak was established, a homage to the original Polish family name. Today the traces of his past still exist in elements of his restaurant. His old army friends dine here, old generals and children of the earliest zionists reunite here on Fridays to reminisce about past memories.
There are highly touted seafood restaurants in Tel Aviv with large ads in the hotel travel magazines. If you want to try something of equal quality, but more authentic and not nearly as expensive, then Chupak is well worth the stop. You will be delighted!