Sun-Thurs 11-19; Fri 10-1 hour before Shabbat
*Update* Ma’amot was previously named Bat Artzi.
It was rare cold rainy day in Tel Aviv and nothing seemed more fitting than a home cooked meal and a place to unwind. The desire was consummated at a small, homey restaurant known as Ma’amot located off Nachalat Binyamin, on HaShomer street. Here it’s possible to achieve the satisfaction that only hearty, homemade meals can bring on a gray, dreary day. I delightfully, entered the restaurant to the intoxicating aroma of Mediterranean spices and herbs wafting from the pots of stews and meats. The small space was full of Israelis hunching over their steaming plates, warming up with heaping portions of nourishing food amidst the unforgiving rainstorm.
The décor is simple with a funky tiled floor, a rustic cooled pantry filled with salads and sauces, and a counter with huge crockery full of boiling stews and warm rice. The round tables and chairs are scattered through the small space informally, and more seats await at a bar placed around the front windows, serving as a nice perch for people watching or daydreaming.
The story at Ma’amot began with the idea of bringing deep rooted Sephardic and Mizrahi Israeli food to the heart of the country by the ones who cook it best – mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. The women who nourish their family day in and day out with the recipes passed down from their own mothers and grandmothers. The recipes have no measurements and are not written down. They are recipes of intuition, locked up in the mind and poured out of a mother’s heart. In this spirit, Ma’amot started as a collective for women from an impoverished town in the south of Israel. They would cook at home and bring their food to Tel Aviv to sell. Eventually, it became too difficult to transport the food all the way from the South, therefore Miriam, one of the woman from the collective, became the permanent chef at Ma’amot.
Miriam hails from Morocco but masterfully cooks food from around the Middle East and North Africa such as Iran, Algeria, and Iraq. Her cooking is filled with soul because she cooks with the same intensity she has at home when she is anticipating her son’s arrival from the army base for the weekend. The daily dishes range from fish, couscous, stuffed peppers, and special stuffed chicken served only on Friday for Shabbat. My meal of meatballs, rice, and cooked string beans was warm and soothing. The meatballs were big and hearty and all of the sauces mixed harmoniously with the rice. I topped my meal off with a steaming glass of Turkish coffee. The concoction was thick, flavorful, and potent as it had me buzzing for hours. On another occasion I savored the stuffed peppers, the skin was tender after simmering through the day and the meat inside was spicy and herbaceous, while a vegetarian friend happily devoured a plate of cooked vegetables and couscous.
My meals at Ma’amot remind me of a recent Shabbat meal I had at an Israeli friend’s house. My friend’s mother spent hours cooking the meal and invited friends and strangers alike to share in the meal and welcome in the Shabbat. This is how I felt at Ma’amot, although I did not share a common language with Miriam, I knew that she had a vested interest in my nourishment.
The wonderful smell of Miriam’s cooking emanating from Ma’amot brings in Israelis and tourists alike to revel at the daily selections, many people go in especially before Shabbat to bring her cooking into their homes for their own families. The variation of the food makes every trip to Ma’amot as exciting as the first one. After eating at Ma’amot I leave with a satiated appetite and a warm energy humming inside me, the kind of feeling that can only be achieved by those who cook with the intuition from their stomach and the love from their heart.
Written by Laura Goldstein