Israeli casual eatery Miznon joined forces with SO/Singapore to bring you a Jaffa feast inspired by the mezze and shipudiya culinary cultures found in this ancient town in Israel.
Israeli cuisine is a mix of modern trends, the cooking traditions of Jewish immigrants and typical Middle Eastern cuisine. Tel Aviv is home to some of the finest restaurants in the country. And while there may not be a unified definition of what Israeli cuisine actually is, it can be agreed that it’s one that takes the best from a variety of global food cultures.
And as long as I can remember, we had Jaffa oranges in Singapore. In fact we knew about Jaffa oranges way before California or Australian oranges. And when I finally had the chance to visit this biblical city, I was so delighted to find Jaffa orange juice sold in abundance. Of course, there’s all the citrusy fruits like lemon too – very important as all Israeli meal always starts with a pitcher of ice cold lemonade.
I was so happy when the meal started without fanfare with the arrival of the customary pitcher of lemonade. If only they served the original ones instead this souped-up version which was neither citrusy nor refreshing.
Mezze is a ritual, you have to experience for yourself the mezze traditional just before every dinner in Israel. I would not call it omakase as the publicist of the event suggest, it was more like Korean banchan that you get before your Korean BBQ, except that these are usually vegetarian side dishes.
Since my most recent trip to Israel in 2015, I missed the large spread of mezze that they served together with my main course. This is usually an array of small cold plates, dips and pita breads that one dip, scoop, spread, tear and combine to their hearts’ content. No complicated operations in the back kitchen to manage or food to keep hot, they just kept coming when everyone was seated.
Hummus is a star feature in both Arabic and Israeli cuisine. Almost everyone in the country has an opinion when it comes to choosing the city’s best. Hummus is an Arabic word meaning ‘chickpea’, which makes sense considering hummus is a spread made out of cooked and mashed chickpeas. Hummus in Israel is usually served in three variations: plain, with tahini or with a spicy sauce like matbucha or zhoug (spicy cilantro sauce), and masabacha where the chickpeas are cooked longer and remain whole. Here, it was served with whole cooked chickpeas and with zhoug.
Baba ganoush is this tasty eggplant dip made from roasted or grilled eggplant, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, and literally means “spoiled dad” for all those ingredients used. Baba ganoush is similar to hummus, but it calls for grilled or roasted eggplant instead of chickpeas. Both dips originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, and they’re often served together with pita bread and raw, crisp veggies. Because of the grilling, it has that really beautiful charred smoky flavour.
Dips, lots of them
Quite simply, it’s just toasted and ground sesame seeds. Tahini is a smooth paste made from sesame seeds and is a staple in many cuisines, especially in the Mediterranean and Middle East. It can be mistaken to be peanut butter, but the fragrance of the mighty sesame seed cannot be replaced.
Tzatziki is made simply with yogurt, drained cucumber, olive oil, fresh herbs (usually mint or dill), garlic, lemon juice and salt. It’s a refreshing chilled sauce, dip or spread. It is usually associated with Greek food, but you’ll find it served across the Mediterranean and Middle East, sometimes under different names or in slightly different forms.
Matbucha is made with cooked tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, garlic, olive oil, and paprika. It’s traditionally a spicy dip, its heat coming from either jalapeño peppers or other fresh hot peppers
Harissa is a North African red chile paste or sauce made of a few simple ingredients including chiles, garlic, olive oil, citrus and a few warm spices. It is commonly used as a dip or marinade, or to add to dishes like stews to add vibrant red color and heat. Just like sambal in local cuisine, they were very comforting with the skewers to add heat and another layer of flavours.
Salatim are a kind of mezze, the traditional selection of small savories like baba ghanoush, dolmas and kibbe, such as you find on Greek, Turkish or Lebanese appetiser menus. The Israeli version is an eclectic mix of mostly spreads and salad-y things from the tiny country’s many culinary traditions: North African, Druze, Bedouin, Arab, Russian, Iranian, Romanian and more. There are more than 150 cultures and ethnicities there, so almost anything goes — the defining principle is boundlessness. Salatim are a popular starter at grill restaurants, which often advertise all-you-can-eat assortments.
Tabbouleh is a super fresh herb (usually mint) and bulgur salad, with parsley being the number one ingredient. It’s dotted with diced cucumber and tomato, and dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice. It’s refreshing, light and packed with healthy ingredients.
Lebanese cabbage slaw
Not your KFC coleslaw, Lebanese cabbage slaw was dressed with lemon, olive oil with some pepper, salt and sugar. That’s it, just like how my dad would make Chinese pickles.
Roasting beets intensifies their flavour, brings out their earthy sweetness.
Eggplants will come a close second in Israeli cuisine after hummus. Israelites eat a lot of eggplant. And they have a thousand ways to cook them. You had them in the baba ganoush, here they are simply grilled with oil and dukkah.
Moroccan carrots are essentially lightly cooked carrots tossed with a very strong vinaigrette with the prevalent flavour of garlic and cumin. They are common through North Africa and the Middle East.
Falafel is a popular Middle Eastern “fast food” made of a mixture of chickpeas (or fava beans), fresh herbs, and spices that are formed into a small patties or balls. It’s thought that falafel originated in Egypt as Coptic Christians looked for a hearty replacement for meat during long seasons of fasting or lent. It has also become a popular vegan food in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
The main course is inspired by the Israeli shipudiya, a small restaurant that sells meat on skewers called kebabs or shashlik in English traditionally originated alongside butcher shops.
Indeed, freshness is the name of the game when it comes to this meat, especially if we are talking about internal organs. The proximity of such establishments to the fresh meat gave rise to small smoking grills, beat-up fans, a few Formica tables and a clientele of market merchants and local residents looking for a cheap and fast meal.
In almost every marketplace in Israel there used to be such small eateries, but they are gradually disappearing from the landscape, some of them morphing into huge restaurants that serve a selection of salads and kebabs of mediocre quality. But there are still a few righteous people who have remained faithful to their ancestral customs.
Merguez is a red, spicy mutton- and/or beef-based fresh sausage in Maghrebi cuisine. It is heavily spiced with cumin and chili pepper or harissa, which give it its characteristic piquancy and red color, as well as other spices such as sumac, fennel, and garlic. The casing gave it a distinct crunch, and the mix of spices and meat was perfect.
Yoghurt Z’hug Chicken Thighs and Lamb Kebab
There are many ways to enjoy meat grill – as a sheesh kebab or in its original form. Yoghurt as a marinade has been used in many culture. Our Indian neighbours use yogurt for their chicken tikkas. Yoghurt has that tenderiser effect that worked perfectly for white meat. The minced lamb was mixed with spices and wrapped around the skewer like a Japanese tsukune. Both were expertly grilled on charcoal ambers for Milliard to take over in enhancing the flavours while cooking them.
Chicken Liver and Parsley Lemon Butter Tiger Prawns
The Japanese has perfect it, the Israelite has not. The chicken liver was not creamy and a bit over cooked. I suspected that they weren’t as adventurous as the Japanese to serve medium-rare chicken liver. The tiger prawns were grilled perfectly though.
Broccolini Halloumi Cheese
Halloumi is one cheese that doesn’t not melt when grilled. Halloumi cheese is traditionally made from sheep’s milk on the Greek island of Cyprus. Halloumi has a higher melting point than you will find with most types of cheese, so it won’t fall through the grates of your barbecue, which makes it a great candidate for grilling. Don’t be tempted to take a bite of the fresh halloumi cheese just out of the package—it’s a bit oddly textured and rubbery. However when grilled, it came alive with burst of deliciousness. In my opinion the broccolini was for decorative purpose only.
Every serving was placed on bed of grilled vegetables – tomatoes, potatoes, green pepper, onions.
When the complimentary dessert was served, I was so happy it was the knafeh. Knafeh is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with shredded filo pastry, or alternatively fine semolina dough, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts, depending on the region.
Their version was so deliciously drizzled with honey, layered with bits of halloumi, and topped with a quenelle of coconut ice cream with chopped pistachio. It was the best knafeh I had in Singapore, hands down. Absolutely delicious and a wonderful sweet ending to the a memorable dinner.
By the time you read this post, the pop-up collaboration would be over. Running between 15-28 April 2021 in borrowed spaces of SO/ Xperience, Miznon brought some dining concepts one would find in Israel, unadulterated in its entirety including the strings of lights decorating the dining place to recreate that hot, dry atmosphere of Israel.
Founded in 2010 in Tel Aviv, Israel, Miznon is an international fine casual restaurant chain offering a new take on Israeli street food. Helmed by one of the leading figures in the Israeli culinary scene and appeared as a judge on the highly acclaimed Israeli “MasterChef”, Chef Eyal Shani, who imparts a sense of magic in every bite. Since its founding, Miznon has expanded to New York City, Paris, Vienna, Melbourne and finally making its way to Singapore’s lively culinary scene.
About SO/ Xperience Restaurant
SO/, the cheeky brand under the Sofitel group, opened in a refurbished colonial building that we knew from our childhood as Telecom Building. It became Oglivy’s APAC HQ before it finally became a boutique hotel. A vibrant all-day café, restaurant and bar located in the heart of Singapore’s bustling CBD, SO/ Xperience is the hotel dining place helmed by Chef Hong Dingzhao, whom previously was from Ocean by Cat Cora and L’atelier de Joel Robuchon Singapore. Unfortunately SO/ has been closed and used a quarantine hotel. SO/ Xperience is still opened for walk-ins and pairs up with other chefs to do these pop-ups.
JAFFA @ SO/ Xperience Restaurant
Level 1, SO/Singapore, 35 Robinson Rd, Singapore 068876
Tel : +65 6701 6800
Date Visited : Apr 2021