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Portugal's first kosher restaurant brings Porto Israeli culture

30-year IDF cook Shlomi and son Nativ open kosher restaurant in Porto: The falafel ball, lots of shakshuka and lots of history.

Mordechai Sones,

Falafel, hummus, tahina
Falafel, hummus, tahina
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On 719 Boavista Avenue, in Porto, Portugal, a father and son - Israeli Jews - have opened Bola Falafel - The Falafel Ball - Portugal's first kosher restaurant in a long, long time, Iberian Jewish Affairs correspondent Ana Rodrigues told Arutz Sheva.

Their menu promises dishes like shakshuka, fried eggplant, and falafel de humus on pita bread. Observador correspondent Sara Otto Coelho discovered that not only is the restaurant kosher, but it also closes on Jewish holidays when she tried repeatedly to visit the venue during the recent Sukkot holiday for her review.

Nativ Dadon, the 22-year-old who had the idea of opening the restaurant, was born in Eilat, the southernmost tip of Israel. He arrived in Portugal only this summer, and has still had no time to learn the local language. Every minute there was dedicated to planning and designing the Falafel Ball, so he converses in Hebrew or English. "At the age of 18 I went to the army, like all Israelis. When I finished my military service three years later, I decided to travel to Latin America."

He returned to Israel with many doubts about his future. In conversation with his father, who for 30 years served as an IDF cook, he proposed an idea: What if they opened a restaurant in Europe?

Portugal
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The Jewish Community of Porto - also known as Oporto - was officially recognized in 1923, and it brings together all Jews from Porto. Its headquarters are located in Rua de Guerra Junqueiro in Porto, where the Kadoorie Synagogue Mekor Haim is located, the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in Europe.

In 1492, Spain expelled its Jewish population as part of the Spanish Inquisition. Tens of thousands of Spanish Jews subsequently fled to Portugal, where King John II granted them asylum in return for payment. However, the asylum was only temporary - after eight months, the Portuguese government decreed the enslavement of all Jews who had not yet left the country. In 1493, King John deported several hundred Jewish children to the newly discovered colony of São Tomé, where many of them perished.

Following John's death in 1494, the new king Manuel I of Portugal restored the freedom of the Jews. However, in 1497, under the pressure of the newly born Spanish State through the clause Marriage of Isabella, Princess of Asturias, the Church and also part of the Christian people, King Manuel I of Portugal decreed that all Jews had to convert to Christianity or leave the country without their children. Hard times followed for Portugal's Jews, so that the opening of a kosher Jewish cultural center takes on historic significance far beyond what its founders may have intended.

According to the official website of the Jewish Community of Porto, the synagogue is run by the Chabad Lubavitch movement and among its members one finds Jews from places as diverse as Egypt, India, Russia, United States, Poland, Spain, Israel, Portugal, Mexico, and Venezuela.

Porto is also famous for Port wine, a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as port or Porto. Kosher Port wines are available.

The Falafel Ball is located about 600 meters from the Mekor Haim synagogue, which is supported by Porto’s Israeli Community (Comunidade Israelita do Porto - CIP). The community explained to the Observador that it is comprised of 250 Jews residing in Porto. In addition to serving local Jewish residents and the Portuguese, the Falafel Ball can benefit from the city's tourist boom. In 2016 alone Portugal was visited by "more than 100 thousand Jews - tourists - who are the biggest customers of kosher restaurants", says CIP.

Porto
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Today, Shlomi spends his days in the kitchen preparing Israeli-flavored dishes, while Nativ runs the dining room and everything else that goes into the business. Meat does not enter the premises, and the only fish item on the menu is salmon and Moroccan inspired hummus balls, whose recipe Shlomi inherited from his mother. Humus dishes there come in five varieties: falafel hummus, mushrooms, fish balls, chickpeas, and shakshuka, the famous egg dish very popular in Israel and the entire Middle East.

There are two more shakshukas available, the Israeli and the spicy. "I discovered that the Portuguese don't like spicy things," confesses Nativ, enthusiastic about so many discoveries. Another thing he discovered is that the Portuguese have several table rituals. For example, the restricted lunch and dinner times confused him. For this reason, the Falafel Ball serves meals at any time of the day, from morning to night, i.e. it does not close during the afternoon, like most restaurants. "We want to be a relaxed space where people can shout requests to the counter instead of raising their fingers and calling the clerk - like we do in Israel," says Nativ.

Shakshuka
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Among these requests may be snacks such as fried cauliflower, Israeli salad, a vegetable couscous, a special new house tabbouleh salad, and the eggplant tahini. There are also four pita bread options, "good for those who prefer takeaway": Falafel, shakshuka, fish balls, and sabih, made of eggplant with humus, tahini, and spicy sauce. For dessert there is only cake meanwhile, because Shlomi is still perfecting the true consistency that malabi should be, which is a kind of Israeli pudding. Only when he finds it will this dessert start being served. The coffee also comes from Israel, although the grains are Turkish.

On the walls of the space where Al Porto's pizzeria used to be now hang photos of Israel and Oporto interspersed. The music one hears there is always from Israel. "We want to bring some of our culture here," explains Nativ. But despite the longer hours that allow one to have a meal any time of day, Jewish holidays are observed. In observance of Shabbat and Yom Tov, the Falafel Ball closes on Friday at 4pm and reopens Sunday at 11am. There is the possibility of opening the dining room on Shabbat for dinner but only with large reservations.

"You see that camera?" points Nativ with his finger towards the ceiling. "The rabbi of the Oporto Synagogue, Daniel Litvak, will have access to the images and other procedures to ensure all rules are followed as dictated by the religion. After all, he’ll be the one certifying, in a week, the Bola Falafel as a kosher restaurant." In Porto, by the way, there was previously one kosher option: One of the two floors of the Hotel da Música's restaurant, also in Boavista, is kosher. There one can also find a small supermarket with kosher products.




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