The taste of love
Text by: Sagit Cohen
Photographs by: Rani Lurie
I’ve arranged to meet Adnan in Maadale, a small restaurant located in the Turkish Bazaar, just a few steps away from the Akko (Acre) Souk. I arrive at 10am, and the market still looks sleepy. A quick shot of Arabic coffee and we’re off for his final shopping, before another busy day. As we walk and talk Adnan makes his purchases, while chatting with the merchants and passers by.
It’s evident that he’s well loved; it’s fun spending time with him, listening and learning, or in his own words “good vibes make the wheels turn”.
Adnan hand-picks small quantities of vine leaves, mallow, spinach, green almonds, and wild asparagus. Before he decides what to do with the latter, a passing local woman tells him “to toss it in olive oil, fry for a few minutes, and break a couple of eggs over the top”. The chef then chooses fish that goes well with the spices he prefers; it will later be cooked in a tabun oven, like most of his dishes. This time he goes for a narrow-barred Spanish mackerel, a big fish caught early in the morning, that he carries like a trophy to the restaurant kitchen.
Adnan and his cousin, Osama Dalal, who opened the Mayar restaurant in Tel Aviv last year, were partners, sharing an apartment and running their restaurant in the Turkish Bazaar for three years. Adnan chose to stay in Akko, imbibing the place with his own character: “You should feel at home”, he tells me, when I ask him why he prefers to call it an eating place rather than a restaurant.
As his last name suggests, Adnan Daher is the ninth generation of the Daher family, which traces its lineage to Dhaher al-Omar al-Zaydani, who was the ruler of Acre and the Galilee in the 18th century. Undoubtedly this is one of the sources of his deep connection to the people and city of Akko. As a child Adnan spent a number of years in Akko, living in his grandmother Hayfa’s house, with its welcoming kitchen. He still goes to his grandmother’s for lunch every Monday. This week she made fresh fava beans with rice, a simple spinach salad and ‘rabia’ (‘spring’ in Arabic), an upside down rice dish made with lamb and fava beans. These are the flavours of Adnan’s childhood and the inspiration behind Maadale, ’woman of valor’ in Arabic, who is, of course, grandma Hayfa. “I visit grandma every Monday to get that special attention from her and her food, and to see my new nephew.”
According to Adnan “food has no limits; it all depends on how you treat your ingredients”, and it seems that he has something figured out right, because although his origins are rooted in traditional cooking, his food tastes fresh and modern.
Tell me, how did you choose cooking?
At first I thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and study history or journalism, but my interest in food and cooking, inherited from my grandmother, was too strong. At the last minute I took a step back and realized that 90% of my life is related to food. Food is about everything, including history and politics, and since I had my parents’ blessing, there was no reason not to pursue it. I think that my mission is to show that Arabic cuisine is much more complex than people think. For instance, many people are surprised to find out that green almonds can be eaten whole, unshelled. I’d like to share with my customers an experience that is exciting, delicious, and relaxing.
Most Israelis think that Arabic food is mainly ‘hummus, french fries and salad’. Can you share your thoughts on the traditional Arabic cuisine and how it manifests in your cooking?
Arabic cuisine is absolutely not ‘hummus, french fries and salad’; essentially, it is about the connection between a cook, the sea, and the land. Perhaps the distinct thing about Arabic cuisine is its use of seasonal ingredients, which have always dictated the family menu. In addition, many dishes have regional varieties, like ‘mulukhiyyah’ (Nalta jute or corchorus), which in some places is cooked as a stew or soup, while in others it is quickly stir-fried in a pan. Arabic cuisine is very diverse and wide-ranging in flavors, and isn’t that well known in Israel. Many cooks prefer a commercial rather than an authentic approach, and it was the latter that drove me to open Maadale.
Which ingredients inspire you?
Definitely seasonal vegetables - fresh fava beans, mallow, wild chicory, mulukhiyyah. I like combining seasonal ingredients, such as fish ceviche with mulukhiyyah.
Family dinner or a restaurant?
Family dinner, no question about it.
Any must have dishes you prefer from your grandmother’s table?
Whatever she makes I don’t complain, and every dish evokes so many memories - mulukhiyyah; stuffed vegetables; chopped liver with onion, garlic and olive oil.
Besides your grandmother, which other chefs inspire you?
No one. I don’t need other chefs for inspiration; I have my own imagination.
What’s special about Akko that makes you stay here?
When I was in 5th grade my family moved from Akko to Nazareth. At 18 I moved to Haifa and then to Tel Aviv. I returned to Akko because I really like it; it’s small, quiet and peaceful. It’s associated with my favorite cuisine and connects me to my roots.
What do you currently find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
Customers. I’m always working on improving the customers’ experience and inventing new dishes, while staying true to the source.
Why do you do this work?
Food is a love at first sight. I want to keep exploring and experiencing it.
Adnan’s tips where to shop in the Akko Suk
Bader Coffee for coffee beans
Lorence May’s spices for herbal infusions, spices, and ‘kishk’ (dried yogurt)
Abed Habush’ Rais Fish for fresh fish and seafood
Ha-Shalom butcher shop for veal shawarma and kebab