I’ve always known Old Jaffa port to be a fishing area in Tel Aviv Yafo, where one can haggle for the freshest catch to enjoy the lowest prices. I didn’t realize that it used to be a major shipping destination of Israel. However, it ceased to be when Ashdod was created during the 1960’s and assumed shipping responsibilities. The port of today also serve as a marina to accommodate numerous sail boats and yachts.
There were a few wooden benches at the warehouse that directly fronts the Mediterranean Sea. I had the habit of sitting in one as we waited for boats to arrive with their catches. As I sat, I never failed to observe senior fishermen who whiled away their time angling fish. I used to imagine their lines cast far out into the sea having ends with nice lures to attract schools of fish such as Denis and Spanish Mackerel.
I guessed this was the closest thing to my having an angling experience, which I’ve always wanted while I was still at Jaffa. How I wished that even just for once, I would cook a delectable steamed dish from my own catch. I even purchased a couple of cheap fish hooks from Shuk HaPishpehim at NIS 5. However, I decided against buying a used rod, since I found this implement to be expensive at 50 NIS.
Cheap source of fish
Five years passed and always – the only thing I did whenever I went to Old Jaffa fish port during weekends (more on Saturdays, since Friday morning was Shuk HaCarmel time) was to buy a week’s supply of fish and seafood. But, I engaged more in buying fish, such as Mackerel scad and Yellow-fin Tuna. Scads are available at 25 to 30 shekels per kilo, while yellow fin can be had at 30 to 40 shekels.
The perfect time to buy fish was 7am of a Saturday. It wasn’t the most convenient hour but everyone looks forward to it, since this signals the arrival of the boats from their long hours of fishing at the Mediterranean. People hope for a bountiful catch, since this means low prices of fish on that day.
Summer is the best season to head to the port; the sun is warm and calming, which makes the weather inviting for anyone to tread the short route. Mine is more or less a five minute walk from the apartment at Ibn Shoshan. Trip to the port during summertime always had me enjoying a good sweat.
On the other hand, you’ll drag your feet just to go there during the cold winter. Fish is a necessity so going to the port is a must – despite the inconvenience and all.
Generally, morning troop to the place is perfect whatever season it might be, since you’re assured that the catch is at its freshest.
Just before I cross Yefet to walk further down to the port, I would almost always pass by Alberto’s, a small store by the corner, to buy breakfast that consisted of sandwich of freshly sliced cheese and cut cucumber, and bottle of cold cola. During instances when he ran out of bread, he would ask me to go to the Arab bakery along Yefet to buy what he needed for my sandwich.
There were days when I chanced upon the bakery selling freshly-baked, Mediterranean-styled pizza – so I opted for this instead. While not quite having the quality of the Arab pizza sold at Abulaefia, the popular bakery near the Jaffa Clock Tower, and oldest existing in Tel Aviv, it’s still a delicious treat. These delectable goodies were enough to fill me up and keep alert as I waited for the boats.
If you want your fish goodies to be cleaned of its entrails, the port is hardly the place to have it done. Fishermen busy themselves in making sure that everything is sold and disposed of. It’s a good thing that my diplomat neighbor is a competent fish cleaner and was more than willing to clean every piece of fish that I bought.
Although in a corner near Warehouse 1 was where a table was set up (not sure if it is still in service today), and two men offered their talent of fish cleaning. I believe it’s 10 shekels a kilo of gutted and clean fish of whatever kind.
You can have a better chance of buying cleaned fish at Carmel Market, where many fish stalls clean purchases before handing to buyers. However, even at Carmel, fish cleaning is a paid service. For instance, uncleaned Tilapia are priced at 25 Shekels, while gutted ones are available at 35.
Old Jaffa Port Tourist Attractions
Ever since I first stepped in the port, I noticed an never-ending flurry of construction activities everywhere. Obviously, the Municipality of Tel Aviv Yafo sees great tourism potentials of the place. The last years saw it as one of the most visited attractions in the whole of Israel.
A major edifice undergoing a good facelift is Warehouse 1. Sprawling over the huge area of 5,500 square meters, this building was originally a factory plant where the famous Jaffa oranges were processed. With the construction activities going on, the municipality is evidently bent on turning the area into a cultural and business center.
Container is one of the latest additions of dining establishments found within the area. I noticed that most of the restaurants in Tel Aviv that’s situated at Jaffa Port exude both dining and cultural feel. As you enter the warehouse where Container is located, you notice the art gallery that easily captures your attention.
The restaurant’s interior gives a rough and rustic ambiance, which is made more quirky with its low-lit dining area. Despite its overall unrefined look, you’d be satisfied gastronomically with the wide variety of cuisines that it offers, such as Middle Eastern, African, and Italian dishes.
Blackout is another unique Tel Aviv restaurant within the port. What’s special about this establishment is its endearing staff members, which are blind and deaf. Apart from serving great food, the restaurant also acts as a venue for cultural shows. Why Blackout? This is because food is served in a pitch-black environment. Definitely, it is a whole new kind of of dining experience that you will enjoy.
Put simply, if you fly to Israel, you must never fail to visit this thousands-of-year old Jaffa port. It is a place that exudes a merry mix of Arab, Jewish, and Mediterranean flavors and characters – all of which are intertwined to everyone’s delight, especially those with great love for dagim.