I used to love to go to the train station in my hometown. My father would take us there every once in a while to see the trains and we would always try to get there early so he could put a penny on the rails and have the train run over them. As soon as the train was safely out of harm’s way, he would retrieve the misshapen pennies for us to take home as souvenirs of our adventure.
So when I found out that the Tel Aviv municipality had painstakingly renovated an Ottoman-era train station, now unoriginally called HaTahana (The Station) near Neve Tzedek, I couldn’t wait to go and see it. And I must say, they did a beautiful job with the restoration.
The train station was inaugurated in 1892 and was the first railway line in the Middle East. The rail line went from Jaffa to Jerusalem and the length of the journey took 3-1/2 to 4 hours. The line was eventually extended to Lod and Haifa, and in 1921 the train travelled to Al Qantarah El Sharqiyya, Egypt, approximately 160km (100 miles) from Cairo. The station was closed in 1948 and only reopened as an entertainment complex this year.
There are several restaurants and cafes to choose from to sit and have a leisurely coffee with your favorite someone, such as Cafe Tahana in the original railway building.
Or sit on the roof of Shushkashvilli Beer Bar and Tapas, which is in a beautiful old Arab house that stood in the neighborhood called Manshiya, built by the Turks in 1892 to house Egyptian laborers working on the new railroad.
The Wieland Villa, built in 1902, was owned by a German Templar named Hugo Wieland, who built his home and a factory building and agricultural materials next to the railway station with the intention of shipping the goods throughout what was then Palestine and around the Middle East. The family remained in the house until the 1930s when they left and eventually moved to Australia.
HaTahana also has some lovely boutiques and art galleries in the surrounding stone buildings that will appeal to all sorts of shoppers.
The train tracks are quiet now, but HaTahana is abustle with people enjoying the lovely cafes, restaurants, art exhibitions every Thursday evening, and the real reason Mr BT and I got up early to go there: the Orbanic market, which is the new organic farmers market, open only on Fridays.
After visiting the old Ottoman station, I was inspired to make a Water Börek, which is a cheese or meat bureka, made with boiled warka leaves. Instead of going to all the trouble of making my own warka, I bought Moroccan cigar wrappers at the supermarket. Since most of my readers in the US and Europe will not be able to find cigar wrappers so easily, you can use egg roll wrappers. You can serve this for breakfast, afternoon tea, or a light supper with a big salad.
1 pkg (500g or 1lb) Moroccan cigar wrappers (thawed) or large egg roll wrappers
100g butter, melted or 1/4 cup olive oil
250g (1/2lb) Bulgarian or Greek Feta
1 log of plain goat's cheese
1 cup fresh parsley or 1/2 cup parsley and 1/2 cup dill, chopped
2 green onions, sliced thinly
Several grinds of black pepper
Butter a 22cm (9 inch) deep-dish pan.
Mash the feta and goat's cheese together until well combined. Add the egg, parsley, green onion and black pepper and mix well. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
In a large pot of boiling water, place one cigar sheet or egg roll wrapper in the pot and cook for 1-2 minutes. Scoop out the sheet with a wire mesh skimmer and place in the pan. Don't worry if you can't straighten the sheets out, just try to smooth a few out so they will go up the sides of the pan. Repeat until you have one layer of the sheets.
Brush butter or olive oil on the sheets and cover with half of the cheese mixture. Place another layer of boiled cigar sheets, brush them with butter, and add the rest of the cheese mixture. Place a final layer of cigar sheets, fold over any sheets that are hanging off the side of the baking dish, and brush with butter. Bake for 1 hour or until lightly brown. Serve hot or a room temperature.