Of Two Minds

Mali & Ariel Cottan

Mali and Ariel Cottan immigrated from Israel to New Zealand seven years ago with their little girl, Yali. Since arriving in the Bay, they’ve owned two successful small businesses, the latest being the wildly popular Falafel Metro in Tauranga’s CBD.

Mali: I was 17-years-old when I started dating Ariel. He introduced me to so many things. He had so much knowledge about things that I didn’t know about, and every single time I was like, wow, this is a man that will take me to the moon.

We didn’t plan to move to New Zealand. We don’t really plan things, we just go with what we feel. We’d been travelling for years before the birth of our daughter Yali, so we took a break after she was born. When she was old enough to travel we took her to Thailand and stayed there for a while, and then we felt that we should move on. But where to? When you’re overseas the beauty of it is that you meet people from different places and they inspire you.

We were sitting in a bungalow resort, and there was a German guy that worked for Lufthansa and he said we should go to New Zealand because it’s the cherry on top of the cream. It’s a smaller place and with a little girl it’ll be easier to get around — start from there and see how it goes. The next day we bought tickets to Auckland.

We’re still coping with the transition, but we’re loving it. Usually when you immigrate you try to find people like you, but we chose not to be apart of an Israeli community. Instead, we wanted to embrace the culture here and also find a way to combine it with our own — to try to find the golden place between being Kiwis and being who we are. So we are Jiwis!

Ariel and Mali, pictured at their home in Ohauiti, love working together even though it often gets heated.

Aside from the culture, the thing we miss most about home is the food. For us a meal is like, you eat until you faint. And eating is always a shared experience. After the war, people came to Israel from Europe. And then other Jewish people came from Middle Eastern countries and Mediterranean countries with their beautiful food, and we Israelis welcomed it. So this mixture, this melting pot of cultures, is probably what we miss most.

Ariel’s family are real foodies. So coming into his family and knowing little about food, I gained 20 kilograms. I’m not joking, the food was so good. Along with how to cook, Ariel has taught me to be very efficient. When you give him a mission he will complete it in the most efficient way. I’ve never met someone like him in that way. And also to be more free-spirited. Everyday I’m still trying to learn that.

Ariel and I are the most amazing partners, we’re totally in sync. I don’t know how it happened but obviously it’s with experience, time and growing together. Loyalty and friendship are really important to us, and also having each other’s back. We don’t have secrets. Our friends in Israel know that if they share a secret with one of us, we’re going to tell the other. We will keep it between us, but we do share everything.

Ariel’s a very good parent. I worry and he doesn’t. I mean, he does worry, but not in the way I do. He’s the one providing confidence. I would love to do that, but sometimes I just can’t. I almost think it’s a father thing. He’s a good friend to Yali as well. They really like hanging out together and having their own thing. Although sometimes he can be impatient. Sometimes he thinks that they’re the same age.

I wouldn’t choose anyone else to work with, but we’re also very lucky we have Hebrew. It’s our secret language, and we always swear with a smile!

A perfect day for me is probably being at home, doing nothing, just us. Just cooking something delicious and relaxing as a family.

Ariel: I met Mali 25 years ago through a really good friend of mine. Basically he came to me and said, ‘Let’s do a double date, I know a girl and she can bring a friend.’ He wanted Mali, but that obviously didn’t work out for him. He didn’t get the friend either!

Years later, we were travelling in Thailand with our daughter Yali, when we decided to buy a beach house. We found the right property, in an amazing little bay, but we discovered it’s difficult to own properties there if you’re not Thai or you don’t have a Thai partner. So we thought we could go to Singapore or maybe Australia.

We ended up meeting a guy who told us to forget about Australia, forget everything, and go straight to New Zealand. He couldn’t give us any information, where to go, what to do — we just booked. We had heard that Lake Taupo was a really beautiful place, so we found a bed and breakfast online. The owner told us it was a long drive from Auckland to Taupo, so maybe stop halfway in Tauranga or Mount Maunganui. We never made it to Taupo.

We’d been living in Welcome Bay for a few months, when Yali started to go to kindergarten. It wasn’t the plan. We weren’t working, we were just on tourist visas. But we had bought a car, we had a bank account, and the little one was going to kindy. So Mali was freaking out and she said, let’s go back to Israel. So we bought tickets, went home, and the moment we landed she said we need to go back. It took us a year, but we came back. That was seven years ago.

That’s the thing when you come from Israel, it’s such a hard country to live in. When you come here it’s so easy. We arrived here as a family. When you don’t have a family of your own you’re a part of the bigger family: your mum, dad, brother, sister. Once you start your own, you feel that you can do your own thing. So we do miss Israel, but we’re happy here. We’re not moving back home. Or we’re not talking about it at least.

Immigration was very hard on us, but we were committed to the whole process. It’s a lot of pressure going for a business visa because if it doesn’t work you lose not just years of your life, but hundreds of thousands of dollars. And not just that, but what do you do after? You want to live here, you have friends now. You love the place. So it was nerve-wracking, but in the end we got through it.

We’ve had the falafel shop for almost three years now and even though we only do falafels, we are happy to go there every morning. And when you have a business that is doing well, it’s a very good feeling.

The relationship I have with Mali is very passionate, very loud and very open. We put everything on the table. This is the secret to a good relationship. And this is one thing I notice about Kiwis, they’re keeping everything to themselves until they explode. So we’re doing exactly the opposite.

Mali’s an awesome mother. I think she’s overprotective and worries too much, but I think every mother is the same. She’s also very strong and I love it. You can’t bend her and tell her do something she doesn’t want to do. It’s not going to happen. I’m very happy to work with her. It can be emotional. We’re Israelis, we have very warm blood!

At Falafel Metro we have over a hundred people coming to get food during the busy lunch period. It’s full-on. So I think the Hebrew is helping us to release a
bit of steam. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s crazy. I get angry, we swear, all in two hours and then that’s it. We close, we clean and we go home together.

Check out Falafel Metro's other tasty creations over on their website.

First published in Issue 8 of Our Place Magazine .
As told to Elric James
Photography by Erin Cave