Thursday, June 19, 2014

Israeli Street Food

Well known fact. My father and I love to eat. He would NEVER use the term "foodie" though, because he considers most of them to be mindless American lemmings fooled by the restaurant-media-pop culture into paying excessive premiums for adjectives like "Kobe" or "heirloom" or "grass-fed." My father prefers meals where the verbal descriptors are "finger-lickin' good!"

He's developed a taste for more simple cuisine that is more indigenous to the region we're visiting. For example, dim sum when in Hong Kong, grilled fish in Costa Rica, schnitzel in GermanyWaffle House in Alabama. You get the idea - basically, "When in Rome..."

But yes, I realize that makes my father no different from any other doofus with a passport. I suppose he's not, but when we travel abroad, we find ourselves most fascinated by (a) the grocery stores/markets and (b) the late night food.

Market Food
Every grocery store around the world has the same basic purpose, but the novelty of certain local items, consumer marketing and unique items make a visit to the market a pretty interesting one to someone like my father.

In Israel, one of my family's favorite purchases at a grocery or bakery is the bourekas. While Wikipedia says they originated in Turkey during the Ottoman Empire era, they're quite ubiquitous in modern day Israel as well. My father first tried them when he was visiting my mother during their 8 month courtship phase and instantly became a big fan.

These thin, flaky dough pastries aren't desserts though. Instead of sweet fillings, they're loaded with savory items such as mushrooms, spinach, potatoes, salty cheese and even a "pizza" filling. Apparently to standardize the bourekas, they passed a rule where each shape corresponds to a specific filling, so that no one gets any surprises.

In terms of size and price, most of the places we frequent here sell the smaller sized versions (about the size of your computer mouse) and you pay by the weight. Depending on the bakery/market, you can get about 12 or so pieces for about $10 USD. And 3-4 would be quite filling for most people on a normal feeding schedule.

Late Night Food
Late night food is something every young person all over the world can relate to. In New York City (the best city in the world), you have your pizza where $1 can buy you a slice of greasy heaven. In Chicago, singles who failed to bed someone that night find comfort in hot dogs. In Los Angeles...I have no clue, because we don't really like the nightlight social scene there, but I'd imagine it has something with organic avocado! In Tokyo, you have ramen noodle soups. In Buenos Aires, you basically have breakfast since nightlife starts at 2AM and you're out til 6-7 in the morning.

In Europe and the Middle East, however, we've found they like shawarma (aka, donor kebabs). Originating somewhere in the Middle East, shawarma is a local staple in Israel. Even if you've never tried it before, you probably have seen this column of mystery meat at some point in your life.

It's actually strips of seasoned meat (lamb or beef are the most popular here, but you can get chicken. Definitely no pork though) layered with chunks of fat for flavoring. My father doesn't care for the chicken, so we always go with lamb when possible. Our favorite place? Amir's Shawarma across the street from Lev HaMifratz Mall. It's just very clean, well run and has (shockingly) great customer service - almost unheard of in Israel.

When you order a shawarma, they pull out a knife or an electric carver and cut down the side (like shaving the meat column). The chunks of loose meat fall onto a plate to be used as filling.

Depending on how hungry you might be, there's a choice of a single serving pita size or a double serving kebab (looks like a huge burrito). To give you a sense, my father usually goes for the pita size, and it's more than enough for his voracious appetite.

You then have your choice of toppings including sauces (hummus, hot sauce, tahini) and vegetables (cabbage, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley).

I'm not sure how it's done elsewhere, but in Israel, they also give you a free side salad from their salad bar including pickled cauliflower, pickled carrots, hot peppers, and pickles. It's also popular to order a side of french fries as well. I suppose if you're gonna eat greasy fatty food late at night, might as well go all the way. When in Rome...

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