Daily Archives: April 23, 2007

To the West, back home and then to the Middle

Carmel Market

I’ve been doing some bouncing around in the world these days–no sooner had I returned from England and its tasty treats, which included the venerable Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, that I found myself bound for the Middle East.

The purpose of my trip was not focused on pleasure, but still, a human being must eat.

So it was that I found myself in Israel, and while I did not explore the world of food wholeheartedly, I still knocked into some interesting and pleasant discoveries, none the least of which was Shouk HaCarmel…or Carmel Market. The market is the center of life in Tel Aviv, full of vendors selling their wares: clothes, music, trinkets, and food. The food was tremendous! There were candies and fruits, vegetables, meats (the butcher section is a fantastic display of carcasses–“Is that an EAR I see on the head?!” my husband at one point exclaimed), fish, piles of spices (ohhh! why oh why do we buy and sell spices inside sterile little bottles that hide the beauty of spices here?), and outside of Passover, many many pastries and breads.

I love outdoor markets, and so I found myself venturing down to the “shouk” as often as I could–in some ways, it served as a sanctuary for me as I browsed the stalls in blissful distraction.

One of the gorgeous finds was nougat–not the French nougat montelimar, or Italian torrone, but a beautiful white and airy, rosewater and cardamom flavored middle eastern nougat filled with pistachios or almonds. Here was the Real Thing! I quickly bought a handful to devour.

pistachio nougat

And devour them I did.

pistachio nougat

We loved them so much, exclaiming “This is the Real Thing!” that we went back to the stall and bought dozens more to take home (we still have them, nibbling one a day each). The vendor was an Iraqi Jew, it turned out, making a treat from his childhood. He offered us more items to taste: Turkish delight, and another nougat that melted in our mouths. Heaven.

Still, there were other things that amused me. Such as the Caesar Salad as made in Israel.

Caesar salad

I ordered one at the hotel, looking very forward to the creamy parmesan and anchovy-based dressing on romaine lettuce. I was dismayed to find salad greens with a dijon dressing and olives. I hate dijon dressing. I hate olives. Later on in the week, we went to a restaurant that carried a caesar salad. “Salad with caesar salad dressing, complete with egg.” It sounded authentic to me–one of caesar salad dressing’s signature ingredients IS an egg.

Oh, I was dismayed again. Not a single piece of romaine lettuce. And a hard boiled egg drowning under what smelled very like–oh yes it was–dijon dressing.

Not to be discouraged, I ordered some “home fries” with the salad. Whoops.

“Home fries” in Israel is really potatoes dressed in a sweet chili sauce. Kind of like a cold potato stew type thing. Delicious enough, but nothing like the “home fries” at a decent breakfast place in Berkeley, cooked atop a hot grill with caramelized edges, often served with breakfast eggs.

It makes me wonder what kind of foods we Americans bastardize here–what do Italians feel about our pizza, for starters?