Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Food Glorious Food: Falafel, Shishlik and Krembos!

Yesterday, we all decided to eat for the first time at "Sababa," the Middle Eastern bar and grill restaurant just a few blocks away from our house.

Now I don't need to tell you how food can bring cultures together. There was a delightful mix of Chinese, African Americans, Europeans eating falafel and shishlik, but I am also very much aware how Israeli food is very much a part of my identity and who I've become.

While we were munching over eggplant and Israeli salad appetizers, our chef came over to us.

Even though it was only a Tuesday, I said to him while picking through the falafel bits of my teeth using my tongue (a bad habit, I know), "Eating falafel brings back memories of Thursday shopping in Kiriyat Shmona. Let's go shopping at "Zol Poh" and then we'd swing around and eat a falafel." I laughed and I instantly knew that the chef understood because he smiled.

That's when I think we both came out as Israeli profoundly soaked in (food) memories; it was a moment that we could only understand. Suddenly, I didn't feel as an outsider in a restaurant that represents a lot of "insider elements." As Israelis living in the Diaspora, we are all craving to feel insiders again no matter what our journeys are.

Well, isn't that the purpose of eating in a restaurant that is indigenous to one's culture?

Our kind chef, (bless his heart) said something that also deeply resonated with me after four years of living in the Diaspora: "Only an Israeli can make a falafel "cmo she tzarich, like it can be done" and how true that is. He told us how he uses only meat that comes from Israel (that is shipped from New York City) and no American meat comes close to taste.

As we chatted in Hebrew, I slowly became aware that the older couple next to us was aware that we were speaking in Hebrew as they quietly ate their food in demeanor. We however let the "meat and spices" of our words soak through the flavoring. Through falafel bites and bits of Hebrew, I blocked out everything around me and focused on the little mini Israel that we created in a few moments.

But the surprise came when I saw the Chinese girl eating a.....(drum roll, please!) Krembo! Krembos are Israel's most popular winter snack foods - a chocolate covered marshmellow treat, which you can read more about here. I was overjoyed and delighted - I haven't seen a Krembo in over 4 years! And what a treat that was!

Now I fully understand how Israeli food easifies Israelis and their acculturation in the diaspora.

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