There is nobody as hospitable as those from Nazareth, and a simple phone call to ask about where to obtain ma’amoul molds and the best place to buy spices was answered with an invitation for lunch at a friend’s home in the center of town.
My partner on this trip was Miriam Kresh who told me directly that she would not be able to help navigate (as she doesn’t drive) which meant that I needed to depend on my temperamental GPS. Along the way, I had quit a few seething dialogues with the little machine that insisted on taking me “the funny way” as we say in my family:
GPS: (before entrance into major intersection) Take a left, right at next intersection
Me: Left or Right? WHAT IS IT?
Me: Right? Right?! But I am on the left lane of a three lane highway in the middle of the intersection, what’s wrong with you?!
GPS: (at next multilane intersection) We have lost GPS signal
Me: We? Blithering (censored) don’t try to blame it on me! %$^$%&%$&%$%^$%^#$%^#$%$#! Etc
Only when I knew exactly where I was going did the GPS work perfectly.
When we eventually arrived in Nazareth I managed to drive through every alleyway in the old city looking for parking before meeting my friend’s sister in law, who made special arrangements to be our tour guide for the day. I was a little fazed from the trip and when she asked me to park by reversing onto a steep narrow hill, I handed her the keys and without laughing at me (at least not in my face) she parked my car in about three seconds. She has been maneuvering Nazareth’s labyrinths daily, as Miriam pointed out, trying to make me feel better. Ok, I admit, I can’t parallel park and this is not the first time I relinquished my keys, last time it was to a complete stranger who could have drove off with my car.
Although I could have easily visited Nazareth myself (it may have taken me twice as long to park) it is always more interesting culturally to be with someone who has spent a lifetime there. She introduced us to the Galilee Mill spice store which I spoke about in my last post and then onto the local shuk which for me is not only a place to fulfill errands but an amazing hub of interactions and a kaleidoscope for the senses, bringing people together on its ancient cobbled streets. The shuk was stocked with the usual myriad of fresh produce, spices, textiles and kitchen and household wares but also items which are much more difficult to find.
While making our way through the corridor of the shuk, we could smell the scent of freshly ground coffee wafting from a coffee shop, enticing us into the old stone building. We were greeted by the ebullient shopkeeper who allowed us into the back room to see how the coffee was being roasted and graciously offered us a small cup of the velvet black elixir all the while talking about his favorite soccer team. Although I seldom drink black coffee, I bought a bag with the addition of the exotic cardamom, which the shopkeeper added by eye, throwing in an extra pinch right before closing the bag. He put in exactly the right amount, I know, I have tasted.
It wasn’t long before we stopped again at a kitchen supply store where, aside from the usual pots and pans there were some wonderful treasures.
But instead of traditional Arabic music emanating from the stalls, someone had tuned in to Shimon Peres’s address delivered at the 65th international Holocaust Memorial Day in Germany. Somehow, shopping in the heart of an Arab town, populated by both Muslims and Christians, his words “I believe peace is attainable” seemed to be true, at least in the microcosm of the shuk.
This is the first shuk where I have seen akub (Gundelia tournefortii) being sold, which luckily was already cleaned of the spiky leaves and stems.
Akub grows wild in Israel but because it has been extensively gathered, it recently has been declared a protected plant by the Ministry of the Environment. To help supply the demand, Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar has been growing it on experimental plots to see if it possible to cultivate them on a wider scale to supply the increasing demand. The first time I ate it was at Elbabour restaurant in Eyn Ibriham where they sauted it simply with olive oil and garlic allowing its natural flavor to dominate which tasted to me a bit like Jerusalem artichokes.
After the afternoon spent meandering around the shuk we were invited to eat lunch at my friend’s house, whose wife made the best fried kibbeh I have ever eaten, with a slightly crunchy crust and a rich savory lamb filling. She also made a magnificent stuffed chicken spiced with cinnamon scented rice and small morsels of meat which were hand chopped. To accompany this feast was a lovely vegetable salad, dressed simply in olive oil and lemon juice. Our friend told us that he finds it difficult eating outside his home as nothing tastes good to him, even the coffee his wife makes is better than anywhere else. Somehow, after eating there, I am not surprised he feels like that.