Yehud is not a tourist destination. You won’t find wooden camels, Dead Sea skincare products or T-shirts printed with Moshe Dayan. But like a good Sephardic grandmother, even if they’re not expecting company, they know how to feed you.
A few sticky plastic chairs, a wobbly table and a napkin dispenser with the Coca Cola logo is all you’ll get for atmosphere. By the end of the meal, that won’t matter anymore. Even the first bite is enough to make this irrelevant.
My last visit to this blue-collar town was in the height of summer. The air was acrid and the sun seemed to be stalking me. I can easily become a kvetch in these conditions, yapping incessantly about what I cannot change. Instead Yael and I were wandering around town in search of little Turkish bakery called Bourekas Hazan.
We found ourselves in the Ashkenazi Market, remnants of the city’s old commercial area, now just a lone vegetable vendor, a handful of mom and pop stores and strips of low lying derelict buildings. In another city with a historical society, perhaps this would have been renovated and made into a classy shopping district with over priced coffee houses. Here they waited to be consumed by the residential high-rises that sprouted rudely around them.
Our meanderings led us on a road between two abandoned structures decorated with a crisscross of electrical wires. This is where the locals pointed us to and according to the map, where we were supposed to be. It didn’t look like any place at all.
I walked behind an enormous blue tarp to search for someone to ask, “I’m Hazan”, responded the man behind the counter. Then I noticed a shelf full of bourekas (burek) and a refrigerator with cold drinks; there was scarcely room for anything else.
“Hey Yael! You won’t believe this but here we are!”
We chatted with the owner as he showed off his specialties, phyllo dough pastries filled with spinach, cheese, eggplant or potato. They were heavier and more substantial than the mass produced variety, without the usual sesame seed coating. It crackled when bitten into, releasing rivulets of steam and scalding my mouth. I soon had a flurry of crumbs on my shirt.
Since we were his only customers, I asked him if he would mind showing us how he made them. With hands as dexterous as a matador’s he worked his magic. Within seconds, a tiny ball of dough was stretched and lengthened until it became the size of a table cloth, a seemingly impossible trick. He placed a row of the cheese filling on one side of the dough, rolled up the entire length and set it on a tray to be baked. When he was done and we put our cameras away, he walked over to a brawny fellow I hadn’t noticed before and put his arm around him, “Now take a picture with my son.”
I asked the younger man what he did for a living. Perhaps it would be considered rude in other countries but here it’s a way to start a conversation. I already dismissed him as an owner of a clothing shop on the other side of town or perhaps a truck driver on his day off. Instead he said “I’m a neurosurgeon”.
So on that dusty hot day in a tiny bakery, Yael, who is a neurobiologist, discussed the more intricate parts of the brain with the baker’s son. Me? I was eating my bourekas, enjoying the little surprises of life.
Ashkenazi Market, Yehud