“Don’t argue over taste and scent “, is a Hebrew adage used almost daily in Israel. In other words, a debate revolved around the senses is subjective and each person is entitled to their opinion, even if they’re wrong. In a country where there are three opinions for every two people, as the Jewish joke goes, it’s a good way to extricate oneself out of a tricky conversation.
A while ago I took a family on a tour of Ramle Souk and hoped they would love the open air market as much as I did. By the time we arrived the asphalt was simmering and the air lay damp and heavy. Under normal circumstances I’d kvetch about the heat but here I was distracted. At the souk I am a six year old at a carnival with the promise of endless possibilities. For others, it’s a cultural bombardment, too hot, sticky and loud.
After exploring the stalls, I bought ayran for the guests. “A refreshing yogurt drink” I offered, but instead of gulping it down, it was met with scrunched noses and hesitant sips. “I don’t know if I would call this refreshing”, one of the tourists mumbled. She could have just said “this stuff is gross”.
This annoyed me. Israelis are vocal with their stance so why did their reaction put me off guard? and I didn’t even like plain yogurt until recently.
I have learnt that food is not simply a matter of taste but an integral part of culture and tradition. A rejection of a dish, be it gefilte fish or tziziki, won’t always be met with easy understanding. It’s a matter of pride, of connection.
Anyone can be a casual tourist but it’s much harder to delve more deeply in a region. One way to do this is eating like the locals. If you don’t like it, well, keep smiling, and if you really have to, spit it out when nobody’s looking.
Two simple yogurt recipes:
Tarator-Bulgarian yogurt soup
With crunchy cucumbers, tangy yogurt and abundant herbs this refreshing soup is perfect on a hot summer’s day. I first tried this soup in the Bulgarian vacation village of Bansko where they served it with flat bread and shopska salad.
4 cups cold yogurt
2 cucumbers, cut into small cubes (makes about 1 ½ cup)
½ cup roughly ground walnuts
1 bunch dill, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mix all the ingredients together and garnish with extra ground walnuts and dill if desired. The soup should not stick to the spoon like pudding. If it does, dilute it with a bit of water. I used Greek yogurt so this is what I did. Keep chilled until ready to serve
A quick Iraqi breakfast
I found this simple breakfast idea in an Iraqi Hebrew cookbook, Ashtidach, by Shoshi Oran and Loran Ravid. Ashtida translates to bless your hands, a respectful way to greet cooks in Iraq.
1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon or to taste raw tahini paste
1 tablespoon or to taste date syrup
Ground almonds or pistachios to garnish
Pour the yogurt in a small bowl and drizzle with tahini paste and date syrup. Garnish with almonds.
For all those celebrating Shana Tova!
Two of my favorite street food blogs