Israelis love their hummus. It is a nation of Zohans who have no qualms eating it three times a day and any time in between.
On Agripas Street in Jerusalem, between the workers’ diners and the outdoor market, there is a Kurdish Cultural center. With a dwindling number of native born Kurds, each year their legacy slowly declines. Many of their descendents have naturally assimilated into Israeli culture and no longer keep the traditions of my family’s ancestors.
At one time every Israeli, especially male soccer fans, knew how to crack sunflower seeds. It was a perquisite to living in Israel, along with not so subtle line jumping. Those without this talent were looked upon as outcasts.
Chocolate balls are as iconic as falafel in Israel, yet most tourists have never heard of them. After all, nobody is hawking these colorful confections on street corners. Kadorei shokolad, as they are known in Hebrew, are part of the quintessential Israeli childhood but they’re rarely seen outside the home. They might be ignored by culinary aficionados but insiders know that the very best are made by enthusiastic kindergarteners.
“You’ll have to crawl on your hands and knees to find the lentils” warned Dr. Gideon Ladizinsky, a researcher at the Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot, Israel. We were on a field trip to explore the wild progenitors of agricultural plants, scuffing up our clothes in the process. Even with my face centimeters from the damp earth, the fragile mesh of green was easy to overlook.
Savta Zarifa is the paradigm of a fairy tale grandmother; plump, patient and never far from her kitchen. Unlike characters from Mother Goose stories, she did not bake gingerbread cookies but simmered tangy tomato dumpling soup over a kerosene stove or rolled countless grape leaves with herbs and rice. On Friday she also prepared hamin, a slow cooked stew of wheat berries and meat that permeated the house with the aroma of Shabbat and was enjoyed the following day for lunch.
Bodies groove to the beat of Mizrachi salsa as an old woman pushes her shopping cart past them. It’s the incongruous world of Balabasta, a festival that merges art, dance and music with Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s biggest outdoor market.