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Israel’s Answer to Hot Chocolate Hits New York

Sachlav, a hot drink that is to Israel what hot chocolate is here. Photograph courtesy of Mighty Pie.

Israel’s most popular winter drink has become a hit with New Yorkers — thanks to an Ecuadorian chef and a little love from The New York Times.

Mighty Pie, a tiny stall in Union Square Park that specializes in the filled pastries called boreks, is the latest place in the Big Apple where you can savor sachlav, the thick milk-based drink that is to Israel what hot chocolate is stateside.

Lior Zaltzman Explains Why Sachlav Is Really Israeli — and Arab

Not surprisingly, Mighty Pie is owned by an Israeli, restaurateur Simon Oren, who floated the idea of serving sachlav to his team. But it’s chef Mario Urgiles who adapted a traditional sachlav recipe, sourced out kosher ingredients, and designed Mighty Pie’s realer-than-real presentation of the creamy drink, which is traditionally made with orchid tubers, called sahlab in Arabic.

“We get kosher sachlav powder straight from Israel,” Urgiles told the Forward. “The powder’s cornstarch with dried orchid root. We prepare it in-house with hot milk and hot water, then finish it with orange blossom. I add just a little vanilla. Then we serve it with coconut flakes, cinnamon powder, chopped pistachios and raisins.”

The drink hadn’t really caught on when Mighty Pie introduced it last month. “It was kind of hard to explain,” Urgiles said. Then Florence Fabricant of The New York Times came calling, and her endorsement — an ecstatic food-section write-up — changed the game.

“Once that ran, it really started selling,” Urgiles said.

The drink’s preparation varies from country to country, according to former Forward food editor Devra Ferst, who wrote about sachlav in 2010 — when New Yorkers in the know could only dream about it.

In Israel, Ferst noted, sachlav is usually made into a thick but drinkable substance, while in other countries such as Turkey, where it is called salep, it can be thickened into a sweet pudding that must be eaten with a spoon.

The Forward sampled Mighty Pie’s sachlav on a frigid January day, with the threat of a blizzard imminent. Miguel Rivera, the friendly server at Mighty Pie, patiently explained the drink’s makeup as he added the toppings. “I just tell people it’s a hot drink from the Middle East,” he said.

It might be an acquired taste; I found sachlav less appealing as a warm, viscous liquid than as the flan-like pudding it became after a few hours in the refrigerator. Chef Urgiles validated my reaction: “Some people do prepare it as a pudding,” he said.

Sachlav, when it is made in its original form, with actual orchid tubers, has always been considered an aphrodisiac. Its name derives from the Arabic term hasyu al-thalab, or fox testicles. Maimonides even commented that one should drink it “to revive the spirits and to arouse sexual desire,” Gil Marks wrote in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.”

They might have the same effect, but Mighty Pie is considering other Israeli snacks for its minimalist menu, such as Israeli cookies, the chef revealed.

Michael Kaminer is a frequent contributor to the Forward.

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