Josh Ozersky

If You Think You Don’t Eat Like An American, Just Go To Israel

I am not the most adventurous of men. In fact, I don’t even like to leave the living room. And yet, here I am in Israel, of all places, trying to figure out how to eat. It’s easier than I thought; but it’s not that easy. Our eating habits don’t move with us that easily; they are part of where we live and how our parents ate, and what stores are in the neighborhood, and who delivers. I’ve always thought that geography was underrated as an aspect of our how we eat. Just because regional foodways have disappeared, and we no longer have much in the way of traditional foods or for that matter even local produce, that doesn’t mean that where we live doesn’t matter!

All you have to do is visit Israel to see that.

In Israel, the first night, Danit exclaimed to me that she could hardly believe how much delicious food was in her parents’ refrigerator. “There’s so much to eat!” she exclaimed. Really? I was tired and hungry and found myself suddenly filled with a hopeful excitement. I practically ran over to the thing. Here’s what was inside it:

  • A package of chickpea paste
  • a canister of eggplant sludge
  • some pickled peppers
  • grapes
  • two indistinguishable blocks of bone-dry feta cheese
  • two tubs of briney, swamp-green olives
  • brown bread with horrible little seeds on it.
  • Some kind of weird yogurt
  • skim milk of some kind

Now if this is the recipe for bliss for you, you simply come from a different place than I do. Or possibly a different species. Here I was, hoping for a big plate of cold fried chicken, some Kraft singles and garlic-flavored melba rounds, a big candy bar, a Hebrew National salami the size of an artillery shell, a rye bread, some salted butter, and a big bottle of black cherry soda. Maybe a big chocolate cake, perched appetizingly next to a quart of whole milk. Who knows? The truth is that I peer into people’s refrigerators a lot, and am always disappointed.

Restaurant food pretty much followed suit. I can’t read the menus, which are written in some kind of strange squiggly characters and which but rarely feature Dennys-style pictures of what the food looks like. Everything is not what I had hoped, even when it’s good. An “egg sandwich” means a sandwich with slices of hard-boiled eggs, possibly the least flavorful things in the entire world. “Lamb kebabs” were little meatballs resting atop a dish of mashed potatoes. What? And of course, whereas I thought Israel would be a paradise of shawarma, I have yet to see a single rotating wad of sliced lamb, turning alluringly in my direction. But I’ve only been here a couple of days. And I’m carrying the weight, both literally and figuratively, of forty-three years of eating in the USA.

7 Responses to “If You Think You Don’t Eat Like An American, Just Go To Israel”

  1. BarryB says:

    Josh: in Israel, a cultured meat-maven like you, would be extremely well-served to seek out the dens of late night “shishlik,” spit grilled shish-kebabesque meaty treats. Well executed, it’s Yatagan-like in its perfection. Ask any cab driver that works the late shift. They’ll know precisely where to take you.

  2. Carrie1983 says:

    You don’t have to go all the way to Israel to see that you can’t always get your favorite foods. I grew up in the South and moved to Southern California. I found out quickly that folks out west eat different foods from folks down south!

  3. Jeff Larson says:

    Hey Josh, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you went to Isreal hoping to eat at Eisenberg’s. This is how I feel every time I go to a “Mexican” restaurant in New York City. Parmesan cheese on the refried beans and fajita meat that could also double for a Philly Cheese Steak with onions and peppers? Really?

  4. Josh Ozersky says:

    I go everywhere hoping to eat at Eisenbergs.

  5. sue johantgen says:

    love Rachael, she is awesum,but it would be nice to have a reciepe that doesnt have smokey taste,and hot peppers. not everybody likes hot or spicy food. any ideas? do any of her cookbooks have non hot recipes ?other then that she is my fav chef.

  6. Lisa says:

    My husband and I went to Israel for the first time in 2005 and we LOVED it! Our 2-week tour allowed us to stay in 5-star hotels which had THE BEST food! Olives, salads and yogurts of many kinds, even lots of veggies dishes and salads at breakfast…thought I died and went to heaven! We love chick peas and so falafels and anything hommus was right up our alley. I dream of returning some day . . .it was an awesome place and the food gave us great memories. (oh! and I learned to like goat cheese there!) Thanks for your article!

  7. Raizel says:

    Josh,

    No worries! Even a meat-lover like yourself can indulge in some of the best foods in the world! Try a falafel with hummus from a street vendor for some amazing “fast food.” You’ll want to eat them everyday for the rest of your life!
    The Israeli diet is one that is heavily reliant on fresh fruits and veggies. Salads go far beyond lettuce and croutons here! Definitely try some tabbouli and hatzilim!
    Don’t think you’ll me missing out on great meats though! there’s plenty of cholent, and chicken with cous cous too.
    Be open-minded with the new culture, language, and traditions, and I know you’ll find yourself enjoying in some of the best food you’ll ever have and take home memories that will last forever!
    And of course, enjoy your time in the Holy Land.

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