31 07 2006



Monday, November 25, 2002
Good food and good people

Everyday the sandwich guy shows up to the office at about 12:00. He offers a wide selection of sandwiches from the very traditional (tuna, egg salad etc) to the more esoteric.

An esoteric sandwich? What can an esoteric sandwich taste like? It is through him that I discovered the "sabich". A sabich is a sandwich traditionally eaten by Iraqi Jews on Saturday morning (the Jewish Sabbath).

It might be the most delicious sandwich I have ever had in my life. It's a delicious combo of hummous, techina, hard-boiled egg, pickles, parsley and fried eggplant shoved into a pita. Elsewhere in the world it's known as Babi Jan. Apparently about forty-somewhat years ago an Iraqi Jew ran a small kiosk in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan and served up these delicious sandwiches. The name of the guy was Sabich (It's like being a Smith in Iraq) and he was the only person in the country making the Babi Jan so everyone started referring to the sandwich as a Sabich.

I love the food here. Nothing can be more satisfying than a fresh falafel stuffed with all the goods. I love the ethnic food. The soul food of the Jewish people. There are hundreds of these places all over the country. Most of them were started by women 40 years ago whose sons now run them. The mothers (now grandmothers) still meddle and can be seen in the kitchen nearly everyday. My favorite place of all time is called Mordoch and is located near the Mahane Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem. The Mordoch family are Kurdish and serve the best kubbeh soup in the entire country. Kubbeh soup is a meal unto itself. There are two kinds - red and green - Red kubbeh soup has a tomato and beet base. Green (commonly known as Chamutzta) is a really sour soup made with swiss chard and a ton of lemon juice. The star of both soups however is the Kubbeh itself. Kubbeh are bulgar dumplings filled with meat and spices. I have consistently had at least one bowl of kubbeh soup a week in the past five years.

Mahane Yehuda might be one of my favorite places in the entire country. It has such an old school feel to it. It features tons of fruit and vegetable stalls, fresh fish, and aromatic coffee, thousands of spices, butchers and baked goods. The merchants are constantly yelling. On Fridays, the prices get cheaper and cheaper as the Sabbath draws closer with merchants trying to sell as much as possible before the Jewish Sabbath begins. I shop at the same merchants every week. When I was a soldier and was doing my shopping there, the amount of free stuff I received was unbelievable. I once went to this prepared food place and ordered a small chicken and a couple of side dishes. I was in uniform and I guess it struck the owner as odd that I was buying food for one person. Friday night dinner is to Jews as Sunday dinner is to Italians. Tons of family and even more food. The owner asked me why I was buying such a small amount of food. I told him that I was a chayal boded, translated as a lonely soldier - a soldier who doesn't have any family in the country. He then invited me to his house to eat with his family. In America, this would be viewed as odd, even a little dangerous. Not so here. It's quite common to have strangers over for Friday night dinner. The only reason I didn't go was that I had just finished my most difficult week of basic training - called war week - and just wanted to eat something, shower and sleep for 24 hours.

I have never experienced anything like Mahane Yehuda in America and it�s really a shame. The closest I thing I have ever seen was The West Side Market in Cleveland which had a lot of character and was somewhat old school in a middle America sort of way. But it ain't my market and they don't serve kubbeh soup there.


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