Here I set out to explore and explain Israel’s numerous spices and flavors, but first I suspect I should set out to explain who I am. If I truly did that, we would all die of starvation (because I would never get to the food), so for now, I will just explain the basics. My name is Aaron Strick, I am a linguistics student at Boston University and am currently studying Hebrew, People and Food at the University of Haifa.
This week, I began flavor nation exploration down at the shopping mall. Doesn’t sound too exciting at first- that is until you realize that the shopping malls over here are not quite the same. In the middle of the mall- they have a lady selling lots of exciting loose spices. Unfortunately, she is terribly unpleasant and refused to be very helpful in my quest. I asked for a little bit of a lot of different spices. She did not appreciate this enthusiasm and refused to honor my request. So, I ended up having to buy a ton of a few different spices. I made egg salads with the four different spices:
I wasn’t really sure what Za’atar was until I just wikipedia’d it, but that took away a lot of the fun. I wouldn’t recommend doing it. What I am sure of, is that this is the ubiquitous green stuff found on anything from oily bread, to salads, to meats. It tastes like people are doing sun salutations on your tongue. I thought of all the spices it would be the best in an egg salad, I was wrong, it just made it taste a little dry, but when I later used to to spice fried eggplants, I found myself licking the plate for more.
Paprika with Sesame:
This was the clearest case of dominance from the spice lady. I tasted next to the packaged stuff that my roommate already had in the room and was far superior. When I was buying the eggs and I mentioned that I would be making egg salad, the old lady behind me starting explaining her recipe to me. She is all about paprika and with good reason. It goes excellently with eggs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t taste very Middle Eastern, and was thus slightly disappointing. The spice lady recommended it with meat, I have yet to try it.
Crushed Red Pepper (I think):
I was told this was crushed red pepper, and it looks like crushed red pepper, but it is not spicy at all. Hmmm… I am not really sure what to think of it because I does not do what I intend it to. Could it be that it is dried / crushed bell pepper? I am not totally sure, but I found it best sprinkled on top of my egg / avocado sandwich. It did not do much for the egg salad.
Fruit Tea Stuff:
Probably the most exciting and mysterious of my spices, I did not realize this is not really meant as a spice at all. Rather, it is a fruit tea. Before I learned this, however, I used it in egg salad and it was a big hit! It is perfectly edible and even tastes like little fruit candies which are very exciting to encounter while munching on the mushy monotony that is egg salad. I think I accidentally stumbled on something pretty exciting here! And guess what… It makes great tea too!
So far I have just scratched the surface of this exciting world of Israeli spice. Let’s see how I do next week!