I feel obligated to reserve all judgments when observing a foreign culture. To simply accept everything I see as authentic to that people whose ways I’m unfamiliar with. Me wanting to believe that I’m “open-minded” is the cause of it. However often I remind myself that I must judge that which I am experiencing, or else I’m nothing more than a wandering pair of eyes.
Today I walked a long strip of Tel Aviv’s beach to Jaffa – the ancient port city whose walls have been beaten by the Mediterranean’s hot sun since the Bronze Age. Jaffa sticks out a short ways from the city of Tel Aviv, making it visible for miles along the coast in either direction. Upon exploring it, though, I soon realized that I had preferred admiring it from a distance.
With in about ten minutes I had walked the entire city, the whole time hoping that I could take one photo where an advertisement wouldn’t be visible. I did find that photo in a small alley near a residence. And after that I walked away a bit disheartened.
The old city was not a historic site, it was a modern art gallery, an antique store, and an attraction that demanded nearly $4 for a bottle of water. In no direction could I look and not see an advertisement for Nestle® or an over priced restaurant. Unfortunately, the place seemed to have been spoiled.
So off I walked, ready for my fourth lunch in two days. To where I found something I much more preferred – the flea markets. Windy streets peppered with outdated goods and crafts. Old men smoking nargile outside their cluttered shops. And energy, an authentic buzz of hustle and barter.
In these streets I firmly held my camera in one hand and my wallet the another, meandering my way through a variety of shops. Two summers ago I had started my own small antique business, and access to these streets then would have made me a millionaire. Apothecary bottles, 1930’s medical equipment, lights and fans from many of the worlds classic companies – these stores had inventory that truly qualified as interior treasures to designers in the west.
But I wasn’t shopping for an apartment. I was hunting for food. Whenever I travel I’m constantly thinking of how to design the perfect city. What every place I visit does right or wrong, better or worse than the US or another. And in that perfect city that’s constantly under construction, the food would be from Israel.
There is no cuisine I’ve discovered that is as affordable, fresh, and wholesome as Israeli food. I’ve not been able to stop eating. Every bakery, juice press, shawarma shop, and falafel pit I’ve passed has had my business. I never know what I’m eating. I just point at something I’ve yet to try, or ask the employee to give me something different if they speak English.
When you ask for juice, it’s sliced and squeezed on the spot. The falafel is ground freshly, sometimes in front of you, and then fried to order. And the dips, breads, salads, and everything else, made on site.
I never will understand how in most of the world a bottle of Coke is cheaper than one of water. Or why a pack of raw cashews is thrice the price of ones that have been roasted in oil and salted. It all seems quite backwards really. Here in Israel though, the riddle seems to have been set straight. If you want to eat a pack of Pringles or Doritos, chips that have been made in China, expensively labeled, robbed of any nutrients that a potato could have given them, and then shipped half way around the world, that’s fine – you’re going to pay 17 shekel for it. But today, next door to the same shop I saw that can of Pringles in, I had real falafel with fresh veggies, peppers, spices, dips and sauce for just 10 shekel – that’s $2.80 USD.