September 27, 2013

Shalom! Part II - The Hunger Games

Coming to Israel, I knew part of the cultural experience would be enjoying the local cuisine. But all that cuisine is wrapped heavily in the country's culture and religion. It is more than what I was prepared for, and I quickly learned how comfortable and fattening I've had it living my life in the USA. Through my travels, I have learned the US is cushy and glutenous, but my Vegas buffet mentality wasn't quite prepared for Israel's Hunger Games. Here are some non-edible tidbits from my survival in Israel.

1. Holidays = minimal or no food, and there are a lot of them in September. The month is holiday time for the locals, which is fine if you're a local or visiting on holiday. But working long days in a physically demanding job does not bode well with the country's holiday schedule. We arrived at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, in time for the grocery stores and businesses to shut down. Thankfully the hotel restaurant offered 3 types of cold sandwiches to keep us alive. Business resumed for another 12 hours until Friday night happened. While anywhere else I've been is celebrating the start of the weekend by going out to dinner or binge drinking, Israel is starting Shabbat shutting down until Sunday. Since then, there have been more major holidays and Saturdays, so every fews days, we'd be advised to stock up at the grocery store again. Being overwhelmed by the crowds and the Hebrew, I basically bought yogurt, wine, applesauce, and chocolate bars. It was like preparing for a hurricane without the plywood, and hurricane that would come back at least once a week and then some. Even living in Florida for the past 9 years, Hurricane Judaism has hit me the hardest. Sure, I'm safe, but I'm hungry! ...and maybe tipsy.

Happy Yom Kippur.

2. What I consider heavy dinner foods are served at breakfast, even when breakfast staples aren't. Our hotel breakfast is a lovely buffet of food for all times of the day. They serve some of my breakfast favorites: eggs, waffles, fruit, yogurt, and more. They also have a full salad bar with fresh veggies and leaves. I'm not typically in the mood for salad at 8 a.m., but it's a nice option. Then there are the richer breakfast foods: pungent fish, tortellini in cream sauce, and potatoes au gratin, to name a few. If it was 8 p.m., this would be a great dinner buffet, but 12 hours earlier, it takes all my stomach muscles to prevent me from heaving when I get a whiff of that fish or cream sauce. But when holidays or Saturdays pop up, they don't serve scrambled eggs anymore, but the dinner food is still there. The first time this happened, I tried the tortellini in lieu of eggs. My stomach tolerated it for 3 noodles before I had to try to fill up on cantaloupe and coffee.

My favorite breakfast foods

3. Cheese everywhere! I love cheese, so seeing tomato and mozzarella sandwiches or anything with goat cheese on a menu was exciting. The first 3 tomato, mozzarella, and pesto sandwiches were delicious. The fourth was not as exciting, but still good and filling. But at the end of 3 days where my whole diet consisted of some sort of cheese sandwich, my stomach said, no more! I sat on my hotel bed, stuffing my face with another cheese sandwich, when my stomach turned over a hunk of mozzarella. I still had half a sandwich and I wasn't full, but I couldn't do it. My body couldn't tolerate anymore cheese. I never thought I'd overdose on cheese, but I did. A few nights later, I tried to get back on the horse with a "salty cheese plate," but it was too much cheese... and too much salt. Thankfully, I've found some meat in this country - when things are open.

Do you want cheese with your cheese?

4. It's expensive to eat, even at McDonald's. I've struggled with the currency conversion rate my whole time here. The prices are big numbers, but it's not like South Africa or Mexico where a big number really equals $2. And it isn't like the Euro that isn't horribly off from the U.S. dollar. I can accept that a 20 Euro dinner is just a bit more in dollars. But in Israel, 1 U.S. dollar equals 3.52 shekels. Dividing numbers by 3.52 quickly in my head was never part of those math class division tables. When food is 60 shekels or a cab ride is 100, I just throw money out of my wallet like it's Monopoly. But when I spent 46 shekels on a McDonald's meal, I did the horrifying conversion while waiting for my food. I'd spent $13 on 3 chicken strips, small fries, and a small drink. I felt bad enough succumbing to the golden arches while in Israel, and then I felt truly mortified and embarrassed learning that I paid $13 for grease and shame - not even super sized!

Hebrew for "GOTCHA."

While I had my trials and tribulations eating, I had a few solid, delicious meals between my bouts of hunger. In Jerusalem, I gorged myself on falaffel, hummus, and everything else on the table that could fit in a pita (that fork was a tough swallow). I also ordered "shawarma" for a lunch and hoped for the best. I can now look back and be happy that I was immersed in such a different culture, food, Hebrew, and all. But my memories are already fonder with access to bacon and the McDonald's dollar menu.

Read more on my adventures in Israel! Shalom! Part I - Bienvenidos a Israel!

1 comment: