I’m going to be honest with you. I signed up for Birthright mostly because I wanted to spend ten days eating Israeli food. When I found out I was chosen for a summer 2012 trip, my daydreams were filled with visions of pistachio-studded halvah, mounds of falafel, juicy shawarma, and creamy hummus. You could say I was going on the trip for all the wrong reasons, that gorging oneself on Israeli delicacies was not a moral reason to take advantage of a free 10-day trip to the Holy Land. Well sometimes karma bites you back.
I arrived in Jerusalem on a breezy July night, accompanied by my best friend and about 40 other college students, still strangers to me. Jet-lagged and exhausted from the 11-hour flight, we trudged into the hostel’s dining room. My eyes perked up at the sight of roasted chicken, hummus, and juicy watermelon. Yes, this is why I had traveled for nearly half a day. I happily ate my dinner and played the obligatory name games with the group.
Not even 12 hours after the meal, I was struck with a certain discomfort. I’d been sick from traveling before, and I assured myself this little stomach upset would pass. I sullenly skipped out on the next morning’s breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and Israeli salad.
It’s the ultimate big bucks breakfast. “You are invited to a photo opportunity and breakfast roundtable with Governor Mitt Romney,” reads the bold blue print on the invitation sent to a select few. Then comes the price: $50,000 per couple.
Politics aside what about the two questions that are really on all our minds: what is on the menu, and what’s the profit on each plate?
The breakfast will be at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where an insider tells the Forward that around 40 people will attend. The menu will include croissants, coffee, cheeses, eggs, salads and shakshuka, an Israeli dish consisting of poached eggs in tomato sauce. It will be served in one of the smart banqueting rooms.
As you may have noticed, the menu isn’t different to the breakfast you get in most Israeli hotels, or to the King David’s standard breakfast, which costs 128 shekels, around $30. This means that the Romney campaign should make at least $998,800 from the event.
If you closed your eyes, you could easily imagine the scent of rich tomato and onion wafting from Jennah Craig’s East Bay apartment, and the joyful colliding of conversations ricocheting down the hallway coming from an airy apartment complex in downtown bustling Tel Aviv. That was exactly the feeling this gathering was going for. A group of ten young adults who’ve all settled in the Bay after years living in Israel, we rolled up our sleeves to create a Middle Eastern-style feast of Shakshuka (see recipe below) and homemade pita, and toasted to some of our most memorable meals cooked in the Holy Land.
Danna Rubin, Northwest Regional Director for Masa Israel Journey, spearheaded the edible effort after hearing from a number of MASA Israel program alums that the thing they missed most from their time spent in Israel was spent making a mess on the stove, in good, raucous, company. “A big part of living in Israel is gathering together and cooking meals together; something less prevalent in American culture,” says Rubin.
My happiest memories of my father are of mid afternoon Fridays, the only time we would find him in the kitchen. A flock of six kids, like turtles making their journey back to the sea, trekking back home tired and famished on mid afternoon Fridays.
A couple of my younger siblings, walking a few miles back home from school, moments ago just jolted out of their seats in their classrooms, at the much awaited sound of the bell signaling the end of school week and freedom.
Another brother or a sister, stepping back home, dusty from an excursion on the patchy green, mostly sandy play area or from a playful ride outside on our lone brand new bike. I am hitchhiking in the scorching sun, from my army base somewhere in central Israel and heading home south, after an entire week or two of being away. Us all famished and cannot wait for Friday night Shabbat dinner.
This spicy, tangy and herbed sauce is dubbed “Magic Sauce.” It would certainly liven up any Shabbat chicken. [101 Cookbooks]
Changes in school lunches could take years to implements says Marion Nestle. [The Atlantic]
“The Hangover Cookbook” (come on, we’ve all been there) has a recipe for the Israeli dish shakshuka. [The Daily Meal]
A culinary confession: During my first weeks as an exchange student in Israel, I walked by a roadside café and peered at the fare on offer, and there it was, right next to the hummus and salad: something that looked like eggs swimming in tomato sauce. I thought it was probably the most unappealing dish I’d ever seen.
Little did I know that, years later, I would become a passionate devotee of shakshuka, one of Israel’s most popular cuisines, where eggs are nestled in a bed of steaming tomatoes, onions, and spices, and are cooked on a stove top.
The beauty of shakshuka preparation is its flexibility. It’s the ultimate meal to prepare at home when it seems there is nothing in the pantry. Like making spaghetti sauce for pasta, it can either be composed of completely fresh ingredients or quickly whipped up out of a can. And, like any egg dish, it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is the ultimate brunch cuisine, quick and easy enough to be able to sleep late and still impress your guests.
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