Really, it’s all about the food. I’ve probably gained 10 pounds on my trip to Israel and Istanbul to prove it. Bags of tiny nougat squares of Turkish delight filled with pistachios, walnuts, pomegranate seeds, you name it. Forget about almonds, my usual healthy nibble. But let’s start at the beginning. Maybe you’ll understand that there’s no turning back in countries where tradition and hospitality begin with “Israeli breakfast” and end with small glasses of strong tea set in tiny flowery saucers.
Breakfast in Israeli hotels could easily substitute for a wedding buffet: lox that goes down like silk, at least four other kinds of smoked fish, even more kinds of yogurt freshly made, gleaming in white bowls and a whole counter of scrumptious cheeses.
Not to mention the rugelach ribboned with chocolate and other tender, flaky pastries. But when you’re talking tender, flaky — add buttery — pastries, nothing beats the world’s best baklava.
First fly north from Israel over the Mediterranean to Istanbul. My friend Gail warned me that I couldn’t eat just one piece. The old world charm of Karakoy Gulluoglu made me do it. Three pieces of baklava!
Here’s the big surprise: Neither Israel nor Istanbul have good coffee. Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice is plentiful in both places. I drank plenty of it.
Fortunately, both destinations had decent chocolate, which appeared most often in rich Israeli desserts.
Which I ate. My American Jewish Press Association colleagues and I were superbly wined and dined by our generous hosts, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.
I wanted to connect with people and probably overdid “please” and “thank you” in Hebrew and Turkish. I believe in the benefits of chatting, without the complications of government and politics (more about those topics in future posts and articles).
I must have looked afraid in a colorful spice/tea shop in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Young Osman — an English teacher and the best salesman I’ve ever met — sold me $40 worth of Turkish spices (like I cook), gorgeous dried flowers for tea that will help cholesterol and coughs, made me laugh and served me pomegranate tea.
“You know, I’m not your enemy,” he said, after I was drawn into the shop. That stop was one of my favorite of the entire trip.
I’ve been in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport for around eight hours, and still have five to go before boarding my El Al flight to Newark, with another nine hours to get back to Dan and Tucson at 6:35 p.m. Monday night (don’t ask).
So dear readers, toda raba (thank you in Hebrew) and tesekkur ederim (thank you in Turkish) for following this flaky post. I’m going to look for chocolate.