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Posts Tagged ‘meat’

Follow the Africans.  Or the Asians. Or the Indians.  I’m not being prejudicial here, I promise.  I discovered something fascinating last Friday afternoon.  I’ve taken to doing my marketing just before Shabbat – and I mean just before.  Entering the fray at its very worst, I’ve left the house around 3 pm to go Shuk HaCarmel (the Carmel Market), partly out of lazy Friday bad timing, and partly (when I recognized the pattern) for the prices, which I never would have discovered had I not noticed my fellow shoppers.  Maybe I should add – partly to experience this unique sort of excited chaos.

(Just realized I need to explain a bit: Israel until recently was pretty homogeneous, or well, all Jewish.  There are lots of different groups of Jews, but Jews nonetheless.  Arabs and Jews.  And that was kind of that.  Over the last 20 years, and especially the last 5 or so, we’ve had a huge influx of foreign workers as well as refugees and asylum seekers.  This has caused a lot of tension.  These people are needed in certain capacities, but they’re seen also as a burden.  It’s a touchy subject, and in my opinion, it’s brought out the worst in Israelis.  When there are no minorities present, it’s not apparent that there are racist tendencies.  But now…  In any case, I will blog more about this situation later.  All you need to know is that these foreigners live separately, in old, squalid neighborhoods.  They take care of our elderly.  They bus our plates and wash our dishes.  They sweep our streets.  They do our dangerous construction work.  And in many ways they are invisible.)

When I arrive at the market, the mayhem is overwhelming: huge crowds of people trying to push frantically through the narrow market, vendors shouting their brains out to make some last sales before they have to close, many vendors already packing up – using scary long metal hooks to lower high hanging items and noisily slamming heavy metal doors down over their stalls, tourists keeping things moving even more slowly by taking photos and lingering over cheap jewelry and mezzuzahs and Dead Sea cosmetics and za’atar covered pita breads (so cheap, let’s get some to snack on).

Then there are the real shoppers – people trying to get their Shabbat meals in order (and at this point, these guys are really pushing it with Shabbat starting so early – 4 pm ish maybe) or just get food for the weekend, or in my case, food for the week.  I’ve located the guy with the cheapest cucumbers (1.99 shekels per kilo), the cheapest tomatoes (3.99 per kilo), the cheapest and freshest cilantro (1.50 per bunch), the cheapest and most beautiful mangold – beet leaves – (3 huge packs for 10 shekels), and the only two stalls that sell sorrel (3 shekels per bunch).  These are my staples.  The rest of the good stuff this week was icing on the cake.  I got the most fragrant guavas I have ever smelled (and their taste ain’t so shabby, neither) for 7 shekels per kilo, really lovely persimmons (can’t remember the price, but I got a whole bag full for 5 shekels which is crazy cheap), and unbelievable deals on zucchinis and lemons and onions.

(I will always be amazed at the enormous gap between supermarket and shuk prices.  Are the stores nuts?!  Are the people, for shopping there?!  And in more “civilized” countries where there isn’t a real down and dirty market – we’re not talking local farmers’ markets – nobody has a choice!  Thank goodness we grow so much of our own food here in Israel.)

After I acquired the loot, I remembered I’d made a list of stuff to get if I had time, and it was good I remembered (because I really needed these things).  I was out of most of the cereal grains and pulses I rely on – rices, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, lentils, etc.  Not good.  So I decided to take a small street parallel to the shuk back north so that I didn’t have to fight my way.  And lo and behold, here was another crowd of people: the foreign workers.  Sure, they were in the shuk as well, but on the side street, it was like their territory.  There were more Filipinos and Thais and Nigerians and Eritreans than Israelis.  It wasn’t crowded, but it certainly was like walking into another world.  It was calm and “weekendy” – unlike the fracas I had just left.  The shop owners weren’t shouting.  People went on their way as if it were any other day.  The variety of the shops was fantastic – grain shops, spice shops, butcher shops, butcher shops specializing in pork, and Asian food shops.  Awesome awesome.  I picked the first dry goods place with adequate barrels of rices and lentils out front, and it was a good thing I did.  There were a good number of other shoppers, and I was the only Israeli.  You know what they say about restaurants  (and I suppose any business) – don’t eat there if it’s empty.  And vice versa.

I began scooping barley and soy beans and wild rice into plastic baggies when I realized I might not have enough money to pay.  The barley and soy were fairly cheap (10-12 shekels per kilo), but the wild rice was splurging on my part (16 per kilo).  Each of my three bags was sizable – at more than half a kilo each, and I was certain that I would be forking up 30-40 shekels, which was quite possibly all the cash I had in my wallet.  I make sure never to go out with a lot, because believe me, I will spend it.  Even if it’s on produce, I’ll spend it.  Buying exotic Korean cabbages and the like is not a necessity, no matter how much I convince myself it is.   But if the money isn’t in the wallet, I don’t spend it.  To my great delight, my bill came out to 15 shekels.  I honestly don’t know how that happened.  15 shekels for two week’s worth of food is pretty awesome.  The guy winked at me.  I don’t know if he gave me a great deal because of my, well, feminine charms (right), because it was the end of the week, or because that’s just the kind of guy he is.  The Africans and Asians kept on coming and going, and they seemed really happy too.

My shopping done, I continued north on the side street, and I passed what I can only describe as a ghetto butcher.  Back in Rome, hundreds of years ago, there were two kinds of butchers: the meat butcher, and the offal butcher (or as I’d like to think – “the everything else” guy).  Serious.  They had their own pushcarts, and they sold door to door or on the streets.  Rome is known for its offal dishes.  It’s probably one of the few places in the Western world that places tripe in a place of honor on all restaurant menus.  And the word “ghetto” is Italian – the place where they corralled Jews in – the first.  Jews being very poor, I’m sure they ate lots of the other stuff.  Hence, my ghetto butcher.

He was such a jovial chap, winking and cracking jokes with the customers around him, all of which were Thai and West African (which I ascertained after speaking with some in French).  And they were buying – and I’m not cracking jokes here – skin.  Skin and liver and especially (this really did seem to be this guy’s specialty) cow intestines.  This large rubbery and hairy looking monstrosity was hanging by two hooks.  My first thought was yes, this must be tripe.  Then I second-guessed myself.  It was so damned huge.  And the hairy looking bits did not look like villi.  It looked like shaggy hair.  It honestly looked like thick skin and hide of a cow.  I stared for ten minutes or so before asking on of the people standing next to me.  The butcher happily hacked away at it, using a sharp knife to strip yet another slithery 6-inch chunk off, packing it up for his satisfied clients.   Incredible.

I ended up spending a grand total of $20 for my groceries.  I’m quite thrilled.  And despite the fact that I had some other foodish adventures this weekend, this is what stuck.  Ask me to tell you about knafe another time…

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The image of a 7 year-old wearing a bra is disturbing to me. Not only is childhood being cut short in the West driven by many factors including media of all sorts, an obsession with the body, with sexualizing everything, the glamorization of violence, etc, etc – you know the deal.  Now childhood is being cut short even earlier by means of biology.

As someone who matured early, I can tell you personally that it’s not a pleasant experience.  You don’t fit.  You look different.  You are treated differently.  It takes years for people to catch up, and by then, it’s “too late.”  You’ve been different, often ostracized socially, or at least placed in a different category for so long.  You are treated as more of an adult.  You think of yourself as more of an adult.  There is a vast effect on self-esteem.  The list goes on.  For a long time people have also talked about the health risks that these resulting women are afflicted by, including earlier-onset menopause and a much greater risk for breast cancer and osteoporosis.  Recent studies also suggest that these girls become sexually active much earlier, exposing them to potential disease, pregnancy, and all of the psychological issues that are involved in such behavior.  And the earlier a girl develops, the higher the risks for all of these things, physically, mentally, emotionally, and with the future of her health and lifespan.

A tough break.  Nobody asks for it.  And throughout all time it was something over which we thought we had no control.

Until recently.

My mother forwarded me this article published in Reuters citing a definitive study that concluded that girls are entering puberty earlier at quite alarming rates.  The main cause that they focused on was childhood obesity.  Fat girls were more likely to develop earlier.  OK.  I drew a connection to why much earlier than the article did.  As I read I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the article to mention it.  Come on now.  What are people eating that makes them obese?  The moment I was waiting for came at the end and wasn’t explored much: HORMONES in our FOOD.

In 2005 Americans 185 lbs meat per capita

Puberty results from hormone changes within the brain which signal the reproductive organs.  They in turn send more hormone signals to other parts of the body, initiating growth and change.  I’m not going to get into science.  I’m not a scientist and I’m not going to bother with citations up the wazoo.  Everyone reading this blog is capable of doing the same google searches that I do.  But here are the main things I gleaned:

  • Two-thirds of American cattle raised for slaughter today are injected with hormones to make them grow faster, and America’s dairy cows are given a genetically-engineered hormone called rBGH to increase milk production.
  • European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health questioned whether hormone residues in the meat of “growth enhanced” animals and can disrupt human hormone balance, causing developmental problems, interfering with the reproductive system, and even leading to the development of breast, prostate or colon cancer.
  • Children, pregnant women and the unborn are thought to be most susceptible to these negative health effects.
  • Hormones are also present in animals’ excrement which remains in the soil for months, can seep into the groundwater supply, and also move into bodies of water where they affect fish reproduction.

Hormones and Puberty

Why are hormones used on cattle?  To make them bigger and to produce more milk.  More, more, more, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper.   Having read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, as well as Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, years ago, I have become very concerned about the amount of hormones we’re consuming.  When you think about it, hormones of every sort are simply chemical signals.  Each hormone triggers actions that different systems in our bodies take.  We have hormones that control metabolism, growth, mood swings, immune system, reproduction, and more.   Can you imagine what we’re doing by adding (or flooding) wrong signals into our bodies?  Depression, hyperactivity, metabolic issues, goodness, everything can be affected adversely.  In the macro world, messed up signals and messages can cause airplanes to crash, cars to crash, wars to start, for goodness sake.  What systems are crashing, wars are being fought inside our bodies?

So, here’s one of the most obvious examples: little girls sprouting breasts at 7 and 8 years-old.  It’s easy to see because it’s the hardest to ignore.  Breasts are out there.  And little girls aren’t supposed to have them, poor things.  I can’t imagine what’s going on inside all of us that we can’t see.  And although I’m not eating meat right now (thankfully so, until I make up my mind about some issues, and if/until I find organic meat and humane slaughtering that I think are acceptable), I’m drinking English Breakfast tea with milk right now.  Milk.  You go on thinking, a little drop of milk won’t hurt.  I’m not drinking gallons.  But it might add up.  And as a good American child, I did drink gallons.  Every week.  I had a minimum of 3-5 glasses a day, (not counting what I added to my cereal), and with two sisters and a dad who liked milk too, we went through a gallon almost every day.  We would buy 2+ 2-gallon bottles every week.  Perhaps it’s not so shocking I went through puberty early.

As far as I can see, this is another strong strong and scary argument for forgoing non-organic meats and milk (and eggs, now that I’m thinking about it, although that’s more for antibiotics, also a related scary issue).   So scary that although I am so swamped with work, it’s not funny, I stopped everything to blog about this.  I leave you with this: think hard about what you put into your body. It becomes you.  I need to start thinking harder, too.

Links on the topic:

Scary UK National Obesity Ad Campaign (worth a look)

3 year-olds getting their period

Artificial hormones

EU scientists confirm health risks of hormones in meat

Puberty coming earlier for girls

Childhood obesity brings early puberty for girls

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Review: Rak Basar (translation: “Only Meat” – restaurant); 223 (cocktail bar)

Tel Aviv certainly loves its gimmicks – restaurants and bars all over town try some interesting and often odd tricks to get people in door.  Some gimmicks are logical – a breakfast restaurant serves breakfast and not dinner.  A cafe serves coffee and not sirloin.  But, I’m not quite for fad gimmicks.  If it works, it works, great.  My experience at the deaf-blind center’s BlackOut restaurant was a real thrill.  My disappointment at 24-hour breakfast at Benedict’s was monumental.  But will these places (or their genres) stand the test of time?  Or does that even matter?  Here are two accounts of recent gimmicky places I had the pleasure of encountering.

Rak Basar

Gimmick #1: choose your cut and size of meat at a real butcher shop at the back of the restaurant – then have it served on a small tabletop grill – where you can choose to cook the meat further, or simply keep portions of it warm while you slowly work you way through the masses of it all.

At a restaurant called “Only Meat,” it really says something when the parts of the meal I loved most were the all-you-can drink wine jug (after all, you stop caring after the second glass that the wine is uber-cheap Shel Segal) and the appetizers (creative, finely chopped salads – one with cactus!; and an elegant small-portioned grilled beef tongue served atop a salad).

Although I ordered my NY strip steak rare, it came blue.  My dad’s sirloin (ordered medium rare) came in rare-to-blue, and my sister’s ostrich (ordered at the butcher’s recommendation of medium-to-medium rare) came in so blue it was cold in the middle.  And it being ostrich – a bird – I was worried at how safe it would be to actually eat it in that condition.

My first thought was that they honestly thought that the tabletop grill would keep cooking the meat steadily, so they undercooked.  But the grill wasn’t quite hot enough to do that.  My second thought was that most Israelis unfortunately like their meat well done. Perhaps the cooks just don’t know what rare really is and thought it better to undercook than overcook.

We sent a lot of it back to be re-fired — with varying levels of success.

The positives – the most attentive friendly wait staff I have encountered in Israel.  Our waiter was a tattooed oddly shaved gent named Shai.  He was a ball, and to be sure (despite our food), we left him a hefty tip.  The decor is authentic old-Israel-brick with vaulted ceilings & down-to-earth wooden furniture.  The bottomless wine glass is fun, and the appetizers are wonderful.

It was just a shame that the gimmick – the restaurant’s raison d’etre – was such a huge let down.  I won’t be going back too soon.

223


Gimmick #2: Classy yet friendly cocktail bar with creative, original recipes using local ingredients and liquors.

Sounds perfect! In a town where beer is king and most bars have usually never heard of a sidecar, 223 (named for its address – 223 Dizengoff) has a perfect recipe for success. Or so you’d think…

Atmosphere: 10; Service: 10; Cocktails: 3

Admittedly I’ve only been once.  But when you’re served the worst classic gin martini of your life at place that calls itself a state-of-the-art cocktail bar – you’ve got problems.

They have a ginger-lime-pineapple-lemon grass martini; Mediterranean caipirinhas; blood orange margaritas, and an awful lot more scrummy-sounding drinks.  And they are delicious.  Really delicious.  One drink even won an international award.

My issues:

  1. The glasses – if it’s a margarita, serve it in a margarita glass; if it’s a martini, serve it in a martini glass.  It makes a big difference.  People feel special drinking from these specially shaped large glasses.  The drinks go down better. There’s a reason they exist.  We were served in regular tall ridged glasses.  You couldn’t even call them highballs.
  2. Ice – cocktails should rarely be served with ice.  Our drinks came with lots of big ice cubes…and straws…(hello – where’s the salt for the rim of the margarita)…which leads me to suspect…
  3. Watered down drinks? I can’t prove it.  They might be super-strong.  I would hate to be slanderous here.  But the volume of the drink, the size of the glass, with all the different juices going in, and the ice (the ice!), just made it all feel fishy.  I guess, after all, you’re paying for the gimmick – not the booze.
  4. The WORST martini of my life! My sister told me I should have sent it back and assured me its common practice in Israel.  Call me a polite American.  I suffered the abomination.  I love classic cocktails.  Not that fruity-tooty isn’t great.  But I relished my few years in Chicago as a young professional, heading for swanky downtown hotel bars with other colleagues for dirty martinis or Manhattans or cosmopolitans.  And I love a classic martini.  Gin, never vodka.  Served pretty damned dry.  With a big ole olive or two.  Maybe even a dressed up blue cheese olive or two.  The drink I was served at 223 was not a martini.  I requested a real martini glass, if they had one, and the waitress insisted that they did.  Why my earlier order of a fruity martini didn’t come in one remains a mystery, but this supposed martini appeared in the correct glass.   That said, it was made of a substantially large percentage of vermouth.  I’m talking 35-50% vermouth.  Gin was the aftertaste.  It was really nasty.  It wasn’t served cold enough (no ice cubes could bail the bartender out using this glass), and the three olives were our tiny wrinkled Israeli variety (probably all they had).  They were, however, the best part of the drink.  And the laughable part?  They charged me 44 shekels for this drink – a full 5 shekels more than any other classy drink on their menu. A gin straight up may have cost me half the amount – and I would have gotten more.

I know.  I seem arrogant.  But when you order a chicken at a fried chicken stand and you get an egg, what can I say?  In this case, I will go back.  The bar is charming:  the decor is adorable, European, wallpapered, upholstered, cheery.  It’s right around the corner from my house.  The people are friendly. The service, prompt.  And it’s a smoke-free bar, if I remember correctly.

I will, however, be sticking with Scotch.

Here’s a fine article on how to order a martini.

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