Thursday, March 11, 2010

Everyone's Egyptian Grandmother

Tel Aviv
11 March 2010

Julie Ozon cooks Egyptian food just like your grandmother would if your grandmother was from Cairo. This is a line I often use to describe some wonderful hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurant. This time it so happens that Julie, the owner and chef, is an Egyptian grandmother. Her cooking is truly sublime. Located in the Yemenite Quarter just down a narrow street from Shuk Hacarmel (corner of Yom Tov and Malan), Julie's is perfect for anyone who missesmiss eating lunch in their grandmother's kitchen.

Julie's family was driven out of Egypt (with most of the rest of the Egyptian Jewish community) in 1949. Their property (which included houses in Cairo and Alexandria) was confiscated. They spent time in a refuge camp in France and finally made their way to Israel, then a country with not much of anything, that had to absorb hundreds of thousands of refuges from Arab countries who came with the clothes on their backs. After the peace treaty, Julie made about seven trips back to Egypt to find the few remaining family and friends and take a look at where she had lived. But her trips, she says, are over. Israel is her home and here she will stay. You stroll in and become one of the family.

Julie's cooking is strictly home style, as is the service. Don't bother asking for a menu. Just ask what's for lunch. Julie or one of her assistants will stand behind a counter and describe (in any of several languages) what's in each pot. She will gladly make you a plate of what she thinks is good for your lunch (between Liz and I we got to sample something of everything and went back for seconds).

The central ingredient is ground meat with a variety of spices. Some of the meat is stuffed into vegetables (today we had eggplant, zucchini and artichoke heart), made into kubeh, meatballs or fried in a burger shape. These were topped off with a mix of sauces that included just enough harif so you know you're in the Middle East but not so much as to cloak the tastes of the spices. The problem with this style of cooking is that it can easily become too greasy. Not at Julie's.

She had two kinds of rice (saffron and white, the white with fresh vermicelli, the saffron with some chick peas and whichever sauce Julie decides to put on it). Added to this were green pea pods in a light sauce cooked so soft they almost needed a spoon instead of a fork.

It being a hot day we passed on the soup but had the Arabic coffee with cardamon and the tea with cloves, washed down with basbousa,a sweet cake made with semolina, honey and lemon syrup.

Once again we are reminded why we come to Israel and why we will miss this place so much when we are back in New Jersey. As we walked off to the shuk to shop for Shabbat dinner (company is coming) I called our agent to see if we can have the apartment for next winter.

1 comment:

Alice said...

Undoubtedly, a future Fortune story will read something like:
Town Wacko, in competition with US Postal Service, sells stamps in front of Shoprite! Local High School band plays pep songs to urge him on. "He gives a good discount," a polyester pants wearing senior wearing senior citizen was over heard commenting to his wife.