I remember walking around Tsfat one Friday afternoon in winter. It was daunting weather, rainy and windy. I don’t know what errand took me out to the street on a Friday afternoon, but I know I was cold, hustling along as fast as I could. Then in spite of the icy wind sneaking down my collar and up my coat sleeves, I stopped. From an apartment nearby the tempting smell of a truly Hungarian cholent wafted out, redolent of meat, potatoes, beans, and barley in a rich brown gravy… with maybe a piece of kishkeh sausage to boost the cholesterol factor a bit. It filled my mind with pictures of a comfortable-looking, kerchiefed lady and her husband in his white Shabbat shirt, sitting down to the Shabbat stew just as their grandparents would have done, back in the shtetl 100 years ago.
But Tsfat hasn’t stayed stuck in time, all the time. There are pizza joints, falafel and shwarma stands, some decent cafes, and a cute little vegetarian place in the Old City, off Kikar HaMeginim. It’s called Tree of Life, and the food there is always fresh and tempting. An American lady called Faigy runs it.
Next to Tree of Life is a stand where you can fill up on soft drinks and cigarettes. On one shelf stands a grim souvenir of Tsfat’s troubles during the last Lebanon War – a Katyusha rocket that fell in the patio of the owner’s house.
The Sephardic/Arab culinary influence has seeped through the kitchens of Tsfat as rose-flavored syrup seeps through baklava. Walking up Rechov Yerushalayim, I saw this tempting display of Arab pastries. Now I’ve always eyed those luscious-looking stuffed pastries in Arab stores, but have not tasted because of kashrut. On the window of this store hung a hechsher – certificate of kashrut. How could I resist? There was baklava:
And there were tehina cookies:
I haven’t made tehina cookies yet, but the recipe Chanit has posted on her blog, here looks very doable. Think I’ll bake them tomorrow for the first night of Sukkot, which we spend with my married daughter and her family. I’ll have to substitute margerine for the butter, though. Think my little grandsons will like them? What a question!
To taste more than one of these rich, sweet pastries would give me blood sugar tsuris, I knew. The one I chose, I’ve been curious about ever since I read the recipe in Claudia Rodin’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food: Knafa. It’s filled with cheese and covered in syrup and is about as opulent a pastry as you can imagine. I asked the young lady in the store for a smallish piece, which she cut and put into a bowl for me:
It was re-delicious. But very sweet – I was glad to have asked for only a small piece. On leaving the store, I naturally asked how much to pay. The young lady refused to take payment, saying, “That’s just a little piece, for tasting – you don’t pay for that.” How like Tsfat, I thought. Poor, yet generous.