Who doesn’t love Italian food, especially Roman cuisine with the cacio e pepe, carbonara pasta, and tender, flavourful artichokes?
Seriously. Show me who doesn’t love this stuff and I’ll do to them what the Roman emperor probably did with anyone who disagreed with them. Can’t imagine it was pleasant.
But did you know that within Roman cuisine, there’s another world of food two thousand years in the making with flavors from Spain and North Africa? I’m of course talking about the ancient Roman Jewish community with roots in the city that stretch back to the days of Caesar. (The ruler, not the salad dressing.)
So join me as I prepare a Roman Jewish feast by selecting three dishes from Leah Koenig’s Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen.
For me, salads have always been the culinary equivalent of a sad trombone. I’m active. I want something warm and hearty after a hard effort, not the stuff you give the class gerbil in elementary school. This, I know, is a wildly outdated characterization of salads, if not a surprising one coming from a vegetarian.
But I live in Germany, where there are a lot of rules, and a lot of exceptions to those rules. My exception for salads is the Israeli salad, usually defined as a chopped salad with diced tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers topped with a light, lemon-based vinaigrette. Simple, right?
I never felt like I deserved to go to Jerusalem. It’s a city that in my imagination oozes religiosity. Only those who said “Next year in Jerusalem” and meant it ought to go. Or perhaps anyone with deep ancestral roots in the area, ranging from the various groups of Arabs and Jews who’ve seen the likes of the Ottomans, Brits, and Jordanians come and go.
In general, I’m talking about people for whom Jerusalem means something more than a place to grab some humble brag shots for social media. Not some American shmendrik who’s about as pious as the village idiot from Chelm.
Although I forced myself to the sights, like The Wailing Wall with the Dome of the Rock glistening in the background, I can’t say it sparked a spiritual revolution within. I actually felt a little guilty. This is something many of my ancestors would’ve been incredibly moved to see for themselves. As far as I know, I’m the first in my line to have seen this place in presumably thousands of years. Yet there I was, feeling like I stole some teenage girl’s front row seats to a Billie Eilish concert.
But what did light up my soul, much like in Tel Aviv, was eating in Jerusalem. Joel Haber shows us the way in this video.
Next time, we cross into the Palestinian Territories through Checkpoint 300 for a stay at Banksy’s Walled Off A Hotel and to learn more about a certain hunk of junk that towers over the Palestinians living in the adjacent Aida Refugee Camp.
Welcome to Israel – Palestine! A historically peaceful region that’s never in the news nor generating polarizing opinions or Internet commentators aggressively posting flag emojis.
In reality, few things are as divisive as Israel and Palestine. So let’s start with something we can all agree on. And that is, nothing that I post over the course of the upcoming videos will completely satisfy any particular perspective… except my own––a 30-something-year-old guy with the privileged power of an American passport.
First up, we’ll head to Tel Aviv for a tour through the Carmel Market with Peninah Myerson at Delicious Israel. Then it’s over to Jerusalem where culinary historian, Joel Haber, shares some Jewish flavors at the Machanep Yehudah Market I’ve never before tasted. From there, we head to Checkpoint 300 to cross into Bethlehem, Palestine for a walk along the wall and to stay at Banky’s Walled Off Hotel.
Bavette pasta alla trapanese, bucatini with broccoli and muddica atturrata, stigghiola or sheep intestines, spleen and panelle chickpea fritter sandwiches, and busiate corkscrew pasta al pistacchio. The cuisine of Sicily is varied, simple, and above all, deliciously satisfying and comforting.
But few dishes are as ubiquitous on Sicilian menus as caponata––an eggplant salad of sorts often with tomatoes, olives, onions, and capers cooked in sugar and vinegar.
In this video, I dig into the Jewish roots of Sicilian cuisine.
I came to Sicily first and foremost for, well, the sun. I can’t lie. Berlin can make a balled-up postcard from 1970s Florida look absolutely euphoric in January. Sicily, I knew, would provide a reprieve from my seasonal depressive dysfunction.
That aside, high up there on the list was to find the world’s best cannoli.