Ruined for Hummus: Perilous Dining in the Middle East

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Falafel Shop

Jaffa Gate Falafel, Jerusalem

“I miss the hummus,” lamented my eldest daughter.

“Can you learn to make flat bread?” asked the youngest. For a woman with a gluten allergy, flat bread might be stretching my capabilities.

Our first morning in Israel, expecting a German-style buffet of cheese, bologna, and a few pickles, I was astonished to find not one but two salad bars–for breakfast!!! This was a revelation to me.

Chicen Schnitzel on the menu, YMCA, Jerusalem

Chicken Schnitzel on the menu, YMCA, Jerusalem

The hotel also had the typical fare for the gluten-eaters: crepe thingys, phylo stuffed thingys, and other goodies I can not adequately describe, since I averted my eyes when the kids ate them. But from the “yums!” it sounded tasty.

All kinds of pretty, yummy deserts, Movenpick, Jordan

All kinds of pretty, yummy deserts, Movenpick, Jordan

Eggs were also on the menu, basically in any form you could want, since each of the 4 hotels had an egg cook ready to make your custom order.

But my favorite place to graze was the salad bar. The tomatoes always tasted as if it were the height of summer. The eggplant was never bitter. The roasted red peppers melted in my mouth. And the salad tasted as if it had been plucked directly from the garden. And the olives! Wow. Truly incredible, if you like that sort of thing at 8:00am.

Eggplant with rosemary, cherry tomatoes and olives for breakfast.

Eggplant with rosemary, cherry tomatoes and olives for breakfast.

Katie having salmon, and in the background, spaghetti and more schnitzel (you can take the kids out of Germany…)

Katie having salmon, and in the background, spaghetti and more schnitzel (you can take the kids out of Germany…)

At the Movenpick in Jordan, we had the buffet for dinner as well, and they did not disappoint. There were different types of cooked fish, one night with a creamy white sauce, one night with a sweet and sour. They also had different variations of potatoes, and rice was a staple as well. My favorite rice had almonds, green onion, and cinnamon. I’m sure I will spend the next decade trying to re-create it.

Ice cream for lunch, at the Movenpick, Jordan

Ice cream for lunch, at the Movenpick, Jordan

I also took a gamble and had falafel, which I knew could be made with flour. If it was, it didn’t affect me at all. We also tried schwarma, which is basically the same as doner kebabs, (lamb slow-roasted and shaved from a spit), which is the fast-food of Germany.

At the U Coral Beach Club, there was fresh fruit in the morning, freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs, plenty of potatoes, and the full salad bar. Many mornings I would have a dish of cucumbers and tomatoes, finely chopped with cilantro and tossed with lemon juice–Arabic salad, it was called, and it sometimes had avocado.

One night, the hotel did not have my favorite veggie stir fry, and as I stood there, I saw a chef tossing thin slices of beef onto the grill. He took a piece off the grill and put it on the hotplate, where it was snatched up by a greedy little boy. The chef went to put a second slice there, and as the boy reached out to nab it, the cook placed it on my plate. Smugly, I walked away with it, leaving the child to gnaw on the one he already had. 

I haven’t had a steak in over a year, and this was certainly the place to have one. It was thin and tender as a stick of butter. Fresh off the grill, it was just perfect.

Shop on our hike to the monastery, Petra, Jordan, offering coffee, snickers and Bavarian beer.

Shop on our hike to the monastery, Petra, Jordan, offering coffee, snickers and Bavarian beer.

Other meats were frequently available for dinner–beef, chicken and lamb. Libby loved having a chicken nugget again (since we had long ago banned them) and hers was shaped like a heart.

My favorite dish was hummus. And it wasn’t even the gourmet stuff from any of the resorts–it was the hummus my husband had picked up at a nearby convince store. There were different varieties, one with a green type of pesto, another with plain chickpeas, and our favorite, the kind with the red pesto, complete with a little kick.

And now it’s back to ‘real’ life, whatever that actually means.

I’ve cooked my chickpeas this afternoon, and am scavenging together a red pesto to try and emulate what I had in Israel, but I’m afraid no matter what I do, I will fall short.

My traveling friends and I have discussed this notion before–travel ruins you for certain foods. When you actually have hummus in the place where the ingredients grow naturally in your garden, it’s hard to recreate it in your cold German kitchen. And likewise, gelato just isn’t the same anywhere outside of Italy–even ‘Italian’ gelato in Germany lacks something. As for yogurt, I can’t even taste the stuff if it doesn’t come from Deutschland. Holland has the best cheese in the world (which I know since I sampled plenty of it before my plant-based conversion), and now hummus will never be the same again.

In the Middle East, things grow on TREES in December! Amazing!

In the Middle East, things grow on TREES in December! Amazing!

It is a bittersweet thing, to be ruined for a food forever. But if I am lucky, I will catch hints of the real stuff from time to time, and it will bring back the memories and the stories that begin with, “Do you remember sitting on the balcony overlooking the Red Sea, when we had hummus for dinner?”

Ruined. 

Completely, happily ruined. 

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