Thursday, 14 May 2009

Eurovision food contest

Meeting with other London food bloggers at BBC television centre to watch the semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest. It's changed now, since we opened Europe up to the East. Bring back the USSR! Tons of obscure Eastern European countries, all voting for each other, all naff and out of date. The presenters look like hookers. It's heart-breaking really.
Andrew, the food blogger who arranged this, pulled ping pong balls out of a I heart Peckham bag. A lucky dip, you rummaged around and hoped you didn't get anywhere between Geneva and Istanbul. I got Israel
Brownie and Cowie lucked out and got France and Turkey. Hollow legs got Lithuania. Poor Su Lin got Moldova. Eat like a Girl got Sweden. "Go to Ikea" I piped up.
The idea is to blog about the food from the country you picked. This can be a restaurant, a shop, a meal, a recipe. 
Trouble about Israel is that I have negative feelings towards them ever since two Israelis squatted my flat and left me with £5000 worth of damage. I'm not too crazy about their squatting of Palestine either. 
Turns out they have even squatted falafel, adopting it as their national dish. It belonged to the Palestinians before.

For people interested in Palestinian produce, check out They have a monthly stall in Shah Jahan mosque in Woking at lunchtime on the first Friday of every month if you live nearby.

Tomorrow there is a demonstration:


Saturday 16 May, 12noon - 4pm Central London


  1. I LOVE MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD! I am up for checking out Israeli food with you, depsite dodgy politics.


  2. Tonight Ms CE? it has to be tonight.

  3. Oooh, erm, maybe - where and what time? Was planning to be a good girl and go to band practice and give back the band phone... but falafel calls...

  4. come over and we will drive to a place

  5. What if I just drop off the phone, practice is only over the bridge from where I work...

    Got my bicycle, maybe I should meet you somewhere - got a particular area in mind?


  6. So did you actually go and find any Israeli food?

  7. Hmmm...I'm sure you can imagine I find this rather offensive...but a conversation for another time perhaps? Also, I am obviously late in commenting as Eurovision was yesterday...

    But to stick to food, Israeli food is amazing, using incredible fresh ingredients and drawing from so many cultures and traditions that it is difficult to define. I also hold it is better eaten in Israel than anywhere else, not sure it travels so well. Perhaps the exception to that is the food in people's homes, wherever they live. The most memorable home cooked meals I ever had were an extraordinary dinner and a lunch in Jerusalem. Perhaps a good version exists in a London restaurant? If you find it let me know...

    Squatted falafel? The history of food is of new ingredients and ideas being adopted by cultures and countries as people trade and travel and move - the aubergine was introduced to Italy by the Arabs in the South and then taken North by the Jews who are credited with its widespread introduction. No one would accuse the Italians of squatting the aubergine, I imagine. Food is a bond between people, a way of sharing common ground even where there are many differences. I would have said that was positive, that food draws people together and fosters understanding and humanity? I understand falafel originated in ancient Egypt. Pre 1948 Yemenite Jews who emigrated to what was then Palestine (you can look up the reasons they needed to leave!) began to sell falafel, made as the locals did with chick peas but more heavily spiced and it became a popular street food.

    I recommend 'The Book of Jewish Food' by Claudia Roden for all kinds of reasons, and information such as the above - some amazing recipes, including for Israeli food, and also for the history of the communities and cultures that informed the creation of these recipes.

  8. Sorry Michelle, I did not mean to offend. I do make a huge distinction between Jewish food and culture and Israel.
    I read the stuff about Israel 'squatting' falafel, a typically Palestinian/Arabic dish somewhere but cannot find the link. I take your point though about food crossing borders.
    Unfortunately I did not have time, with the Underground Restaurant, to properly explore Israeli food. I have never been to Israel and so I can't talk knowledgeably about the food there. When I have travelled, the Israelis I have travelled with seem to eat a good deal of salad.
    As you know, many Jewish people also feel uncomfortable about Israeli politics.
    I keep meaning to get that Claudia Roden book.

  9. Ah, yes, Israeli salad! Too big a discussion for a blog comments section I guess, I got carried away. But interesting and politics and culture and history. Let's discuss by the Aga with wine soon. Do get the book, it is great!

  10. Yes, maybe the fact that I mentioned politics within a food post is like the Olympics...we should not mix sport and politics?
    Wine and discussion soon I think!

  11. As an Israeli foodie living now in London (who writes blog posts and magazine article about food wine and tea - mostly in Hebrew), and as someone who enjoys the camp of Eurovision, I was looking forward, while following the Eurovision Eating blog posts, to read the Israeli entry.
    I was rather disappointed you did not really if I understand it play by the rules, i.e. look and find Israeli food in London (which is not that hard to do anyway). Isreal is part of the ESC. Having said that, as someone totally critical of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians, I sympathize on your sentiments and I would not want you not to bring up this topic into the discussion. It just seemes to me that you brought it up instaed of doing what I was hoping you'd do. Yes, Israel's behavior is awful and violates so many humane standards and human rights. I am one of the many - but too few! - Israeli Jews who oppose it. No "but" here for me. Except that I would hope to see more in-depth discussion of some ethical issues, such as the question of how one shows one cares as much for the crimes of his own country (e.g. UK illegal war, occupation, torture etc in Iraq) as in cleaning your back yard as well. Would you boycott the UK entry as well? Complicated. In any case I do not want to dimiss your position on Israel's policies, which I agree with, or your choice to mention that in your post, but wonder if your choice was not to play the game at all....? OK enough rambling on that. I just want to say re the Israelis who squatted your house... ahmmm.. I hope you don't hold that against all of us, just as I won't hold against all Palestinians any Palestinian who murdered Israeli civilians, including people I care about, or just as I won't hold against any American the American who stole my property or ... etc.
    Finally, yes, do get Roden's book, it's great. Ah, and as to Israeli food - I think it's a big topic to discuss. Certainly it's something that draws on the different exiles and cuisines of Jewish diasporas as well as on the Arab food, and it's still not clear what it really means as it it is still in formative stages, but I find it fascinating that "Israeli" or "Jewish" restaurant would serve this mixture of East European Jewish food and humus... And yes, we tend to eat more fresh vegetables and "big salads" than the Brits or many other people. It's one of the things we miss in places like UK so makes sense you'll see lots of it when travelling. Sherry Ansky is one of Israel's best food writers and she has a book in English called The Food of Israel. Joan Nathan has The Food of Israel Today and Janna Gur The Book of New Israeli Food. I am not really familiar with the latter books. And once again : Get Roden's Book of Jewish Food!

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  13. Hi Aeyal,
    Thanks for checking out my blog.
    You are right, I wrote that post on Thursday night, hoping I would get time to review some Israeli or at least Jewish food on Friday night, but ran out of time and energy. We had to have the posts in by 6pm on Saturday.
    Saturday I had to cook 3 courses for 29 people and spent all of Friday shopping, driving to different suppliers and then realising I was behind...spent Friday night making giant pavlovas.
    I wanted to be part of the project but it turned out to be unrealistic for me to properly cover the subject. Any country therefore that I pulled out of the hat got short shrift.
    Can you recommend a good Israeli restaurant in London? Or typically Israeli shop.
    I live near Golders Green and Temple Fortune. I've seen a place called 'Solly's' mentioned. Is this any good?
    Yes, it may be unfair of me to have my opinions coloured by the Israeli squatters, but their behaviour was so abysmal. I actually had to live in my driveway, in my van, with my then 11 year old daughter while they stayed inside my flat. It was one of the most humiliating and traumatic experiences of my life.
    They moved several other people in, ran up massive bills, put my own furniture in the garden, stole some of my stuff, and had two dogs (which they didn't admit to) which really pissed off my neighbours. These were 'decent' people, a working couple who for some reason felt that their dogs were more important than my child.
    This happened during the time of the Israeli bombing of the Lebanon.
    A local estate agent told me one of his biggest clients was an Israeli landlord with 200 properties. His only rule: never let out to fellow Israelis because they take the piss.
    Of course I have met lots of nice Israelis when travelling but there does seem to be an attitude problem. Their manners are often abrupt, seemingly rude. To say please or thank you, I've been told, is considered 'soft'. In fact it appears that an Israeli concern is never to be seen as 'soft' in any way. Clearly this has roots in the treatment of Jews in the second world war.
    They are also aggressive bargainers, part of the bargaining 'game' being 'you are ripping me off'.
    These Israeli 'squatters' acted this way and had little concern for the rights of my child.
    I'll never forget that guy standing at my window in my flat that I have bought and paid for, that I have decorated and furnished with love, saying to me 'It's not your home anymore, it's mine'. This was after a four month rental!
    I think they expected me to fade away. Israelis think other people are not as tough as them. I didn't. I squatted my own driveway and drove them out with sheer willpower. If I'd waited for the courts to do it, it would have taken months and I would have been in bed and breakfast with my kid.
    If they hadn't had left after a few days of me living in the driveway...then I can honestly say I could not vouch for my own behaviour.
    Someone squatting your home is such an attack on one's basic human rights, I actually could have killed them. I would have been driven to extreme violence.
    I think I got a tiny taste of what it is like to be a Palestinian in Israel. I loathe violence, it solves nothing, but in their powerless position, I would have been strapping explosives to my body too...

  14. What you describe is horrible unforgivable behavior on behalf of these people. However, to ascribe it to all Israelis is as bad as ascribing all sorts of hooliganisms to whole nations. I will admit Israelis may not have English manners, but this has nothing to do with such criminal behavior as you describe. I resist any national stereotyping or generalizations certainly where it comes to such criminal behavior, which has to do with these people you describe and which many Israelis like myself would find horrible.
    I am sure you were only metaphorical though when talking about killing them..

    Anyway re food, I did not eat in Soli, but someone I trust who did did not like the food at all. I did not eat at any of the other places in Golders Green I am afraid! Maybe some of them are better. I noticed Time Out singles out Dizengoff's which I am yet to try, so it could be worth trying that. There is a stock of Israeli products in the supermarket Yarden there, which I visited briefly once.... So sadly I can't help much with this. But actually, maybe the best place I would recommend for Israeli style food is ... Ottolenghi (at least the Islington branch which is the one I visit as it's close to our home). Ture, there are many influences there, but the dining experience - lots of vegetables etc does remind of some of the Israeli food as do some of the dishes (the egpplant dishes for example, the use of tahini, of bulgur, couscous,some of the spices like sumac). As you may know the chefs of Ottolenghi are an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab from Jerusalem and many of the dishes follow on what I would call an Israeli/Palestinian approach to eating! You want get there the list of "classics" but it is the closet we get to our favorite cafe-restaurant in Tel-Aviv....

  15. Yes sorry I got carried away there...but if you talked to those people, they felt perfectly justified in behaving that way! They said to me they couldn't find another place who would take their dogs. Like that was my problem. They also wanted their deposit back before they left, which defeats the object of a deposit.
    I suppose I was putting it in context...and the whole episode did make me think more deeply about the Israeli/Palestinian problem. I would still like to visit Israel.
    I've recently bought the Ottolenghi cook book. I will check it out in Islington. The ingredients you talk about are some of my favourites...

  16. I'm with you 100% on this one. Thank god for people who are brave enough to voice an opinion. I've also sent this to a Palestinian friend of mine as I know this sort of thing interests her. Squatters sounded like a proper nightmare - poor you!!

  17. It's true, ML and I were going to seek out Israeli food on Friday but fatigue took over!

    I love the sound of the place that has an Israeli chef and a Palestinian chef working together - let's do it!

    I am somebody who approached the Israel situation with no preconceptions and not really an understanding of the issues involved. For example, I told Rhythms of Resistance that I didn't want to go on Free Palestine demo because I didn't know enough about the issues to have a view. This didn't go down too well - I do have a tendency to be controversial...

    I've heard a lot of people say that to focus on Israel above any other nasty nation is anti-semitism. I don't agree, there is a clear difference between atrocities committed by Israel and atrocities committed by other countries in that Israel as a state is only relatively newly formed and people still feel an enormous sense of injustice and perhaps hope that something can still be done about it.

    In living memory (not for me, but for many), Israel has simply walked in and said "this is ours now", with what jurisdiction? I was strongly opposed to the UK invasion of Iraq, but the difference is that (in name at least) it is still Iraq, and the UK has a long established identity. And remember, there are suicide bombers there (and here) too - Israel doesn't have the monopoly on that.

    With the passage of time, this will fade into history like so many other injustices, and will stand out less above the others as people get used to the idea that Israel exists.

    I have to admit that based on my experiences of encountering travelling packs of Israelis, I got a very unpleasant impression (again not based on any preconception). They seem to take for granted their right to travel and not try to fit in at all, (though they do seem to be very good at languages). Israelis whom I have met in London have been few in number but I have found them far more pleasant - perhaps because they were slightly older, maybe it is the arrogance of youth that I dislike, as I tend to find any packs of travellers quite annoying, especially when I'm travelling myself, which I usually do alone. Australians come next in the irriation stakes, and I used to go out with one so I can't be that closed-minded.

    A 'stereotype' directly based on your own experiences must have some element of truth even if it is not the 'whole truth', but I suppose this is where all prejudices come from. Hmmm, I have confused myself now...

  18. Two points
    1. Re food, notwithstanding the debate on the origins of falalfel, if you go to Maoz (on Old Compton St) you can get a taste of typical Israeli meal.

    2. Re politics etc - this is not the framework to enter all the big debate, I think that as a country that aspires to be a democracy Israel indeed is set to higher standards from countries from which we do not expect better, and that's fine, I just think that in the UK SOME people engage in critiqe/boycott etc of Israel, and I think in this case they must show they also address their own country.

    3. Re stereotypes, maybe we can go to Ottolenghi together one day and hopefully you will see Israelis come in all sorts of manners. Or come to Tel-Aviv one day and meet my friends. If I formed my impression of Brits by some drunken people on Old St or Upper St on Friday night or by football hooligans it would have been very bad. And I've seen those.

    4. What do we make of the fact that a team of Israeli Arab and Jewish singer represented Israel? A fig leaf for co-existence or a message of hope for change?

  19. You could just have gone to Marks and Spencer and bought a grapefruit. When I visited the Kibbutz that grows them, they told me they had four grades of increasing size and sweetness - C, B, A and 'Marks and Spencer' ...

  20. Was the Marks & Spencer one sweeter? Larger? or merely more expensive?

  21. Aeyal, yes lets go to Ottolenghi to eat. I would certainly welcome the opportunity to try Israeli food, guided by an Israeli.

  22. Solly's in Golders Green serves the best kebabs I've ever had. You have to get them from the takeaway counter though. The sit-in food isn't as good.

    The best falafel I've ever had is also Israeli, in a little half shop lot on Golders Green Road next to Baskin Robbins.

    Israeli food sounds derivative of Middle Eastern food generally, but also influenced by Eastern European cuisine. It's an interesting mix.

  23. Happily but you should know Otto is not Israeli food per se, although the attitude to the food is certainly influenced by Israeli approach. But it's a much more personal and eclectic cuisine. For Israeli food per se maybe we should try Dizengoff, never been. Re Solly, read the comment above but also heard less happy reviews - maybe indeed take out is better? As I said Maoz certainly has an Israeli approach to eating falafel.
    And - forgot to mention: Humus bros.


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