Sunday, July 31, 2005

Humus and Hummus and Hoummous

Humus, or hummus, or hoummous, is a passion among Israelis. Falafel may get more press Stateside, but it doesn't inspire the same kind of arguments and allegiances here in the Holy Land that humus does. Two weeks ago, Tel Aviv hosted a giant humus-off, wherein restaurants and stands from all over the country competed for top honors. I heard about it too late, at a meeting of the "Momo Humus Club," my uncle Momo’s half-serious, unscheduled, invitation-only, Friday afternoon snacking event. While I missed the Tel Aviv fandango, I have to say with some pride that my uncle’s product is better than almost any chick-pea paste I've ever had, in terms of flavor, texture, spices, and presentation.

The humus fanaticism here is very chowhound, very like the kind of aimless yet earnest discussions my friends in L.A. have about pizza or Manhattans. And it's the only fanaticism in Israel I can support. Best of all, it crosses the major divide: My center-rightist uncle finds some of his favorite humus in Arab restaurants.

Last week, my cousin Zadok, who’s visiting from the US, went to a hotly tipped humus spot in Jerusalem. Hotly tipped by Momo, the family expert. Zadok shared a table with a British ex-pat who's lived here for 2 or 3 years and says he knows where to find the best humus and falafel all over Israel. Later, Momo visibly bristled when Zadok said he had a list of the ex-pat’s favorite spots. “Yes? What are they?,” Momo challenged. He had to agree that most of the guy's choices were sound. I'm trying to get Zadok to set up a dinner or lunch meeting so I can interview the guy for an article about humus. Apparently he says the best in Jerusalem is on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City. Yes, that Via Dolorosa, right on the way to the holiest of holy places in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Yet humus is not a recent trend. My dad and his brother have been debating the merits of different humus spots for decades now. Maybe they were just ahead of the curve. Whenever I came here in my 20s and 30s they couldn’t wait to take me to the newest humus place. Just like nightclubs, the humus hotspots change every few months. I’d be unpacking, still unshowered after 25 hours in transit, and my father would lope into the room. “Let’s go for some humus!”

“Now? I just got here. Well … I am kind of hungry,” I’d say, listening keenly for a growl in the vicinity of my stomach. “What about dinner?”

“Dinner’s later,” dad would say. “It’s just humus.”

Just humus. Anybody who’s had humus knows it’s as close to cement as food gets. For me, an afternoon humus dalliance is like a mob hit on my dinner appetite. But given the quality of much of the other food here, I’m always happy for a humus sit-down. Play your cards right and you can get "other salads" in the mix: four kinds of eggplant, tomatoes and cucumbers, beets, etc. But a serious humus place doesn’t waste time on such fripperies. Get in, get your fix, get out. Come back tomorrow.

So typically I’d rinse my face, change my shirt, and sleepily join my dad for the newest in the humus arts. And we’d get to the humus mecca, and it would be closed. The humus artisan is a delicate flower who may close up at a moment’s notice. Our confection of hunger and excitement would deflate, and we’d stand before the shut eatery moping and willing it to reopen. Or thinking up alternatives. But mine were always out of date.

“What about the Elvis place?” I’d say, remembering fondly the hole in the wall whose interior was plastered with Elvis posters and photos.

“Eh, he’s no good any more,” my father would say. Then, brightening, “But come. We have a new one in Makhne Yehuda that’s even better.”

“What about Ta’ami?” I’d ask, already salivating. “It’s just up the street and we won’t have to drive.”

“Weeeell, he’s OK,” my father would allow, searching for a reason not to have to settle for passe humus. “But I think he’s putting too much soda in the humus these days. Come, we’ll go to, to ... em, what’s his name? I don’t know, he doesn’t have a sign, but the humus is the best in Jerusalem!”

“Wait. I thought this place was the best in Jerusalem.”

“They both are, but I've been hearing very good things about the Arab in Makhne Yehuda. He makes the humus fresh every two hours. And the pitot are right off the fire. Nu, let’s go. Yalla!” (Yalla is what people say to donkeys and children and anybody else whom they wish to motivate into action. It’s an Arabic word that’s been fully absorbed into the Hebrew vocabulary.)

And we’d get to the gifted Arab’s fluorescent alcove in Makhne Yehuda, and we’d stand in line with the other devotees, impatient for our portion and pointedly ignoring the clock’s inevitable ticking to the dinner hour. And when we would finally sit down, we would get our steaming pitot and humus within minutes and we would apply the one to the other and eat it warm and creamy and seasoned perfectly and we would sit back chewing happily and it would be very very good. It would be amazing.

How is humus served? Many, many ways. The classic style is spread out on a six-inch circular plate, with the edges spackled up to almost an inch in height and then tapered down to almost flat but raised again a little in the very center, the circular trough or moat drizzled with olive oil and perhaps a few bits of parsley and/or dashes of paprika. Popular variations on this theme include:

All of the above with a small lagoon of tahina in the center moat
All of the above with a few dozen stewed chick peas in the moat
The humus, as described above, with stewed mushrooms in the moat
The humus, as described above, with stewed ful or fava beans, either mashed or intact, in the moat
The humus, as described above, with any of the preceding adornments surmounted by a hard-boiled egg.

And let’s not forget the must-have humus accessory: the pita. Shall I compare thee, Israeli pita, to your American namesake? No. Hoss ve halleela, which translates roughly from Arabic to “heaven forbid.” The pitot here are light and fluffy and chewy and have an incredible fresh bread flavor. Only old or store-bought pitot are leathery and dull like the falafel gloves we’ve gotten used to in the States.

And the slightly less de rigueur humus accessory is the skhug, a fiery chimichurri-like mix of chili peppers, garlic, cilantro, salt, and olive oil. This element is key for me. There's a story in skhug too. Next time.

Why is humus a major topic now? That’s a good question. Perhaps people are just happy to focus on something trivial that spans racial and political divides at a time when larger, more dangerous and intractable issues are inescapable.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Holy Land in Words and Images

Lord Zim's been unfaithful to his own blog. Witness the perfidy and thrill to the exotic sights over at another website.

Why aren't these images here? Blogger software. That's why.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

All Things Must Pass

That band I used to write about? No more. That Best Buy dispute? Resolved.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dear Luke Fans

Thank you for visiting my humble blog. I regret to inform you that no, you will not find any photos of my beautiful blonde girlfriend here. Yes, she is beautiful, but no, she is not available for your inspection. You might try Luke's other website for that kind of thing. You still won't find her.

What you will find here: many diversions of a non-blonde nature, among them strange little anecdotes, rants, mini-reviews, and the occasional really weird thing. Best of all, it's free!


Happy Bastille Day

For all the French readers.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Like Other Bloggers (and Why I Hate Best Buy, Part 2)

Ok, so, like, I had a really hard day? Like, Best Buy kept on treating me like dirt after weeks, no, months of bullshit? So, like I went and just bought my new Mac elsewhere without waiting for that worst of all possible corporations to return my money? After they lost my Mac in the mail, refused to send another for a week, then claimed to have sent a new one and then called back a day later to say oops, our bad -- we're out of stock! Surprise -- we didn't actually send it after all! You'll just have to keep waiting, even though you've made it clear that you'll be out of the country as of Monday. What? No, of course we don't ship overseas. No, you can't have your money back. No, we won't make an exception even though we've provided exceptionally bad service for almost a year. No. No. No. No.

I've told the story so many times, stretching back to Best Buy's first PC repair errors way back in November, that I just can't talk about it any more. The series of blunders defies credulity. I get wild-eyed and logorrheic, furious and foamy-mouthed and finally just ... just ... hateful. I have had some bad retail experiences, but this undercuts them all. In fact, I switched back to a Mac this week partly to get away from Best Buy's so-called "Geek Squad," just the useless collection of losers and misfits you'd expect to try to sell you software and services you don't need. They exaggerate PC dangers to get ignorant people worried, then they foist gobs of remedial products on the unsuspecting. And everything takes two weeks to fix.

(I know this is boring. But it beats taking out my aggression in other ways.)

Want to buy my $1000 Best Buy store credit at a discount? Email me.

Any good news? Why, sure. K is busy with lots of jobs lately, even if she's so busy she isn't sleeping much. She's sleeping now though. And my pal S is organizing a goodbye dinner for me. And I have my health. And Borat. And we went to a classic LA party at Geisha House tonight, where we met old friends and new, as the gossips might write. Except they'd name names.

At the party, a MediaBistro event to celebrate a new book, K and I ran into a striking number of friends and then met semi-famous "porn blogger" Luke Ford, who impressed me by having our names and even my aggrieved mini-report on the accident (see below) live on his blog before I'd even turned on my new computer. This post, shapeless and pointless though it is, was inspired by his swiftness and completeness.

And then, en route to a post-party snack, as we waited on Sunset for a red light to change, an absolute imbecile named LaToya (honest!) in a rented car and a tacky/(divine) brown spandex outfit rear-ended the Alfa. She was too dumb for words. She lied about whose car it was, named a fake insurance company for which she had no proof, laughed at K's neck pain, failed to apologize for wrecking my bumper, scoffed at the clear evidence that she had in fact wrecked the bumper, and even used her camera-phone to shoot the damage she'd caused. Hooray for Hollywood.

OK, back to a cheerier note. So what's all this about a Mac? Yep, driven in part by my desire never to set foot in Best Buy again, I've switched back to a Mac after seven years as a reluctant Friend of Bill. I hear they don't crash as much as they used to. But why is there no forward delete button? And why does Blogger function so very differently on a Mac? Where are all the helpful controls?

Re the title of tonight's post. Mr. Ford directed me to the blog of his ex, Tiffany, who delves in excruciating detail into such areas as waxing, breakfast fare (Hello, Bridget?), and neurotic fantasies. When I started this blog, such as it is, I promised to avoid the neverending stream of details about my personal life. But maybe I was wrong! I've been wrong so many times. From now on, you can look forward to a daily list of what I use for shampoo, what I've eaten, whom I've seen, what I've seen, whom I've -- uh, how I've felt, where I've been, and who's run into my car. Etc. I mean, isn't that -- and Valerie Plame -- what blogs are really all about?


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Kentucky Fried Customer

Lord Zim regrets that he is about to launch into an aggrieved customer tirade against a major corporation. He knows this is a tired subgenre of bloggery, but he is unable to resist.

I will not bore you with all the reasons I hate Best Buy. My story is much too sad to be told. And it takes about 20 minutes when I do tell it. No, I'll just say that the nightmare of bad products and apathetic, inflexible customer service I have received from Best Buy has plumbed new depths in my life as a consumer. If you must buy anything electronic, go anywhere but Best Buy. Don't become one of the countless disappointed people I've watched walk away from the "Customer Service" desk seething and cursing.

The prices are high, the selection is limited, the service is slow and slapdash, and the policies are written to take advantage of you. In fact, the CEO announced last year that the new corporate mission is to superserve the Top 10% of customers -- and let the rest rot. So unless you plan to drop ten large on a new car stereo, they don't want your business. Buy at Fry's, buy at Amazon, buy at ... just don't buy at Best Buy.

But that's not the point of this post. This is: I was writing to a friend about the Kafka-esque experience I had on the phone yesterday with Best Buy (I spent at least two hours trying to find out where they lost my new laptop and why they won't send me a new one).

When I clicked "send" on my email client, the spellchecker offered to substitute "KFC" for Kafka.

Now ain't that America? Land of the chains.