Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday's at the Carmel Market

I love Friday's!

I think I may have mentioned that before.

This past Friday was no exception. The only difference was that I was very tired, not having recovered from Night Trippin' on Wednesday night.

It didn't really help that Thursday, instead of spending the day lolling about in bed and resting, I showered (boy did I need a shower!), napped for 2 hours and then went to a pottery class to make up for the one that I had missed the night before. And if that wasn't enough, the Jaffa Festival is on (which will get a post in its own right) and so I took advantage of that and went out to dinner to Jaffa Bar, which is owned and cheffed by Nir Zook who is one of Israel's top chefs and a real character. Needless to say, I didn't get to bed early.

The Carmel Market (Shouk haCarmel) is an amazing place. Almost anything can be found here.

SistR and I started off with warm poppy seed danishes (Israeli style), to stave off any hunger pangs that might induce us to buy more than we really needed.

The fruit and vegetables are (almost) all local. Stuff grown in-country has less than 500km to travel (from north to south) and less than 150km to go at the widest point. Seeing as Tel Aviv is just about in the middle, I get really fresh produce with almost no storage and travel time. I know that in the Canada most fresh produce is shipped in from elsewhere, except in the height of summer, sometimes travelling a thousand miles or more by road before making its appearance at the supermarket. Exotica has to travel much much more than that to get to almost any western country, but it is not part of my staple diet (or budget), so I am not fussed.

This being the Middle East, olives are a big deal. Alot of people I know (Spagetti Vampire's family for example) pickle/brine their own olives. But if you don't have the time, inclination or space, you can always go to the market and get ready mades. These have no relationship to the tasteless canned California black olives. These are bitter and you can see them glistening from the oil that has seeped from them. Syrian cracked olives are small and bitter and incredibly addictive. Much less clagging than peanuts, and they don't make your lips sore like the sunflower or pumpkin seeds that are the number one snack here. They are the perfect snack to go with before dinner drinks. And if you want to customize them, that is easy and quick to do, just add some aniseed, chili flakes, slivers of fresh lemon, oregano, thyme, rosemary or anything else that strikes your fancy, stir them up and let them sit for a few hours to blend flavours.

It's the start of mango season here, so everywhere you look there are big, fat, juicy mangos just waiting to be eaten. When I was a little girl my mom would cut the mangos into slices and we would share 1 between 5 of us. Mind you this was a good few years ago, when mangos were extremely hard to come by in Toronto. I would be put into the bathtub to eat the last of the fruit off of the seed. My hands would be dripping with juice and I would pretty well be covered head to toe in the stuff, my teeth were hairy with the fibres that I had gnawed on, but the seed would have not a single speck of edible material left. After that, all my mom had to do was throw the seed into the garbage and turn on the bathwater. Mom would put me to bed clean (except for the occassional fibre, which was well and truly stuck and wouldn't come out even with dental floss) and happy. I have since mastered the art of mango eating in public, but I learned my favourite way to eat them in Cayman - wear a bathing suit and go dive into the sea immediately afterwards!

What else is in season right now? Roma tomatoes, okra, batata (sweet potatoes), the peaches and nectarines are in their last days, I saw the very first of the persimmons this week, the peppers are looking extremely plump and zesty, and lemons are always available.

My lettuce and herb guys are from a moshav (a kind of co-operative farm community where people own their own land and houses) where alot of the farmers and/or their families are hearing impaired. The mother is deaf but she reads lips and we always have great mini-conversations where she tells me everything that is going on with her grandkids. The whole family helps to run their stall at the market, and over the years I have come to know them and like them all immensely.

One of my Friday-at-the-Carmel-Market rituals is to stop off and get a fresh juice. This has usually been from an old guy with the world's filthiest looking hands. They actually aren't filthy, they are just stained from all of the carrots, oranges, grapefruit and pomegranates that he handles day in and day out. I love carrot juice, and red grapefruit juice is wonderful when they are in season, but my favourite has to be pomegranate juice. Their season is only just starting, but I couldn't resist and I got a glass freshly squeezed to sip on while I meandered. The colour was a gem-like ruby red and it smelled of pure pomegranate, but when I had my first sip I understood why he had tried to get me to have it mixed with apple juice - it was soooooo sour! I think I will have to wait for another couple of weeks before I try it again.

Another amazing thing about the market is the sheer variety of sweets that are available. From halvah (regular, vanilla, chocolate, pinenut, almond, pistachio or a really interesting variety that looks like threads that have been squished together haphazardly and is the from the Ramleh area), to gummy bears and worms and fried eggs, to liquorice whips, chocolate umbrellas, hard candies, soft candies, chocolate in all of its amazing variety with all kinds of 70%- 90% bars available, though I still haven't seen any extra special exclusive stuff like Dagobah or its ilk.

The Carmel Market is one of those places where, even after 10 years, I still feel like a tourist - I have to stop and stare at everything and I walk around with a silly grin on my face.

But then again, I seem to walk around like that most of the time anyways!

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veuveclicquot said...

wow... I'm so envious. Mango is one of my favorite fruits. The pictures are wonderful!!v

cactus said...

Agree with veuveclicquot. The pictures are amazing.

aja said...

Thank you, thank you for the kind compliments - to be honest, I love being on the other side of a camera - seeing the world at the exact moment I want to remember it.

paz said...

Mangos, mangos! I love them. The market looks GREAT!