New York City Food Tour #7: Israelis in Manhattan and Brooklyn

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Adapted from Project on Israel & Palestine Fall 2015

Food is the most ubiquitous human experience. Many, especially those in the field, claim food to be a source of peace, unison, and conviviality. I am no different; however, inspired by my comparative studies of Israeli and Palestinian cuisine, I was motivated to examine the extent to which these claims were true, specifically in the microcosm that is New York City, where, in the land of $1 pizza and Michelin restaurants, there is a space in between for the quotidian, for Israelis and the Palestinians to represent their countries through their cuisines.

We begin with a picturesque exploration of the situation of both nations, in respect to their joint food history, the populations’ migration history to New York City, and lastly, an examination of the current climate for both Israeli and Palestinian nationals in New York City via a food tour.

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 ISRAEL/PALESTINE FOOD NEWS: 

Hummus can be representative of the overall culinary sphere of Israel and Palestine. As both nations have acculturated, appropriated and evolved mutual aspects of their cultures, their food has also been subject to this metamorphasis. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim hummus to be a national food, a claim, which is deeply embedded in questions of the genesis of the dish, as well as in the level of consumption by the respective groups.

This interest was promoted by my readings of Ari Ariel’s “The Hummus Wars”, where he details the extent of the Arab-Israeli conflict over the appropriation of hummus as a national icon. Hummus has been in the midst of wars, both literally and figuratively, which Ariel argues are representative of the importance of hummus. The war is twofold, 1. Involving a debate over which nation is able to produce the largest serving and 2. Involving an attempt by Association of Lebanese to Industrialists to halt Israel’s globalization of the dish. Ariel mediates this argument by maintaining that the ‘authenticity’ and ‘ownership’ of a dish is not a question of custom, as this is fluid and flexible, but a question of practice: “Culinary culture, then, is not a question of heritage or tradition, but rather of performance and practice. Hummus is Israeli because Israelis eat hummus”  (Ariel 41).

Using hummus to stand as a symbol for the food that Israelis and Palestinians share (as both countries are in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean), with a vibrant, albeit conflicted history, we can begin to look at recent attempts by the nationals to unite both communities over food, for example, the promotion that began on October 13th, 2015 by the Hummus Bar in Kfar Vitkin in Israel. The bar began offering a 50% discount to Jews and Arabs who sat at the same table: “By us we don’t have Arabs! But we also don’t have Jews … By us we’ve got human beings!” the restaurant posted on Facebook. “And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel” (Zion 2015).

Another individual, a member of the World Association of Chefs in Israel and a friend of my colleague started a ‘Taste of Peace’ organization, whereby both Israeli and Palestinian chefs came together as one umbrella association, competing in culinary competitions together.

I reached out to my colleague at World Chefs, and she got back to me about this exchange between the chefs who headed the Taste of Peace Association in Jerusalem:

 

——

Z: Could you please tell me how things are between Israeli and Palestinian Chefs Associations? I remember you’ve had a great collaboration and have been always mentioned as a prime example of how Chefs and even countries should manage their relations.

S: Well the answer of your question is not quiet easy because the conflict between both countries is increasing and the hatred to each other is getting more visible day by day unfortunately,

As a taste of peace association, we are blamed from the Palestinians that we are supporting Israelis and from another side the Israelis blaming us for supporting the Palestinians as terrorists,

Any way I should tell you that there is no Israeli chefs association any more and the story is long to make it short I did sue them for theft and twisted leadership and nowadays they are establishing new association under the name of ISRAELI MASTER CHEFS ACADEMIC ASSOCIATION

The Palestinians did stop activities for their lack of knowledge and actually all events I did support was costing me a fortune and as you know I have no sponsors

So all I can say taste of peace is leading all activities with its loyal members Israelis and Palestinians

Together and mostly our activities is exchanging cooking traditions

I hope I did give you a short answer to make the situation clear.

——

Z: So basically, Taste of Piece, which is based in Jerusalem and is led by the Chef I talked to, did manage to make the two (Israeli chefs and Palestinian ones) collaborate in the recent past, but apparently it didn’t last long. Still, as I understood, Taste of Peace still has its loyal Israeli and Palestinian Chef members and is eager to serve as a “bridge” between the big two, aiming at their cultural exchange and obtaining and maintaining good relations

As this exchange suggests, food is a great starting point, but there seems to be a need for a more strategic implementation of objectives surrounding the unity over food in order to transcend the political climate and bring about change.

 

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II. MIGRATION HISTORY IN NYC POST 1948:             

Israelis: 

Israeli migration to the United States began shortly after the state was formed in 1948. The migration of Israelis to the United States was one that was slowly trickling, in comparison to that of earlier migration groups.

According to the Pew Forum, “the 1950s 21,376 Israeli immigrants came to the US and the 1960s saw 30,911 Israeli immigrants, often seen as the first wave of Israeli immigration to the United States when 52,278 Israelis emigrated to the. A second wave of modest immigration continued with a total of 36,306 Israelis during 1970 to 1979, 43,669 in 1980 to 1989, 41,340 in 1990 to 1999 and 54,801 in 2000 to 2009. Since 2010 Israeli migration to the U.S. and has continued at around four thousand a year since” (Pew).

To date, there are approximately 30,164 Israelis in New York City, which holds the highest concentration of Israelis in the entire country.

Israelis in New York City mostly engage in professions of business and academia. According to CNN, Israeli companies are establishing in New York City and are initiating ventures at a rate of 10 new startups per month.

III. CURRENT CLIMATE in NYC:             

Israeli Civil Participation: 

Israelis are active in many aspects of Israeli national events, the largest being the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, which claims to be the world’s largest celebration of Israel: “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the annual parade, which draws thousands of spectators to show their support for the Jewish state. Sponsored by the UJA Federation of New York, Jewish Communal Fund and Consulate General of Israel in New York, the event regularly attracts New York politicians and political candidates, as well as Israeli Knesset members” (North Jersey 2014). The fact that this parade has been a staple in Israeli-NY life is representative of the prominence of the community in the city.

In a recent interview with Natalie Lisak, the Executive Director of the Israeli Business Forum, Natalie helped me to navigate a bit deeper into the cultural and culinary sphere of Israelis and Palestinians in New York City:

According to Natalie, “most of the food chains are trying to be Middle Eastern, not trying to be Israeli. There is no political view. I mean, they’re not trying to hide that they’re Israeli either… occasionally there can be a political conversation about the situation back home, but when it’s about food, it’s about food; people here (NYC) are less radical; they’re more open to other opinions”

From this short glimpse into Israeli civic life in New York City, one can assume that political conflicts from Israel and Palestine are diffused when it comes to the table in a public sphere. The disguising of foods, probably for marketing purposes, under the ‘Middle Eastern’ umbrella versus a particular Israeli or Palestinian one may also contribute to this effect. According to Natalie, her personal bias towards Israeli food stems from nostalgia for the food of her home, so if she can find an Israeli-specific restaurant that is where she prefers to eat.

 

Food: 

Let us go back to hummus, but again, only as a symbol of both Israeli and Palestinian cuisine and where they intersect. Across the ocean, nationals in the United States are using food as a source of connection and collaboration: “On Thursday, hummus will become a symbol of peace as 15 Muslim and Jewish activists break bread together and participate in an all-day bus tour of Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia with a message of reconciliation. Bearing trays of homemade hummus and pita bread, the activists hope to spread the message that Muslims and Jews refuse to be enemies” (Huffington Post). This happened just this November 2015, really vibrantly depicting the emphasis that is placed on hummus and cross-cultural foods at the pinnacle of unanimity.

Here in New York City, one of my Uber drivers began telling me about how his friend was the owner of the Israeli Maoz vegetarian food chain, which inspired another interview with a Palestinian Uber driver included in this ethnographic landscaping. In fact, in addition to this, he reminded me that the hummus giant, Sabra, was founded by an American-Israeli entrepreneur, reflective of both the entrepreneurial and cultural ambassadorship of Israelis in the United States.

To that end, a 1976 quote on the website of Mamoun’s Falafel shop, which is also included in our tour, reminds us of the dynamism of this idea, which is not a new one in New York City:  “Henry Kissinger can take a lesson in diplomacy. Mamoun has Arabs and Jews sitting at the same table.”

PLACES OF INTEREST: 

Boroughs: Manhattan (Lower East Side) + Brooklyn (Williamsburg + Bay Ridge)

Duration: 4 hours

Best during: Spring/Summer/Fall

Day: Any day, Sunday mandatory for Brooklyn Flea Extension*

Time: 12pm – 4pm (optional 1-4 hour extensions)

Alcohol: Optional

Need: Metro Card, 4-6 trips

NYC boasts of a culinary mosaic so bright, that even the newest of countries have a presence here.

 C. Timing Details: 

12 minute walking commute + 30-45 minute brunch in Tompkins Square Park + 1hour between the locations picking up our goodies

Total  in Manhattan= 1:42  

  • Tompkins Square – Brooklyn flea = 34 minute commute + 45 minutes walking around Flea= 1 hour 31 mins
  • Brooklyn flea to Tanoreen = 24 mins + 45 minute dinner = 1 hour 9 minutes
  • Brooklyn Flea to Taboon = 37 minute commute + 45 minute dinner = 1 hour 22 minutes
  • Tanoreen to Taboon = 52 minute commute + 45 minute dinner or drinks = 1 hour 37 minutes

Total in Brooklyn=             

  • w/out Brooklyn Flea – (Just Tanoreen) = 51 minute commute + 45 minute dinner  = 1:36 
  • w/out Brooklyn Flea – (just Taboon from Tompkins Square Park) = 28 minute commute + 45 minute dinner  = 1:21 
  • w/ Tanoreen as the end after Flea= 2:39 
  • w/ Taboon instead of Tanoreen after Flea= 2:54 
  • w/ Taboon + Tanoreen = 5:39 

Total tour = 3:03, 3:18, … ,7:21 minutes 

1:42 in manhattan + Brooklyn (1:21 minutes — 5:39) 

            

PART I. MANHATTAN:

 1. ASTOR WINES

Address: 399 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10003

Phone: (212) 674-7500

Hours:  Sunday 12pm-6pm

Monday 9am-9pm

Online: http://www.astorwines.com/

About: “We’ve got quite an astute team of buyers choosing which wines we’re going to sell…There are amazing wine bargains to be found all over the world, and it takes talented, open-minded, diligent buyers like ours to locate them” (Astor Wines).

Astor Wines is in the heart of New York City. The location’s affinity for global wines makes it a perfect start to our tour, where we will pick up a bottle or two of Israeli wines. In the last decade, Israel has become prominent in global viticulture, but, as we learn, “Israel’s wine history is perhaps one of the richest on earth, dating back thousands of years. There are numerous biblical references to local vineyards, grapes being transformed into juice that provided an intoxicating effect, and the vine itself was deemed to be a blessing on the children of Israel” (Buzeo 2011). Wine is one of the few products that can easily be preserved across borders, so it makes perfect sense to take some along for our adventure.

 

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        2. MAMOUN’S

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Address: 22 St. Marks Place, New York, NY 10003

Phone: (212) 387-7747

Hours:  Sunday-Wednesday 11am-4am

Thursday-Saturday 11am-5am

Online: http://www.mamouns.com/

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About: “Situated in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City, Mamoun’s Falafel has been serving high quality Middle Eastern Food since it first opened its doors to the public in 1971. It is the oldest falafel restaurant in New York and one of the first Middle Eastern establishments in the United States…Family owned and operated since the beginning, the restaurant is now part of the history and culture of the Village. Its tradition extends to serving the likes of many famous musicians, actors, and other celebrities…

What sets us apart from other Falafel restaurants is our rich tradition and history as well as our commitment to excellence. Our philosophy is simple: authentic Middle Eastern Cuisine served in a traditional environment. Everything we serve is made from scratch using only the freshest natural ingredients, the finest imported spices, and our signature recipes” (Mamoun’s)

As the self-proclaimed, oldest Middle Eastern Restaurant in New York City, it makes sense for us to begin the food-portion of our tour here. Here we’ll select from a range of classic items, including, hummus and falafel, but also more location-specific specialties like their eclectic baklavas and grape leaf dishes. Both Israel and Palestine are influenced by and contribute to the culinary sphere that is Middle Eastern food, so a taste of the Middle East is likewise a taste of Israel and Palestine. Let’s let our taste buds decide.

3. Café Mogador 

Address: 101 St. Marks Place, New York, NY 10003

Phone: (212) 677-2226

Hours:  Sunday-Thursday 9am-12am

Friday-Saturday 9am-1am

            Online: http://www.cafemogador.com/

About: “Opened in 1983, Café Mogador is a family owned and operated restaurant that throughout the decades became a landmark in the heart of the East Village…Mogador’s search for palate-pleasures goes beyond hearty dishes, indeed, the drink menu offers a myriad of wines meticulously selected from around the globe, a full-bar and an assortment of effervescent cocktails. Open from breakfast to late-night-supper Café Mogador is suitable to any kind of agenda and convenient for early birds and night owls. Café Mogador also distinguishes itself with its lively Brunches hailed ” the Best in the East Village.”

 

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Café Mogador is an Israeli-owned establishment, which prides itself on Middle Eastern cuisine. We can confirm – the cocktails and drinks are as reminiscent of a distant Mediterranean, as the color of the sea itself. They range from an orange blossom gimlet or even a Goldstar Israeli beer. Feel free to stop in for a quick cocktail with us at their cozy bar, or just partake in some of the Middle Eastern desserts that we will take along with us for our picnic.

 

4. HOLYLAND MARKET

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Address: 122 St. Marks Place, New York, NY 10003

Phone: (212) 477-4440

Hours:  Saturday-Thursday 10am-12am

Friday 9am-12am

            Online: http://www.yelp.com/biz/holyland-market-new-york

About: A Pitzutziya is the colloquial term for a sort of “get anything you need” Israeli store. “The impression of colorful unity, upon examination, reads as a microcosm of Israeli history and society with its diverse and at times fractious mix of nationalities” (Rothschild). For the New Yorkers out there, it’s basically an Israeli bodega, where you can find Israeli-exclusive imports from freshly baked foods to packaged goods and even cleaning supplies otherwise unavailable in New York. We’ll stop in to savor some traditional Israeli sweets like lemon pops and Tim Tam chocolate cookies.

 PART II. BROOKLYN

6.  **BROOKLYN FLEA —Ft. Greene— Saturday or Sunday

Address: 1 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY 11243

Phone: (718) 928 – 6603

Hours:  Sunday: 1pm – 10pm

Monday-Wednesday: Closed

Thursday-Saturday: 1pm-10pm

    Online: http://brooklynflea.com

About: “Founded in April 2008, Brooklyn Flea has grown into one of New York City’s top attractions, operating flea markets every weekend of the year that feature hundreds of top vendors of furniture, vintage clothing, collectibles and antiques, as well as a tightly curated selection of jewelry, art, and crafts by local artisans and designers, plus delicious fresh food” (Brooklyn Flea). Here we will walk to the market, focusing on the three (subject to date and time) following Israeli stands:

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Photo Credit: NYSHUK

A. NYSHUK: http://www.nyshuk.com (Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish Cuisines) 

About: As name alone suggests, NYSHUK is a blending of cultures coming alive in New York City: “As two Israeli-natives, living and cooking in New York City, our mission is to elevate and share the vibrant traditional foods we grew up eating…The word shuk means “market” in Hebrew, and for us the marketplace represents the center of a community – the meeting point where commerce and culture come together. We try to bring this communal energy, as well as the freshness of a bustling outdoor market to everything we do” (NYSHUK). We will pick up some spreads for the fresh-baked breads that we will enjoy along the way.

B.  SHNITZ NYC: http://www.schnitznyc.com (Israeli selection of pickled veggies, schnitzel, fries) 

About: “Schnitz is a food business based in New York City dedicated to serving your favorite comfort food: Schnitzel! For those who didn’t get the memo, schnitzel is a thin cutlet, dipped in crunchy breadcrumbs and fried to golden, delicious perfection” (SHNITZ NYC). Enough said.

C. BROOKLYN SESAME: http://brooklynsesame.com (Halva Spread)

About: Just this fall (2015), Brooklyn Sesame launched at The Brooklyn Flea: “Although Brooklyn Sesame founder Shahar Shamir had been cooking since he was eight, it wasn’t until after he had a slice of fresh halva during a visit to his native Israel that he thought about making the traditional Mediterranean sweet himself” (Brooklyn Sesame). We will take the spread with us, as a small treat, paired with our baked goods on the train. 

**from Brooklyn Flea – take R to 77th street 

7. TABOON

Address: 773 10th Ave, New York, NY 10019

Phone:  (212) 713-0271

Hours:  Monday-Friday: 5pm – 11pm

Saturday-5pm-11:30pm

Sunday: 11am – 3:30pm; 5pm-10pm

Online: http://www.taboononline.com

About: “In February of 2004, partners Danny and Ayala Hodak and Gadi and Sheila Ruham open the doors of Taboon Restaurant on a quiet corner in Hell’s Kitchen where the star of the show is the blazing white domed oven that has been serving up its original wood fired “Middleterranean” cuisine ever since… Inspired by the vibrant spices and flavors of the Middleast and the Mediterranean, with fresh hand made food from an ancient oven, bold and articulated flavors, and a driving passion for food and love for hospitality, Taboon quickly earned a loyal following and a well respected place in New York’s culinary landscape.” (Taboon). I had the pleasure of coming to this restaurant for Yom Kippur this year, a lucky catch, too (tables were not easy to get)! Among the iconic Israeli and Middle Eastern dishes, what stood out the most was the extensive variety of wines, including Israeli and Greek wines, which the bartender graciously assists you with. Depending on the group’s preference, we may end our tour here if only doing a Manhattan tour, and/or an exclusive Israeli tour.

 

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         Additional Locations:

 Kalustyans

 International Supermarket in NYC – place where spices seem to ‘have their own language’—for Israeli/Palestinian goods : 

123 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY 10016

212 685 3451

http://www.kalustyans.com

Hours:

M-S 10am-8pm; SU 11am-7pm

Bnai Zion – America-Israel Friendship House

136 East 39th Street

New York, NY 10016

212 725 1211

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Hours:

M-Th 9am-5pm; F 9am-5pm

MISCELLANEOUS:

Kingston Avenue, Crown Heights Brooklyn – Jewish/Israeli Neighborhood 

Chocolatte – coffee shop- where young Israeli/Jewish community congregates

Kahan’s Superette – Jewish/Israeli Supermarket in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Pita Express– Great pita Bread, ‘The Best in NYC’

ISRAELI COMMUNITY IN NYC: 

http://celebrateisraelny.org

http://israeliamerican.org/new-york

http://www.israelimappedinny.com

 

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