Saturday, October 12, 2019

Akko Akko All Day Part 2: Spice Market Olives

The Middle East is still a trade route for spices, and it shows. I could stare all day, I want to try compare the five different kinds of hot peppers and make the perfect – perfect, I say – curry dry rub. Of course, baby-back pork ribs would be hard to come by… My trophy purchase in Akko was a half kilo of olives, small as that may seem. They are in the second bucket from the left, dark brown, almost black.
They looked a bit like dry cure but the merchant suggested I add olive oil and spices for a few more shekels. Hit me: the olives, a handful of dried peppers, and a generous pour of olive oil into a clear plastic bag, here transferred to recycled plasticware.
The oil is greenish, cloudy, almost milky. Clearly unfiltered, local. I ask where the oil is from, pitching my affect to imply that I’m not being picky, I’m anticipating his punch line, which is to point and say ‘the next town over’. Like the olive oil at Said’s, it proves something like butter simmered low with a pinch of fresh cut grass. They look sad, bagged on the table, but these olives, both in taste and the high that comes with a great little find, gave me bounce for weeks. They had a milder taste than the jarred dry cured, and that kind of unctuous grip on like peanut butter on your tongue. In my opinion, the native habitat of these olives is room temperature, generously poured in a shallow bowl with plenty of fresh bread, never beyond arm's reach in the Middle East. Or chop the dried peppers and olives, and just warm enough to sautee minced garlic in that olive oil and toss with fresh pasta. In this case the pasta is leftover, but as it's leftover from Smad's wonderful pasta with pine nuts, olive oil, and zucchini, this is no bad thing.
The drink there is fresh citrus-ade from the tree out back of my in-laws place; I can’t figure out if it’s a friendly lemon or an angry orange. A little Akko market atmosphere: random shopping cart full of onions and cabbage in an otherwise empty ally, street cat, and a little market still life.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Akko Akko All Day, Part One: Said's Hummous

Said’s (say ‘sigh-eeds’) has the best hummous in the city of Akko, the state of Israel, or the entire world, depending on who you ask. And if you ask me, I’ll say “yeah, it’s as good as any I’ve ever had, as good as hummous can be”.
Excellence can be born of focus and devotion. Saids’ only serves hummous, and has no menu. No meats, no sweets, no dairy… this is an excellent position to take in the Middle East if you can pull it off because it banishes questions of kashrut and halal. These guys – and it was all guys - make the same handful of dishes all day. Doubtless they have a supply chain for the best local ingredients, sure. The olive oil here is a like soft green melted butter, creating hummous that has the savory tastes of garlic and salt with the mouthfeel of melted chocolate. But beyond that there’s a rhythm and a recognition in making the same recipe a million times, a sense and intuition to compensate for the million little variables in cooking that recipes can’t always predict: variation in lots of bulk ingredients, atmospheric pressure, maybe a high wind across the chimney accelerating cooling. I mean, there’s times that my hummous just isn’t up to par, and I don’t know why. But you know that anyone behind the counter at Said’s can see sub-par hummous coming a kilometer off and compensate with maybe a shy measure of oil or a little extra tahini. Akko Akko all day, Part 1 Below that is a picture of Sara, who brought us out, aforementioned fresh vegetables, condiments, and stacks of fresh Israeli style pita, light and squishy as whipped cream yet tough as leather. You’re outta luck for an accurate recipe here, though, because I really think you’d need an Arab market for atmosphere and olive oil from the place across the street to duplicate it.