Life on the Other Side: The Balsamic Polemic

So maybe polemic is a bit of overkill. Is balsamic battle better? Here’s the thing … my raison d’être for endorsing Israel as a culinary haven has always been the balsamic vinegar story. It goes something like this: “I came to this country 20 years ago and what a gastronomic wasteland! I had to drive to Tel Aviv, to the most expensive mall in the country, to an esoteric boutique grocery, in order to pay a fortune for a bottle of balsamic vinegar.

But now? OMG – there are six different brands on my local grocery shelf! That’s progress!” Forget it. I am so over that argument. I just came back from New York (my first and always homeland) where I participated in a food tour. You want balsamic? I’ll give you balsamic! How about white balsamic vinegar with oregano for a start? And to think that we in the Levant could win this war. We can’t even touch it!

Don’t get me wrong – we do have great food in Israel. Really. Fresh, abundant and delicious. But can it compare to what I found in the New York? No! My participation in the Foods of NY foodie tour, specifically “The Original Greenwich Village Food and Culture Walking Tour,” (foodsofny.com) once again opened my eyes to how fabulous and varied the foods of New York can be. From pizza to cannolis and everything in between, I was in hog heaven (just an expression, no pork products eaten – I promise). I shlepped through the Village, learning and noshing all the way. And besides that amazing food tour? Tons of fabulous restaurants, eateries, stop-in shops for quick bites. Oh my god – even a chopped salad place! Choose your ingredients and they chop it up before your eyes and scoop it all into a large plastic bowl and you’re off. How about a charming grilled sandwich place that you can get almost anything you want smooshed between two pieces of bread, your choice of cheese added in and all that toasted to oozy deliciousness.

Can we talk desserts? I’m not complaining about what we have here, but c’mon guys – get creative. Practically every restaurant in Israel now has a version of the exploding, lava-like chocolate cake – warm chocolate cake that oozes out a chocolatey syrup as soon as you put your fork into it. Can we move on already? Give me a good old-fashioned chocolate layer cake with real chocolate buttercream any day over these ersatz creations. And tell me please, why can’t at least one place in Israel make pastrami the way it should be made? Corned beef as we know it from the real New York Jewish delicatessens? Don’t think so. So I guess I’ll keep living in Israel, because I love it here, but will always consider New York the #1 place for food
experiences.

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