12 oysters for Tu B'Av
Oysters and asparagus and truffles and lots of champagne. Tu b'Av celebrations that are decadent, non-kosher and absolutely irresponsible.
Almost every type of food, at one time or another, in one culture or another, has been considered an aphrodisiac. In the 20th century, scientists discounted the theory that a specific food could accelerate the blood flow to the genitals and stimulate a genuine physical reaction. Scientific explanations aside, there's still the psychological effect. Food that is labeled as passion-arousing often really does the trick, like a placebo. The reasons for the inclusion of a certain food in the historical list were many. The resemblance to human genitalia of the phallic carrot or the fig's juicy sweetness ignited the imagination. Things such as chicken eggs, known for their vitality and healing properties, were thought to also have the power to improve erections. Raw, bloody meat became a symbol for raw, sexual passion, while rare and precious foods such as caviar created an aura of luxury, wealth and power, reliable elements of foreplay. A taste of the sexiest dishes Tel Aviv's restaurants have to offer.
Oysters are the perfect example of a food whose shape recalls female genitalia: The outline of the shell and the pink sheen of the interior, the slippery mucose texture and the bold sea-tinged taste combined to create the ancient belief in its aphrodisiac powers. Oysters were one of Casanova's favorite foods. He preferred his oysters, like his women, undressed and in large quantities. He slipped oysters down his women's decolletage, exchanged kisses full of lust, saliva and oysters with excited lovers, and seduced two convent girls with the aid of an orgy featuring 100 oysters and champagne.
No one would call Mul Yam's buttoned-up atmosphere sexy, but the raw ingredients Shalom Maharovsky brings in from across the oceans together with his uncompromising perfectionism make the restaurant an extraordinary local culinary experience.
Mul Yam, Hangar 24, Tel Aviv Port, 03-5469920
The river of yellow egg yolk spilling from Orca's crab ravioli has become famous. Anyone doubting the erotic and provocative qualities of the egg is invited to recall the scene from "Tampopo" in which the slick yakuza and his beautiful girlfriend, a pair of absolute hedonists, pass a raw egg yolk between their slippery, quivering tongues. In the first century B.C.E., Heraclides of Tarentum declared the egg to be one of the substances that aid in the production of sperm, most likely because of the salutary properties that have always been ascribed to it as a symbol of fertility from the animal kingdom.
Other lust-inducers prepared by chef Eran Shroitman include the oyster shot, a smooth and fleshy oyster that slips down the throat with a shot of seasoned vodka; an oyster with cucumber gelatin cream; asparagus in Parmesan cream and asparagus soup with truffle oil.
If you look closely at the slightly curving stalks of the asparagus, you won't ask how it made it onto the aphrodisiac foods list. Its diuretic properties and the peculiar but inoffensive aroma it imparts to the urine of some of those who eat it did not hurt either, nor the fact that the complexity of its cultivation make it quite pricey. King Louis XIV, who was quite the lecher, was an avowed asparagus lover, while Emile Zola's heroine Nana, who was also food-obsessed, served asparagus soup.
Orca, 57 Nahalat Binyamin St., Tel Aviv 03-5665505
Organ meats, such as testicles or brains, were thought to impart the characteristics of their animal source. Catit's quail's egg filled with veal brains and mushroom ragout is one good example, as is their eel marinated in wasabi honey and served on a bed of watermelon next to pillars of jellied watermelon, or the prurience-producing soup of exotic fruits. Chef Meir Adoni combines textures, flavors and colors to create gorgeous dishes that titillate the palate.
Catit, 4 Heichal Hatalmud St., Tel Aviv, 03-5107001
If the people of the pre-modern world are to be believed, every visit to Yoezer Wine Bar could be followed by a visit to the sperm bank with an elevated sperm count. The sexiest menu in Israel includes simple classic dishes made from the finest local raw ingredients given the minimal treatment to bring out their flavor. In Peter Greenaway's movie "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover," the chef explains to his wife the secret to pricing the dishes offered by the restaurant: "I charge a lot for anything black. Grapes, olives, black currants. People like to remind themselves of death, eating black food is like consuming death, like saying, 'Death, I'm eating you. Black truffles are the most expensive.'"
The truffle, "black as a witch's cat and delicious as the scents of evening," is the "diamond of the kitchen," according to the famed French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: not only due to its small, rock-like shape and musky, earthy aroma, but also because of the common belief, dating from Roman times, in this mushroom's ability to lead to erotic pleasures. Brillat-Savarin's "scientific" research was based largely on the testimony of a female acquaintance who confessed to some heated and passionate acts of adultery, spurred by a chicken stuffed with truffles that caused her to lose all inhibition. But even he admitted that this is not concrete proof, and that the power of the fungus lies primarily in its marvelous flavor.
No definitive connection between truffles and the human libido has ever been established, although it is clear that female pigs find the truffle's aroma very stimulating. A light spray of pheromones in the air gets the glands and the mating impulse going and causes the lusting sow to burrow with her snout into the damp earth in the precise spot where the truffle is to be found. Some use dogs or goats to hunt truffles, while others look for flies hovering over a concentration of truffles underground. Whatever the method, it is never simple, since the truffle does not protrude from the earth. Gathering truffles requires the sort of traditional knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation in the rural parts of Europe. In the world of modern agriculture, too, where mushrooms are grown in giant artificial incubators, no one has yet managed to manufacture this fungus by unnatural means. Which makes a kilo of truffles, even today, worth its weight in gold.
In addition to Yo'ezer's milk-fed veal tartare with egg yolk and truffle, there are also the blini, the carpaccio topped with fresh truffle slices and the entrecote for two. Yo'ezer serves only the round, lean section in the center of the cut. This piece of fine meat, weighing 550 grams, is grilled whole and sliced into sizzling crimson slivers.
For dessert, the berries in champagne gelatin are recommended.
Alcoholic beverages are the only member of the culinary world that scientists are ready to acknowledge as having a direct influence on the sexual impulse, and champagne tops them all, perhaps because of the tiny golden bubbles that so easily go to one's head and give rise to a pleasant intoxication and readiness to play the fool. The champagne girls of La Belle Epoque in 19th-century France mostly belonged to the demi-monde - a shadowy world of women with ostensibly dubious morals who were kept by wealthy patrons. They went to the opera and to the cafes on Paris' broad boulevards bedecked in diamonds, hosted gentlemen in private lounges for a midnight meal of cold chicken, champagne and strawberries, and feasted to their heart's desire the next day - in the countryside - on eggs, cherries, milk and fried rabbit. True champagne girls have a mouth made for champagne, thighs (swathed in a shiny cocktail dress) that open under the table for some passionate hanky-panky, a foolish, profligate youth who will go broke in the attempt to please them, and an advanced case of tuberculosis just to place dramatic emphasis on the fleeting charm of it all. After seeing "The Lady of the Camellias," Henry James wrote in admiration that it was all about champagne and tears.
Yo'ezer Wine Bar, 2 Yo'ezer Ish Habira St., Jaffa, 03-6839115
Celebrations of desire did not take place at this time of year in the vineyards alone. At Neot Kedumim, a beautiful nature reserve where very dedicated research into biblical foods is being carried out, the common caper ("tzalaf kotzani") is currently in bloom. The ancient inhabitants of this land called its fruits aviyona (libido or desire) because of their resemblance to the male sex organ, and they are mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:5: "when... the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper becomes a burden and the caperberry fails."
Neot Kedumim, near the Ben Shemen Forest, 08-9770777