aroma - Michal Fattal - July 8 2011
An Aroma branch in Jerusalem. At Aroma Israel, breakfast is 6% dearer. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Because of my sins, apparently, God suddenly decided to spoil the entire theory that I had carefully constructed in order to write the following piece regarding the gourmandizing habits of Israelis. Everything was seemingly very simple:

1. There is a special gastronomic term called "an Israeli breakfast."

2. The immoral Israeli breakfast originated in order to give the Israeli vacationing in a hotel in Israel or abroad the feeling that he's no sucker, and that he's getting the full return for his money, if not more.

3. This seemed self-evident to me, and all I had to do was go out and quickly scribble an illustration to demonstrate the theory.

I still think it's clear as day that the Israeli is willing to risk a great deal in order not to feel like a sucker when it comes to culinary issues. He will give up his good name, and that of his country, and he doesn't mind being called the "ugly Israeli" when it comes to the task of piling a high mound of croissants, cinnamon buns, maamoul cookies and rolls onto one plate. On another plate he loads salty foods, hard and soft cheeses, salads and butter, and brings it all skillfully to the table. Even if he has no intention of eating a single one of these foods - and even if he hates herring because it reminds him of unpleasant smells from his childhood - he has paid and is therefore entitled to get everything, even if one could feed an entire village in Somalia with what's left on the table at the end of the meal.

After all, it was for this type of Israeli that "all-inclusive" deals were created in the hotels of Antalya in Turkey, where Israeli vulgarity reached - unfortunately I have to use the past tense - its ultimate satisfaction in an endless festival of gourmandizing. We often heard horror stories from those who returned from those "all-inclusive" vacations about their brothers, "those Israelis" who go down to the dining room in combat mode, in order to demolish the buffet table and order the poor Turkish sous chef who's breaking the eggs for omelets to prepare a four-egg omelet with everything: white and red onions and scallions, mushrooms, herbs and grated yellow cheese. It's a shame to leave anything out.

But there is a certain paradox here: If all the Israelis who returned from such vacations disdainfully describe their brothers who give the country a bad name with their eating habits, and swear that they don't do that, then who is included among the ugly and crass Israelis? And maybe it's only a nasty rumor, a product of the well known Jewish self-hatred, and in reality there's no difference between an Israeli and any other person with a reasonable appetite who eats breakfast in a hotel?

In order to examine the scientific and objective truth behind the rumors, I decided to breakfast on a random Friday in a random five-star hotel in a random city. Friends told me that if I wanted to see quintessential Israeli vulgarity, I had to go to a hotel in Eilat, and preferably one that gives discounts to workers' committees. Others said that the vulgarity of Israelis vacationing in hotels for workers' committees in Eilat is nothing compared to the vulgarity evident in hotels for workers' committees in Tiberias.

On the other hand, someone in the know said to me, "Why go so far? Go to Herzliya. There you'll find the families of religious tourists from France with their dozens of screaming children." "But I have to write about Israelis," I said. "What difference does it make?" was the answer.

In the end, due to all the contradictory recommendations, I decided to eat breakfast at the Dan InterContinental Hotel in south Tel Aviv, which is considered a luxury hotel but not particularly high-end, and whose guests include religious Frenchmen, Israeli businessmen with thickening bellies and arsim (low-class types ) with money and peroxided wives; everything that should suit my theory. Incidentally, the price of breakfast there is $30 per person, not including VAT.

My findings, which will be explained below, lead to a sad conclusion: The classic ugly Israeli, the one who fills his plate and his belly only because he doesn't want to be seen as a sucker, is a species in danger of extinction. He began to become extinct along with the demise of our relations with Turkey, and slowly but surely has given way to a new, equally immoral type of Israeli. This new Israeli has spent hours watching a master chef on Haim Cohen's eponymous cooking programs, and on chef Israel Aharoni's culinary journeys with Gidi Gov on the Silk Road. This Israeli seems to be less crass and more refined than his colleague from the previous incarnation.

The new type of Israeli will spend NIS 20 without batting an eyelid on a kilogram of organic tomatoes that were picked at dawn by the veined hands of an organic Thai worker, or will spend twice as much on 100 grams of goat cheese, from milk that was milked at dawn by the veined hand of the new organic Thai worker (who was brought to Israel to replace the previous worker whose visa expired and who was deported back to Thailand ). The new type of Israeli convinces himself that a kilo of tomatoes and a chunk of goat cheese have turned him into a cultured person, to the point where he doesn't realize that, in fact, this refinement of his is the other face of the previous crassness.

The old type of ugly Israeli filled his plates with food that could have fed a refugee camp in Somalia. The new species of refined Israeli does not fill up his plate. But his worship of the single cherry tomato on his plate has caused him to lose his physical feeling of hunger entirely, and therefore he will no longer be capable of understanding what a hungry child is, not to mention a camp of hungry children.

A monument to vulgarity

Let's get back to the field and the sample breakfast in the aforementioned hotel. What I discovered is more and more examples of aggressive repression designed to marginalize the good old ugly Israeli, the one who never heard of refinement and still goes downstairs with his belly and flip-flops in order to eat the Israeli breakfast for which he paid $30. And they're doing everything possible to make this good old Israeli lose his desire to be ugly in the natural and charming sense of the word.

At the forefront of this battle I saw with my own eyes how, on that random Friday, three or four Amazons were standing at the entrance to the hotel dining room, looking as though their previous job was as security guards at Ben-Gurion International Airport - presumably it was there that they learned how to make everyone feel guilty until proven innocent. In this case, everyone is suspected of having come to eat without being registered as a hotel guest.

"Just a minute, it says here that one Susanna Cohenovsky is living in Room 3305," called out one of the Amazons to a hunched man, who had given her that room number. "I'm her brother, I didn't come to eat, only to pick her up, because she has difficulty walking," the man apologized in embarrassment. Another man with a beer belly, knee-length pants and flip-flops, who left the dining room and returned, aroused the suspicion of Amazon No.2, who thought he intended to eat a double meal. "I made peepee," the man apologized.

A third man - who, according to the identifying signs learned in the Shin Bet security services courses, looked like an ugly Israeli and was therefore suspected of a desire to gorge himself without paying - was actually a tourist from Colombia, who had the misfortune of forgetting his room number, while his wife - who was waiting for him inside - had the key, as he tried to explain to the guard.

The repression did its job. I noticed that in the entire large room, there was only one man who looked eager to fill his plate repeatedly by the old method of piling up croissants and cakes into a tall pyramid. And then salads, and then salty foods and cheeses. That same man, who was wearing a blue and white striped shirt, opened the belt of his pants at a certain point and pulled out his shirt because he was so full. In order to wash down the food, he ordered a large cappuccino from the waiter, and when the waiter was late bringing his coffee, he called another waiter and repeated the order, and in the end two large mugs of cappuccino arrived at his table and he drank both of them.

I'm not ashamed to say it: that man was me. My decision was a protest against the repression of the healthy appetite that we had until recently, an appetite that was stolen from us due to the cessation of charter flights to Antalya and the refined cooking programs and the master chefs. I decided to build a monument to good old-fashioned Israeli vulgarity. There was nothing at the buffet that I didn't taste, and I deliberately left leftovers on my plate. I demanded of the sous chef a six-egg omelet, all-inclusive, like in Antalya.

At the same time, the arsim and their peroxided partners, both French and Israeli, hovered lightly around the buffet and gleaned a cherry tomato here, a rye roll there. A bunch of grapes and a slice of melon and watermelon. The piles of lakerda and matjes looked terribly banal to them, as did the mound of cottage cheese and a tray of slices of Tal Haemek cheese. Who eats cottage cheese nowadays? Tnuva, yuk! One blonde bombshell asked a dark-skinned waiter named Moshe to bring the cappuccino with soya milk because she was allergic to milk. It's interesting that the ugly Israeli of yore never had allergies to any food.

I called Moshe the waiter so he would tell me his life story. I hoped he would tell me a sad story, which would contrast with the luxury of the hotel and the tremendous food waste that would find itself in the garbage can in another two hours - but in vain. Moshe came to Tel Aviv from far-off Herzliya, where he began to work after his army service - as a waiter in the Hasharon Hotel, and he continues to work at it because it's considered preferred work that entitles him to a special government grant.

The other waiter I spoke to looked frightened by my questions. All I managed to get out of him was that he's an educational sciences student. But the Amazon at the entrance, the one to whom I paid $30 for the meal, is studying optometry at Bar-Ilan University. I would have been happy to talk to the quiet young black man named Adam, as the tag on his shirt indicated, who walked with his head lowered among the tables and swept up leftovers onto a plastic dustpan. He is the only one here who probably comes from one of the starving countries in Africa and is still capable of appreciating the simple pleasure of gorging until you burst. But something inside prevented me from publicly exposing our shared secret.

I made one more round of the buffet area. How could I skip the compote table? I took a bowl and started filling it up: three halves of tinned peaches, two tinned plums, pineapple chunks, and over everything I sprinkled a heaping tablespoon of crushed nuts. I returned to the table. It turned out that the waiters had already cleared away my plates and a family of French Jews - a father, a mother and their two children - had taken my place. The only things on their table were four bowls of cold cereal and four cups of tea.

I put my compote bowl on an empty table and left in a huff. On the way I grabbed two bananas, an apple and a peach from the fruit basket - food for the road. The Amazon at the entrance noticed my opportunism but turned a blind eye. After all, I deserve a break as a survivor of the extinct race of ugly Israelis, who had a certain beauty compared to those who have replaced them. W