Making a good sandwich is an art – one that may not get all the respect it deserves. Combining the flavors and textures of different ingredients involves achieving a delicate balance. In a sandwich, all the elements must come together harmoniously in a single bite. How thickly to slather on the butter; how many pickles to put in and exactly where to place them; the proportions of the main ingredient to the others; what type of bread to use. Each decision could have fateful consequences.
Avital Sadot, popularly known as Tootsie (“Everyone who grew up in Yodfat has a nickname,” she says) is a master of constructing sandwiches that approach true perfection. It could be a gouda sandwich (meticulously carved slices of cheese, fresh avocado, homemade pesto, greens, and a pickled lemon spread); or one made with delicious sausage, a mound of fresh arugula, salt, slivers of Parmesan and a touch of spicy mustard. Any sandwich she makes in Tootsie Kitchen Delicatessan is a treat.
“Everything that’s in the sandwich I sell or make myself,” says Tootsie, whose long reddish locks would put Rapunzel to shame. Except for her grandmother, all the women in the family have long braids that cascade down to the floor and are rolled up into a knot at the nape of the neck during the day.
“I make things – pickled lemons, jams, sauces and other pickles – solely in accordance with their season. If the basil doesn’t look good, there won’t be pesto.” Through the windows of the refrigerators, cheese wedges and various sausages used in the sandwiches can be seen. On the table are all kinds of sweets she concocts: chocolate-coated caramels with walnuts; meringue puffs; rahat lokum (Turkish delight); brownies (“Not to worry, the brownies with berries are in the fridge,” a small sign next to them says reassuringly); muffins; and a panforte with hazelnuts and dried fruits.
Tootsie was born in Yodfat in 1976. After a period in the center of the country, where she worked as a restaurant cook and apprentice pastry chef, she returned there in 2003. She and a partner opened a catering service, The Giraffe and the Crocodile, that was in business for nearly a decade. The delicatessen, a longtime dream, opened a year ago at Boa’cha Yodfat, a small shopping complex at the entrance to the community. Overlooking the green hills of the Lower Galilee, the complex houses 11 shops and small factories, half of them related to food.
Everyone takes part
“All the boys and girls of Yodfat are returning home,” says Michal Ezrony-Kassirer, founder and moving spirit of the small shopping center. “And everyone from Yodfat appreciates and understands good food.” The attraction of this place, founded in 1960, has a lot to do with the beautiful landscape and the communal lifestyle that still persists there, despite changes over the years.
“Yodfat was one of the first places where the communal economic system was eliminated. That happened in the early 1990s, and not because of hardship or bankruptcy,” says Ezrony-Kassirer. “The industries of the community became profitable businesses. The community spirit is still very significant, along with a sense of mutual responsibility. We celebrate the holidays together: On Sukkot we build a huge sukkah where everyone eats every evening – and every week is filled with events and activities for everyone to take part in together.”
Yodfat marked its 50th anniversary with a cookbook, published privately for residents, that includes a chapter devoted to the influence of Bedouin and Arab neighbors on the community’s cuisine. “The dish most associated with Yodfat is mansaf [lamb cooked in yogurt],” says Ezrony-Kassirer. “The founders were involved with the Bedouin who lived in the area and learned about local Arab cuisine from them, long before it became popular in recent years,” she says. In addition to mansaf, the chapter also includes recipes for kubbeh, stuffed vegetables, stuffed pastries, roasted green hummus and pickled mini-watermelons. Next to each recipe is the name of the woman who taught it to them, or the story of the culture from which it came – a testament to the unusually close neighborly relations between a Jewish community and its Arab neighbors.