We came for the food but stayed for the line – that magnificent, long and winding, eager and utterly un-Israeli orderly line that was so unexpected the program’s organizer felt compelled to break into the music, take the mic and comment on its very existence.
The food and the line were both part of this summer’s most surprising cultural offering – the “FoodTrip” (or “Auto-Ochel” in Hebrew) sponsored by the Jerusalem Season of Culture. The Times of Israel’s Leeor Bronis already wrote about it – you can read the details here.
The 15 second take-away: a food truck appears in different locations around the city every day preparing unique foods inspired and hosted by various Jerusalem celebrities. One day was Tunisian food with TV personality Jacki Levy. Another was chicken tarragon hosted by Michel Kishka, a well-known comic book artist and illustrator who made aliyah from Belgium.
The location and cuisine of the next truck is only announced 24-48 hours before the event, adding some extra “excitement” to the project. All of the food is sold essentially at cost, never more than NIS 20 (around $5), with drinks on the house. The truck is managed by Jerusalem chef Assaf Granit who owns four restaurants in Jerusalem including the popular “Machneyuda.” The latter is not kosher, but the FoodTrip offerings are not only kosher but hallal.
When I first read about the FoodTrip, I was skeptical. What’s the big deal? You can already get interesting food close to home, maybe not for so cheap, but is it worth dropping everything to run out when you get an email or tweet with the day’s location? But when we read that the truck would be parking right around the corner from us on the Train Track Park in the German Colony, we figured it would make a nice outing.
That was the chicken tarragon day and the food was good enough, if not knock your socks off excellent. The atmosphere was festive, though, with whole families chowing down on the grass of the nearby park. Region-appropriate music blared from the speakers, and comic book artist Kishka appeared in person to tell the story – in pictures, appropriately – of why he suggested this particular recipe.
The downside: the FoodTrip people have done a good job at creating buzz, too much perhaps, as the line to pay for and pick up our dinner was quite long. Indeed, our youngest son bailed when he saw it would be at least a half an hour before we got to the front of the queue.
I was similarly inclined – Israeli lines, if you can call them that, are among the worst in the world. They’re more like suggestions and they quickly swell to one, two, three or more wide rather than one at a time. It’s the same whether you’re standing on two feet or in a car – you can never relax while in an Israeli line because there will always be someone ready to cut in front of you, either brazenly (“everyone else is doing it, what, I should be a freier?”) or through the classic, dreaded and mostly unprovable declaration of “I was here” or the fisticuffs provoking “I was after him (or her).”
I got a chance to experience line swelling at its worst at the recent Israeli Presidential Conference, when what began as an orderly queue to get into a particularly popular session expanded to five deep, leading to my not getting into a panel I’d already waited 45 minutes for. Furious, I complained to one of the organizers. By the time the next round of sessions started, there were ropes to more clearly delineate the path required to the halls. (Here’s hoping they’ll be there from the start next year.)
First timers to Israel are quickly introduced to the country’s concept of non-lines – at the airport. As I wrote last week, we were recently on vacation in Bali and there was a terribly long line to get through passport control. I braced myself for the expected line jumping and swelling, but the passengers waited patiently, even though we were there for well over an hour in a hall with little air conditioning to keep out the ever present island humidity that hovers like a taxi tout ensuring its presence is felt.
At Ben Gurion Airport, however, instead of one simple snake line, each passport station has its own line. There are no ropes dividing the areas so everyone is squooshed in together with ample opportunities for confusion (“I was in this line, no I was in that line” and double dipping (“let’s wait in separate lines, dear, and see who gets to the front first”). And, mind you, Ben Gurion was built within the last ten years – it’s not like they had to work with an existing layout. The planners could have created any line architecture they wanted…and they chose controlled pandemonium.
But the line at the FoodTrip never strayed from the straight and narrow. No one cut, no one pushed, no one argued. The weather was pleasant, the soon-to-be diners all in a good mood. There were toddlers and little white dogs (OK, that one was ours).
So, when the FoodTrip email went out yesterday to say that they’d be visiting a neighborhood about a 20 minute drive by car away, serving up authentic Ethiopian meal at an even lower price than usual – NIS 10 a dish – we jumped in the electric car and fired up the GPS. We were rewarded with a ample platter of lentils, bok choy, sloppy Joe-style Ethiopian meatballs and wickedly spicy green peppers, all laid out on a soft laffa (perhaps procuring injira – the classic Ethiopian sour-spongy bread – would have forced the organizers to double the price).
And the line – just as delicious.