A DisKosher Disdelight
To my New York friends I make no apology if I am debunking an icon of the city. I do so with no apologies nor regrets.
We were walking around downtown Manhattan earlier today (around fiveish). We had just spent a few interesting hours at the MOMA. The Museum of Modern Art is invariably on my itinerary. It is always interesting, because it both shows you real art and real unart. Currently they are displaying an amazing collection, recently acquired, of 19th century photographs (going back to the fifties, not many years after the introduction of the first daguerreotypes). They are concurrently displaying examples of "modern", cameraless photography. Don't get me wrong, I've played around in the dark room too, but to call some of this meaningless photomontage and random exposures of photographic paper "art" is pushing a friendship.
We left a bit hungry. We are armed with a list of kosher establishments around New York City. It is put out by one of the shules in the area. They update it often, and we've found it useful each time we come here. We have found some good establishments through it. This afternoon we decided to try an eatery, listed under meat restaurants, called Kosher Delight.
To be honest with my readers, I must state that in general I have an ideological problem with many of our black skullcapped brethren who sincerely believe they have been placed right here in this city, into the Garden of Eden, by God Himself, in order to be the beneficiaries of all pickings, including the human variety.
We enter the establishment and immediately neither of us is overcome with joy -- to say the least. The food counter is right at the back of the cavernous concern. We get there, look around, then at each other, and then back towards the door. Someone walks past us with a plate of chips -- french fries in the local parlance. Jill says, "maybe just a plate of chips?", and then before I could bat an eyelid, "no, it's probably drenched in some bad oil. We'll regret it later."
We head back towards the door. On the right side of the doorway is the shwarma counter. It also serves falafel. "Perhaps a falafel," Jill says. I wasn't keen, but how bad could it be? I was a bit hungry too by now. A falafel in a pitta costs $6.49, in a lafa (flat Iraqi bread), another $1.50. And don't forget that in New York you are charged almost another 9% in sales tax. So the price is never (except on clothing) the price you pay at the register.
We each select falafel in a lafa. I admit I regretted it immediately, but Jill looked happier. The lady who took our order stands under a "Glatt Kosher" sign. I wonder how glatt? She wears a big gold cross around her neck. She just takes the money -- she doesn't touch the food -- that is prepared by a nice [I'm guessing] Italian boy who is busily preparing shwarma. I know that Americans have to be equal opportunity employers -- women, minorities, cripples -- and that everyone is entitled to outwardly practice their religious beliefs, be it tzitzit, black skullcap, or gold ornaments -- but I still expect a little sensitivity in both directions. It obviously couldn't have bothered management.
The food preparer's latex gloves are covered in shwarma juices. He scoops the chopped pieces with his hands onto the baguettes. "We don't eat meat. Would you mind changing gloves." He is quite happy to comply. He is very friendly, not at all pressured even though a lot of people are in line, salivating. I don't know when he last changed the gloves. He has prepared at least three shwarmas in the time we stand here. He doesn't don new gloves, though I did notice that he carefully did not touch any food directly, instead using a dirty pair of tongs which he pointed out to us was not the pair he uses for the shwarma.
He spreads our humus with something or other and places the falafel balls. He rolls the lafa inside a sheet of aluminium foil. Being Israeli I suppose, I like my veggies and pickles rolled up inside. This (falafel, humus and bread) is wrapped so tightly that you could not get anything else in afterwards. And unlike in Israel, it is wrapped in such away that there isn't an opening at either end!
But there is a workable solution. He cuts the thing in half. With a not too clean knife which he probably uses to cut shwarma lafas into half also.
It is so tightly packed that you still can't insert your vegetables into the now exposed sections. But they give you a little cardboard dish and you can select yourself from the available delights in arrayed in front of you. Standard affair for even Israeli falafel/shwarma joints: pickles, shredded red and white cabbage, onion, chickpeas and more.
The place is crowded. We find a lonely little table for two, squeezed in amongst others. Some seem to have little more room. I assume an employee does rounds, cleaning tables between customers. But I didn't meet him. Again, each patron is given his portion on a plate or wrapped in a piece of foil, on a tray. I would hazard to guess that some brave folk take the plates off their trays, onto the table, but I did not observe this.
We take turns to go and wash. I return, tear off a little morsel of bread. I don't think I really want the bread part. I follow up by extracting the mushiest, uncrunchiest falafel ball I have ever met. I eat half of it. I start on the vegies. I wasn't doing too well. Jill's basically eating just the bread. "Is the humus off?" I smell it, even take a lick. "Personally I wouldn't serve it, but it isn't off."
"I'm not eating any more. I have no obligation to thank a higher authority for providing these delectables. Perhaps to show my gratitude for sparing me may be more in order. I guess you have to bench since you seem to enjoying the bread. I'll see you outside." I hand Jill my bencher. "Forget the seventeen bucks. Next time we listen to our intuition."
We meet outside. A lady is passing out flyers. Jill takes everything on offer. Sometimes (but only sometimes) we get a good deal or at least useful information. This flyer was for, yes wait for it, falafel sandwiches, with salad, for a the king's ransom of $3.99.
Yeah I know -- probably a half size job. Yes I know how they work.
But I'm still not impressed. I know America. Especially New York. But Jill's simple naivety, coupled with her charm and friendly smile, gets her places I fear to tread. "I'm going back inside." Who am I to argue, even though the obvious answer will be, that deal was only offered after you came in. Now I know that's not a morally acceptable excuse, but hey, this is New York, God's gift remember.
She locates the black skulled manager. He gives her the expected line. She doesn't take this. We found your food totally inedible. Look here it still lies on the table where we left it! "Why didn't ask for something else?" There is nothing else in your establishment sir that I would eat. "So what can I do?" Money back! "Sorry".
Of course sorry. He's already got our money, with all the halachic ramifications to be had by the holder of the cash. Yes I learned halacha too, with the best of them. And I also know that giving a disgruntled customer another morsel is of insignificant expense. Parting with a whole seventeen dollars is another story.
Excuse me if I now have to run off. It's a couple of hours since the above took place. The single (half) falafel ball in my gut is moving around, so I'd better move too -- quickly.
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and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.