AN INKLING OF GREAT DINING — ELSEWHERE

If you are looking for a great meal and a fantastic place to eat it, the Blackstone Valley isn’t IT.

We can find a few diners that are good and at least one interesting hot dog joint in Worcester … but otherwise? Let me give you a hint — an inkling — of great dining you won’t find here. Or anywhere in the area, including Boston.

Rich’s post today on his home blog brought me waves of nostalgia about food in Jerusalem. When I first moved there, I was lost. I couldn’t cook because I didn’t recognize the packaging and things were usually just a little different that they had been back in the States. Eventually, I worked it out and became a better cook than I’d been at home because I no long relied on prepackaged ingredients. I learned to make everything “from scratch.”

When I first got to Israel, I didn’t even know what good food meant. Eventually I discovered a million tiny restaurants tucked into neighborhoods all over the city, all with the name “Mother” in title.

Sure enough, Mom was the head cook. She had a few daughters and maybe a niece or two working their way up — as well as half a dozen sons and nephews handling the serving, busing, management, shopping … and cleaning. Restaurants — the good ones — were family affairs and ALL of them were good.

Dishes were some version of Middle Eastern Jewish — meaning no pork or dairy in it, but that was no problem. Muslims don’t eat pork either and dairy isn’t generally a part of dinner anyway.

The absolutely best food EVER was served by friends and neighbors on Shabbat.  Our Moroccan neighbors with whom Owen played could cook. I don’t know if every family were quite as brilliant as those neighbors on Hebron Road, but … OH my LORD.

Owen got to eat out pretty much every Friday night. His friends mothers loved him. “Look at that tall skinny kid — doesn’t anybody FEED HIM?” They could feed him to death and he’d roll home and tell us about it. I’d drool.

Middle eastern food is labor intensive to a degree that is hard to explain. It takes days to make all those little chopped up dishes that are wrapped in couscous or grape leaves or some light yet delightfully crunchy cover. Served plain — with a sauce — or as part of a soup.

We called those skinny roll-ups in thin filo dough “cigarettes” which they resembled in form, but too delicious to describe.

Everything was chopped, seasoned, sometimes cooked, sometimes semi-raw or entirely raw, and  wrapped. Then there were the sauces ranging from red (hot) to green (blow your head off hot). Owen learned to love ALL of it. I never quite made it to the green stuff, but I loved the red sauce.

It’s a very short hop to vegetarian or Vegan cooking, too. Meat isn’t the big issue in any of these dishes. In these native lands, meat was in short supply, which is why is was shredded and chopped. A single chicken could serve a lot of people that way.

There were some other foods, too. Israel adopted a bunch of Vietnam boat people who had nowhere else to go, so they took over opening oriental restaurants. Some were pretty good, some not so great, but at least it was different.

Italian was popular:  Kosher which meant meatless because the cheese was more important than the meat — or non Kosher. But it wasn’t as good as Italian restaurants in New York. Then again, few Italian restaurants are as good as they were in NY, unless you went to Italy where my mother assured me you would find the BEST food in the world. She used to diet in advance of traveling to Italy because she always came back 10 pounds heavier.

In Israel, though, the  great food was “tribally” local. Moroccan, Tunisian, Syrian, Persian, Algerian and sometimes Kenyan or generally Arabian — everything was GREAT. Also expensive. Eating out was surprisingly expensive, so getting an invitation from a neighbor was like getting invited to the best restaurant in town. Better, really.

I miss the food. I can make just about the best humus you’ve ever eaten, but the rest of it the food requires mother and three well-trained daughters — and about a week to prepare it. You don’t see that around here. Maybe in other cities, but not in New England.

We settle for good Japanese food. Sushi and tempura and anything that comes in rolls. But so far, not very good Chinese. There were some wonderful Chinese restaurants in Boston, but not out here.

That both Garry and I have eaten some amazing food in amazing places probably explains why we find most of the local eateries uninspiring, to say the least. Other than a couple of Japanese places, we haven’t found anywhere worth the price. Food is bland and the preparation is uninspiring. As for Italian, try mine. Much better. For that matter, try my son’s. His is much better, too. We do not live in great dining out territory.

I’m told there are good Indian places in Worcester and in Providence, but we don’t like a lot of traveling for dinner. I don’t mind going, but when we’re full of food, we don’t want a long trip home.

Retirement, you know?

31 thoughts on “AN INKLING OF GREAT DINING — ELSEWHERE”

  1. My philosophy on dining out was and always has been, it had better be superior to mine and or something I don’t know how to cook. Unfortunately restaurant dining used to be a privledge, an extravaganza of delight. Today, no matter where I go, it’s most fast food masquerading as home cooked. I long for the days of family run restaurants that took pride in what they offered. In most instances, my cooking too, is far superior to what you’d receive for the exorbitant price asked. The only food I don’t and won’t cook is sushi (i hate the stuff) but other than that, when we lived in an apartment, ppl would invite themselves to dinner as the aroma whaffed through the halls ways.

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      1. I agree and I hate it–it takes more time for me to go back and correct things, here and confuses my brain, which is trying to get better after an illness and needs to know what mistakes it makes.

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        1. Do you have “publicize” turned on? Because all of this information is part of publicize … you know … when you publish, WP will (if you have authorized it) send your material to FP, Twitter, etc. Any publicity actions you want to include but don’t want to list separately become part of “share.”

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          1. I’m not sure how it’s set up, I have to ask him cause I can’t see well enough to this stuff…it’s all on him which makes him a godsend and I couldn’t do this without him but also it’s a labour of love for him as he has his own stuff to do. I am blessed in so many regards.

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      1. ah, ok, thank you. By the way, do you know where to find the gizmo that adds the “share”button that looks like an arrow with dots at each end? I’ve been trying to find it to add to my site in case someone’s interested enough to share something but I can’t find it or how to add it. If you know where to direct me, please, I’d appreciate it. Could just be my lack of eyesight, but still can’t find the dang thing.

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        1. Just in case you missed this earlier, you need to have “publicize” turned on. All of this is part of the publicize function. WHEN you get publicized, WP will (if you have authorized it) send your material to FP, Twitter, etc and any publicity actions you want to include but don’t want to list separately become part of “share.”

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  2. My husband spent time in Israel and loved the vegetarian and kosher options available to him. In New York City, there seems a vast variety, but sometimes it isn’t very good. Oh well–it’s the same the world over in that regard!

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  3. The food in Jerusalem sounds heavenly. I wonder if I can find a Jewish restaurant in Atlanta. 🤔

    I find it amusing that you are somewhat disappointed by the dishes in New England. I’m a pescetarian, so the super inexpensive seafood was a godsend while I was there. I can’t wait to visit again!

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    1. The thing is, you want an Israeli or Middle Eastern restaurant. American-style Jewish food is entirely different. It’s good … but it’s not the same at all.

      We aren’t on the coast, so we don’t have seafood restaurants here. There was one. It was really BAD. We are inland. Boston had tons of them and they were great. Providence has a lot of them, too … but around here, it’s all hamburger and brown gravy.

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  4. We had the most amazing meal in Nazareth. It was a small hotel in town and when we entered they brought us to our table and started serving us dinner. We didn’t order they just brought us food. It was so good you really couldn’t complain. We were the only people there.
    Leslie

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    1. Nazereth is such a pretty town. You were in Nazereth, not Nazereth Ilit (the one up on top of the hill)? Nazereth is Arab and Nazereth Ilit is the Jewish section. And Nazereth, the original, is much older, like by thousands of years.

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        1. They aren’t easy to make. They SOUND easy, but they’re not. You need a fair amount of spice and onions and garlic, otherwise they are totally bland. And you have to leave them cooking long enough to get crispy, but not so long that they burn. AND make them as thin as you can so they cook all the way through. Like making other kinds of pancakes, you need to have “a hand.”

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            1. Not only are they not easy, they are very labor intensive. At some point in my life, I decided the amount of work was not equal to the whole 15 minutes it took to eat them. But I’m at the point of cooking where i’m just tired of doing it at all. I used to make them on Chanukah. You know. Tradition and all that.

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  5. I lived for a summer in Tunisia, when I was only 17. I still keep trying to replicate the food, which was incredible. And if you think the Blackstone Valley is bleak as far as food goes….you should travel up to Gardner and Winchendon. My kitchen has the best food around, and I’m serious.

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    1. I don’t doubt it. But I defy your local food to be worse than ours. There IS no worse food. On a positive note, we save a fortune never eating out. You know, even the church dinners where people bring food are bad? I swear they think mac & cheese is gourmet food.

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