Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Food and the state of the nation

I wasn't sure what I fancied eating as I killed time before heading to Mrs. G's performance this evening. Already in town, I didn't really feel like Joy Express and Burger's Bar had a ridiculous queue. I don't think there's anywhere around Ben Yehuda that I would class as a really good falafel and I couldn't be bothered to trek over to Agrippas for a decent Meurav Yerushalmi (whether Sami, Sima or Steakiyat Chatzot). If I want good grilled meat, I have it on my doorstep in the Talpiot Industrial Zone.

Feeling wholly uninspired, I wandered up Ben Yehuda in the direction of King George. Something caused me to take a right onto Rechov Hahistadrut and there I was greeted by a distressing sight; the empty shell on the left of the picture is all that remains of a Jerusalem institution where Kings and Prime Ministers dined and a reservation for Henry Kissinger was once famously turned down.

I had the pleasure of partaking in Fink's famous ambience (and goulash soup) a couple of years ago when it bowed to demographic pressure and obtained a Kashrut certificate. It symbolised a very European past; cloth napkins, waiter in tie and jacket, a bar where ordering a Buttery Nipple or an Orgasm would have had you thrown into the street and a menu made up Eastern European delicacies. It was a special (but very expensive) dining experience which perhaps didn't fit the Israel of the new millenium. Finks shut it's doors last year and speculation was rife as to whether it would reopen - the picture reveals that it will not.

On the right side of the picture, I found exactly what I had been looking for in another Jerusalem instituion; if Fink's was staid and complex European elegance, Pinati is frenetic, simple Jerusalemite fare. It offers a simple menu, the company of strangers, cheap prices and a warm seat policy. As I entered, a table of 6 was in the process of leaving; within 30 seconds plates were cleared, a cloth had been passed over and I was seated perusing the menu. 20 seconds later I had ordered Hummus ful - (Hummus with a cooked mix of chickpeas and brown beans) - 5 seconds later I had 2 pittot and plate of pickles thrust under my nose and before a further 10 seconds had passed my plate of Hummus was in front of me.

As I tucked in, a further solitary diner was seated beside me - his fish in spicy tomato sauce with rice appeared in front of him in similar short order; an elegantly dressed lady sat on the other side of the table and ordered the same as I was having. Being seated with complete strangers, hearing the waiter bellow another unintelligible order to the kitchen and being shooed on once your plate is empty are all part of the charm of the place.

The food is good, wholesome and filling, the welcome warm although somewhat abrupt and I get the impression that the number of repeat customers is high - at NIS 16 for a filling meal I can see myself being added to their number.

It is easy to see these two eateries as emblematic of a change that is going on across the world - we no longer have the time to sit down and contemplate our food, to engage in conversation over fine wine and to pay for the pleasure of good service; instead we have adopted a culture where everything must be immediate and where our neighbour is a stranger - no time for the other.

This is to oversimplify matters however; Fink's was a fish out of water, a curiosity who's time was (sadly) passed, emblematic of a bygone era. Pinati is a microcosm of Israel - everyone as one family - poking their noses in you might say - wholesome, cheap and cheerful - but a mouthful to enjoy!

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lisoosh said...

Sad about Finks.
Pinati has been there a long long time.

Seth said...

is that true about kissinger?