One would think that Israel being the Jewish state and all, and Jerusalem being the Holy City and all, that it would be a snap to find perfect challah here in the hood. But alas, it's just not so.
Upon making aliya many moons ago, the NF traversed across the many neighborhoods of Jerusalem seeking out the perfect challah --- crusty but chewy on the outside, with sweet overtones but not cake, not overly dense, no artificial preservatives etc.
A few weeks ago on a Friday morning, Mrs. NF suggested that with the 4 little NFs in school all morning, that we take a drive to the city of Tel Aviv for a bit of change in scenery. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, Mr. and Mrs. NF sat down for a cup of coffee (and a bit of pastry) in an upscale bakery/cafe in downtown Tel Aviv. As we sat there. some beautiful looking challot were being brought out to the front of the shop. Should we get one, asked Mrs. NF, "they certainly look good".
While deliberating whether to take out a second mortgage to finance a potential gourmet challah purchase, it dawned on me that challa in Israel can be broken down into 4 categories:
1. The homemade challah. Let's be honest, homemade challah often disappoints....it can be heavier than a rebetzin after 20 years of childbirth and strudel ....denser than an Amercian college football player, be overdone on the outside and raw on the insde and have that slightly alcoholic taste of over fermentation. Of course there are exceptions: Mrs. NF makes very good (if not a bit dense challah) and Mrs. Dr. D makes a golden spatula worthy streusel challah....but by and large homemade challah is not my thing ----
(A digression regarding home baked challah - Many homemade challot seem to come from a 40-women baking challah to save the world ceremony. Let's be clear: The NF doesn't believe in this 40 women baking challah/segula. To quote the Big Gong upon hearing that 40 women would be getting together to bake challah to help cure some poor cancer sufferer, "I realize I am no medical professional, but I always found that chemotherapy more effective in treating cancer". Anyway, Mrs. NF had once invited the big gong and family for Shabbat lunch. Unfortunately, a young lady in chu"l was diagnosed that Monday with terminal brain cancer. On Tuesday, 40 women including Mrs. Big Gong got together and baked challah --- Mrs. Big Gong put the challah she baked in the freezer. Sadly, by Wednesday the person in chu"l was no longer (see above regarding the efficacy of 40 women baking challah)....Mrs.Big Gong called us and asked us if she should bring the challah for shabbat lunch taking into account that the choleh it had been baked for had died. Being a rational, non-superstitious Jews, we encouraged Mrs. Big Gong to bring the challah over. However, I must admit that with trepidation, I cut into the challah. Happily, I can report that no malignancies were found)
2. Heimeshe Challah - Heimeshe challah at its best is beautifully braided, smells like heaven, chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. Slightly sweet but not too sweet, it's worth eating this challah even if the rebbe has licked it up and down before distributing pieces as shirayim. Typically challah is bought in bakeries where toothless women of a certain age named Manya, Blima and Gittle Genedel who are shaped like 3x3 linebackers, wearing little white jackets and speaking with heavy Polish/Hungarian accents are working behind the counter. Alas, heimeshe challah in Jerusalem can be misleading and challot can look and smell heavenly ---- but upon making hamotzi you find that the challot have no taste or worse have been baked using water drained from the men's mikveh just before yom kippur. However, there are a couple of good options in Israel: HaTzvi, Gerelitz, Vizhnitz (which while the NF can't stand others swear by), Brooklyn Bake Shop and Moishe's. Drink of choice for the crowd of people who buy this challah: A glass of tea with a sugar cube or some slivovitz to wash down the herring and onions they had for breakfast.
3. The challah of the Amcha (the common people) - Included in this group is the terrible water challah that can be purchased at every makolet in Israel, cheap supermarket challah that leaves you with a terrible preservative aftertaste and mass produced tasteless challah (Angel, Berman). (It should be noted that while the NF doesn't like this challah, the water challah is perfect for soaking up the sauce that accompanies חריימה --- Moroccan fish and other Eastern delicacies. Drink of choice for the crowd of people who buy this challah: Botz (Turkish Coffee).
4. Foofy challah - Many bakeries and coffee shops/patisseries in Israel offer challot along with other assorted baked goods and delicacies. One should be very careful before purchasing a challah from such a shop. Invariably, the challot look alright but then you realize that the menu includes, whole grain, brioche, organic, pumpkin, non-gluten and other abominations that have nothing to do with challah. As bread, these offerings might be quite good but let's be frank: It is not challah. and the regular challah is usually mediocre. I call this foofy challah because it is the challah bought by foofy people --- you know the type --- the kind of people who wear off-weave, multi-colored talitot in shul, the kind of people who insist on carlebach every friday night (but don't come to shul on time) and the kind of people who give their children unisex names. These people are probably ordering a soy latte while purchasing their
Getting back to our story, Mr and Mrs NF purchased a challah from this fine bake shop expecting it to be foofy. but alas we were pleasantly surprised that the challah could have passed for Heimishe.
Why is this relevant to the Nusach Freak blog? It isn't. So there.