LIFE IN THE MUDDLE EAST- IF THIS "MED" DIET IS SO GOOD FOR YOU, WHY AM I NOW AN XXL?Category: Israel Issue No. 171
Photo courtesy of Baba Jim, Marlaz Merkaz, Modiin.
Every so often, glossy British magazines or the swanky Sunday newspapers espouse the Mediterranean diet and its health-giving properties.
Topping this up are TV ads for healthy margarines set in the beautiful Italian region of Tuscany, where families sit in their gardens around tables festooned with a mountain of food containing oodles of olive oil.
As my wife and I were planning on making aliyah, and as Israel is at the end of the Med, we thought this dietary delight was simply a bonus.
So when eventually we came to the land of milk and honey (presumably that’s one per cent milk and only top-grade honey), we couldn’t wait to get stuck into all that delicious food which was not only going to make us feel healthier, but prolong our ages beyond the statutory 120, which everyone said we should live to.
The streets of Tel Aviv, we discovered, seemed to be full of shwarma cafes. And they were packed.
“I wonder what health-giving properties they have?” I asked my wife as we managed to grab a table.
I was going to ask just that to the guy who was preparing our meal, but as my Hebrew was probably as good as his English, I didn’t bother.
Instead I watched as he plastered the pitas with all manner of goodies: humus, spices, and then chips, which surprised me as in England they tend to be frowned upon in some circles.
“Mmm,” I exclaimed as the last mouthful disappeared, “I feel healthier already.”
My wife, looking a tad pink, smiled and just said that she was “pogged” which is UK slang for “full.”
The rest of our day in TA was spent walking at a slower pace than before we ate. But I put that down to all that Mediterranean goodness spreading like tentacles in our bodies.
Not bad, this sun-kissed diet, I thought. And everyone seems to be doing well on it: snake-hipped handsome Israeli men were everywhere, and those jaw-dropping Sabra ladies looked like they’d just stepped off the catwalk in Milan but weren’t aware of it.
We were also introduced to what was described as the best felafel shop this side of paradise.
Like the shwarma place, it was heaving with people piling everything imaginable into their pitas.
We’ve been back a few times, I can tell you. The owner even recognizes us now and shakes our hands, like long-lost buddies, whenever we make his acquaintance.
A few days later and those hunger pangs were telling us it was time to top up our Med diet once again, so this time we thought we’d go out for afternoon tea.
The choice of cakes on offer at the café we chose dazzled our eyes. But if that’s what they devour in this sun-kissed part of the world to keep themselves looking svelt, then it’s good enough for us, I thought.
I immediately got stuck into a ‘gezunte’ portion of health-restoring cheesecake (I assumed it was cottage cheese, but didn’t like to ask), while my wife had one of those sticky buns cleverly filled with moist chocolate that oozed out of the sides when bitten into.
These were accompanied by ‘gadol’ glasses of iced coffee, presumably the ice acting as an anaesthetic on the caffeine, thus reducing the calorific content. Clever, these Israelis.
Fridays, Erev Shabbat, can’t come soon enough, especially with the Med diet in mind.
That’s the day when, like many others, we go out to buy our fresh challahs.
That, of course, is simply an excuse to top up the diet with even more life-enhancing cheesecake, orange cake, mini-pizzas and a bagful of sticky buns to keep us going over the weekend.
But I’ve discovered a problem. I need to tell the experts that this Med diet is incorrectly named.
As a result of all this healthy food, I’ve had to buy new clothes because the ‘Med’ in Med Diet has suddenly gone to ‘Extra Extra Large’.
But then who in their right minds would want to go on an ‘Extra Extra Large Diet’? That’s not only an oxymoron but a bit of a mouthful, too.
Just like the food, come to think of it.