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Lexicon Herbis - אוֹצָר מִילִים עשבי תבול

May 4, 2016

For the first year we lived here I was so busy eating and cooking with new ingredients I found at the shuk, I never paid much attention to their actual names - the names of the all the green things that can be found in huge mounds at every market in Israel - herbs, vegetables, teas, plants.

 

I was content to be led by my eyes and by the earthy aroma of the plants. What a delight to be in a forest of produce.

 

But once my Hebrew began to improve I wanted to make my best effort to use the language in the place I was most comfortable - around food. So I learned to read restaurant menus in Hebrew before I could read a bus sign and I managed to translate my way through Hebrew cookbooks.

 

In the shuk however, things were different. I learned to ask for simple things like תפוחי אדמה (potatoes) and  עגבניות (tomatoes) but when it came to buying something from the green hucksters I retreated to pointing. No matter what I had learned in ulpan, the vocabulary of the vendors is quite different from those of recipe books and dictionaries.

 

Sometimes whole groups of things are simply called ירקות (vegetables) or תבילים (herbs/spices). Sometime however if you are speaking to a farmer you get the actual name of the plant. Sometimes if you are speaking to the Druze woman in שוק הכרמל (Shuk HaCarmel) who sells לאפה (laffa) filled with לבנה (labane) and זעתר (za'atar), she offers food made from greens that there is no English or Hebrew word for (that I know of). 

 

 

Once when I was trying to source an herb from some dried tea. I took the tea to class and asked the teacher what it was called. She said she didn't use it. End of explanation.  

 

So all this got quite a bit more complicated when I decided to grow my own herbs. Check out my זיתים (baby olives) תאנים (figs) נענע ואורגנו (mint and oregano) and rosemary רוזמרינו

 

 

The very knowledgeable and helpful merchants at the משתלה (nursery) near the bottom of the shuk know all the latin names of the plants. They know the Russian names too, since they are from Moscow. They know the Hebrew common name but they do not know the "gastronomical" name and they sure don't know how to make tea out of anything but a samovar. 

 

In desperation I hired a private tutor to teach me cooking terms and food terms and food names. That was wonderful but I ended up with a vocabulary that didn't match any of the other vocabularies I had started to amass. 

 

So here I am in a fuddle of names and terms. Avi and I have talked about producing a cookbook but I cannot do this until I get my head around all these different ways to talk about the same things. And for anyone who wants to try our recipes, in Israel or abroad, how will they know where to find the ingredients or what can be used as a substitute. 

 

[An aside here for pet peeve. I cannot abide recipes that say "Can be found in a speciality shop". Not useful. AND chicken cannot be substituted for any other meat]

 

This a very long intro to the announcement that I am starting a new project that will be available through the blog. I am going to start charting the greens (and purples and reds and yellows) of this land. And I will try source the names in Hebrew, English and whatever other language I can manage. This will take a long time and will be imperfect but it is a labor of love.

 

 

Clearly this goes beyond herbs but herbs are the the beginning. It is a seismic shift to live in a new country and try to adjust/accommodate - especially at my age. I believe in accommodation, not in integration. Integration is boring. Let's see if I can do something useful for myself and for all the אולים (Olim) who are wondering what happened to brisket.

 

And I promise that chicken will be suggested only when the recipe call for it.

 

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