Last week I found a dead fly in a bag of loose pecan nuts.
A couple of months ago I threw out a tub of blanched almonds where a family of caterpillar chrysalises had set up home.
Before them came a mysterious colony of ants in a sealed pack of pearl barley.
I could go on to write of the fresh items which go rotten after a few days even when kept refrigerated, and the transparently-thin-white-shelled eggs which rarely arrive home from the supermarket without a crack.
This is Israel—the land where Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) is king. This is Karmiel in the heart of the Galilee where before my arrival in March last year I was convinced that I’d find the land so full and fat that the food would fairly fall off the vine and plop itself juicily in my lap.
Thirty seconds after we landed in Karmiel, I woke up and smelt the coffee—the best and cheapest of which comes from Turkey.
I keep moaning that Israelis can’t cook and most of what I see, hear, and taste bears me out. Everything is produced on a massive scale, with one eye on large Orthodox families—and the other on their rabbis.
Certainly no one argued with me at a recent meeting where we discussed observance of the Jewish dietary laws and I suggested that Israeli supermarkets emphasise rabbinical approval rather than quality and taste.
The same applies to local eateries where we’ve had more fun noshing falafel and pita and oversized pizzas at casual bars than eating full dinners with waitress service at ‘proper’ restaurants.
Typical was my birthday treat last month when we visited what is considered one of the best places in town.
I understand that Michal Lahav, the owner of The Art de Coco Restaurant, is a chocolatier by background and first started her restaurant in Rosh Pina 12 years ago before moving to Karmiel. Her premises are spacious and attractive and the ‘cocoa’ ambience is underscored by a fetching cream-and-brown decor.
But Lahav needs to concentrate on what she does best, as I found the hot food to be unmemorable, even poor, and her young, energetic staff pleasant and helpful but woefully out of their depth.
On the night of our visit there were menus available in Hebrew and English but their contents did not match. The English version had not been updated so bore lower prices for some dishes and a markedly different wine list. We began to feel uncomfortable well before the food was served.
The service was speedy—but one waitress had to show another how to open our bottle of wine.
A jug of water was provided—with tumblers still warm from the dishwasher.
I ordered zucchini (courgette) quiche. It was unavailable so I chose the spinach alternative but found it to be barely lukewarm and utterly tasteless. Local spinach is hard and gritty and needs to be treated with generous dollops of salt, black pepper, and nutmeg.
My husband’s multi-layer cheese pastries looked pretty but again tasted of very little as did the accompanying salads whose dressings bore no resemblance to what the English menu had promised.
So on to the celebrated chocolate desserts—which looked enchanting and were big enough for two to share. But we were overcharged for the privilege and had the embarrassment of requesting a revised bill.
But the final disaster was the Rombout coffee. The filters had been overfilled with water, causing that famously rich, dark taste to trickle out in shame—watery, insipid—a waste of their time and our money, and a damper on my birthday.
The Art de Coco Restaurant at Hatzot Karmiel is kosher but does not have a rabbinical supervision certificate.
Tel: (04) 908-2002