With my obvious love for food, it may seem strange that I am not a huge fan of restaurants. It took time to come to this conclusion, and I suppose I was in denial — a love of dining out being such a big part of foodie culture these days — but an intimate knowledge of restaurants’ inner workings, a choosiness about ingredients, and a mild control complex have left me less than enamored with the idea of being served. That isn’t to say I’ve never enjoyed a meal out, just that it’s been the exception rather than the norm. In the States when Jeff and I did go out it was most often to our favorite Thai place, which had no table service and (until very recently) was hardly big enough to be called a cafe, let alone a restaurant. The only other truly memorable dining experiences I had in Boston were both very high end and were improved further by having friends in the kitchen who not only gave our table special attention but also allowed us to tour the kitchen, which always wins my favor. Those were at Spire at the Nine Zero Hotel on Tremont street (thank you Tracy) and Upstairs on the Square in Harvard Square, Cambridge (thank you Steve). For me, most of what lies between the small tables and warm, fragrant, casual atmosphere at gems like Rod Dee and the beautiful, elegant dining rooms at a few choice establishments such as Spire and Upstairs on the Square is simply not worth the money.
When Liz suggested that we have lunch in the Yemenite Quarter a couple of weeks ago I was not opposed to the idea (I knew that any eatery in that area was more likely to be a mom and pop place with a chalkboard menu and a few mismatched tables and chairs than something resembling the Cheesecake Factory) but I did not know what a treat awaited us. Going to Irit’s place (not its official name — it has none), a small space with 5 tables and a kitchenette, is the antithesis of the typical restaurant experience. The entire 25 square meters is run solely by Irit herself, a tiny woman of maybe 50 who is full of happy energy and who greeted Liz and the rest of us with warmth and joy as we arranged ourselves in the tiny corner closest to the kitchen. She and Liz exchanged a few words and lunch fare was decided upon. Simple but delicious salad, creamy chunks of fried eggplant, crispy lachoch (Yemenite bread) with egg, hummus with ful (fava beans) and freshly squeezed juice was had by all, and for a grand total of 100 shekels for the 5 of us (under $30). I will be visiting Irit again very soon.
Fried Egg Sandwiches, like Irit makes
I realize that this recipe is dependent upon your being able to get fresh lachoch (or knowing how to make it yourself). Irit has invited Liz and me back for a lachoch-making lesson, so if you are not lucky enough to live near a place where you can buy this soft and versatile Yemeni bread, stay tuned! Also it is interesting to note that Yemeni cuisine is traditionally made up of very few, simple ingredients because that is all that was available to cooks in that poor, desert country over the centuries. It’s amazing what can be done with so little, with the right techniques and know-how. All home cooks could learn a little something from the old ways of the Yemenite kitchen.
3 pieces of Lachoch
Heat a small amount of oil in a 12-inch non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Coat the entire surface with the oil (I use a paper towel). Whisk the eggs well with a pinch of salt. Place a piece of the bread in the pan hole-side-up and pour some of the egg mixture over the surface, tipping the pan to evenly distribute it in all the holes (don’t pour in too much egg — you just want to coat the bread).
Allow the egg to cook through the holes for a couple minutes and then fold the lachoch in half, and press down with a spatula. Cook until golden on one side, then flip and cook on the other side. You know it’s done when both sides are gold brown and the sandwich cannot be easily pried apart.