Monday, 21 November 2016

Mayo Label Collection: Israel

Today’s post elaborates on Israeli Mayonnaise, Russian roots, and Kasher dangers.

Is1. Lina. Israel, March 2015. 430 gr.; 10.5 shekels (€ 2.50).

The Jewish population of Israel can largely be divided into two groups: those of Sephardic origins, who came from Spain and Germany, and the Azkhenazi, from the Slavic lands in Eastern Europe. It is this latter group which seems to dominate the Israeli Mayonnaise scene. Witness the present and the next label.

Lina is – as the only easily readable phrase on the label proudly proclaims – made according to a ‘Russian homemade recipe’, by which surely is meant a Russian recipe for homemade Mayo. But its deeper origins are actually Lithuanian, as I was assured by my good friend Professor Simon Hopkins, who took this bottle along for me from Jerusalem when we met in Lisbon, and provided me with a basic translation of the Ivrit text (unfortunately too long to reproduce here).

Lina was a truly fine Mayo, which over time developed beautifully. For it is with Mayonnaise as with cheese: the substance ripens on prolonged contact with the air; which sometimes turns out for the better, and sometimes turns into a science project by Fu Manchu. In this case, the last spoonfuls were even more delicious than the first; so that I can confidently say that – if only I lived in Israel, Lithuania or Russia – Lina would be one of my preferred brands!

Is2. Provansal Mayonez. Israel, March 2015. 450 grams, no price

Yet one more gift from Simon and Yehudit Hopkins; and yet another product with a Lithuanian pedigree. Yet this time, the Russian influence impresses itself with even more insistence upon the Baltic basis, seeing that this sauce is presented as ‘Provansal’. No: this is not some Geographical Confusion in the Babylonian way! The Mayo has nothing to do with the region around Arles, Aix-en-Provence and the Bouches-du-Rhône; the name is merely a favourite qualification in Russian cuisine, as labels R4, R5 and R6 elsewhere in this collection will show. Why the Russians would prefer their Mayo from this distant, out-of-the-way district remains a mystery. Surely there is a little Napoleon involved, and Russian émigrés, and chefs seduced over from Paris and the Côte d’Azur. But how this came about precisely still needs to be discovered by our scholars.

Unfortunately we did not get to taste this brand, as the large glass jar could not be taken along while travelling. So I am unable to provide any information on its gastronomic virtues or vices.

Is3. Telma. Israel, March 2015. 250 grams, no price

And the last of the three gracious gifts brought to me by my dear friends Simon and Yehudit. Sad to say, they made this grand effort - schlepping jars of oily substances through innumerable security checks, hauling them to hotels in their already heavy backpacks, storing them in the mini bar of the hotel room and guarding them with their lives against the all too easily tempted Portuguese chambermaids – only to deliver a most lamentable culinary experience to the Mayonnaise connoisseur I pride myself to be…

For what is the truth? The jar of this brand is made of plastic. The lid is made of plastic. The label itself is plastic! So what do you figure this ‘Telma Genuine Mayonnaise’ tastes like? Yeah, right, you guessed it: it has a vague, saddening, but inescapable aftertaste of… plastic!

That said, as labels go, it is of course worth its weight in gold to the true collector. How often does one score a Mayo label which one cannot possibly read? And which, once translated by the same dear friend who brought you the bottle, reveals itself to be almost as impenetrable as the Kabala itself? For this is not just ANY Mayo you see here, reader: it is a certified Kasher Mayo! For as the label tells (some of) us: it was produced under the strictest supervision of the Chief Rabbinate of Haifa and of the Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, who together guarantee that the sauce is ‘parve’ (i.e. free of all milk and meat) and that it is ‘without suspicion of tevel and shevi’th’. Which, I have no doubt, comes as a great relief to all of you…

Or does it? Once, many years ago, when living in Amsterdam, I was invited for a Sunday dinner with friends, but had forgotten to buy a bottle of wine to bring to the party. This was at a time when shops in Amsterdam were still strictly forbidden to open on Sunday's, except, of course, this one little Jewish delicatessen up in the Utrechtsestraat, at a stone’s throw from my residence (as it was Jewish, the shop naturally closed on Saturdays). So off I went, and asked for wine; and Lo and Behold, they had some marvellous bottles, one of which I bought. I took it to the dinner party, and just as we were about to drink it, somebody took a look at the label, read it out, and stopped in mid-sentence. It turned out to be Kasher wine, and on the label a most respectable Rabbi declared solemnly that due to the correct treatment of the ingredients, there was absolutely no risk of…

קורא יקר של עברית: אין לי שום מושג מה זה משפט נראה, אז אנא סלח לי

A long silence followed at that dinner table. The fact that we had no idea WHAT risk exactly we were guaranteed not to run, triggered rather than relieved our anxiety, and the notion that, for all we could tell, the Hebrew line might spell something like: ‘True believers do not drink! Leave this poison to the Goyim!’, inspired us to partake only most cautiously of the first few sips, everybody looking at the others to see if perhaps they would develop a horrible diarrhoea, or levitate, or turn into a frog…

Of course nobody did, and it was excellent wine. But it just goes to show: it is not always a good thing to be so well-informed in a language that is Greek to you…