At the end of the day, early on during our month-long adventure in Israel, we’re walking down the street toward Machaneh Yehudah (one of our favorite places to end the day), we arrive at this inconspicuous little bakery.
Typically laid back in an Israeli kind of way, there’s no worry about making everything appear hermetically sealed and fresh. Huge trays of cookies and pastries are out on the counters. There’s a soft hum coming from a flight of bees floating lazily around honey-glazed crescents stuffed with cheese. Challahs the length of my arm are stacked like cord wood at the front of the store, their aroma wafting out onto the street and doing a better job of advertising than any 5th Avenue marketing firm every could.
We’ve stumbled into Marzipan. And while we don’t know it yet, this small store is famous. And I mean it in a completely viral, word-of-mouth kind of way that predates texting and YouTube by 40 years. People who haven’t been back to Israel for 30 years still wax rhapsodic about this store. It turns out Marzipan ranks fourth on almost everyone’s short-list of places you MUST see when visiting: The Kotel, Masada, the Dead Sea and Marzipan.
As we browse, trying to differentiate the borekas from berry-filled-pastries, our kids spot what appear to be chocolate cupcakes. “What are those?” they ask the owner.
“Chocolate souffle. Try one,” he gleefully coaxes. “it’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten.”
He pops one into a microwave and heats it for just a few seconds before handing it to my son with a spoon. At the last minute my wife remembers we ate schwarma for lunch. “Wait!” she says. “We’re fleishig!”
The owner looks at her quizzically for a minute, like this is the silliest thing he’s heard. “They’re pareve,” he says, waving to my children to dig in.
The world stops for a moment. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. I feel like I’m having an out of body experience.
Pareve. Chocolate. Dessert.
For those who are unfamiliar with the vagaries of kosher rules, one of the most challenging (for me at least) is the need to wait a certain number of hours between eating meat and dairy. The waiting time between meals varies from one hour up to six. I’ll give you six guesses how long my darling wife (ever the dutiful rule follower) decided we ought to wait.
(for more of my opinion on this subject, check out this post)
This wait time necessitates a certain amount of culinary finageling for those such as myself with die-hard sweet tooths (sweet teeth?). You have to find something which is desert-y enough to satisfy our craving while also incorporating non-dairy (ie: pareve) ingredients. If you prefer your desserts to include chocolate, the level of difficulty rises several notches. You see, the words “Pareve Chocolate Desert” do not conjure images of gourmet delights for me. At it’s worst, the term is equivalent to “flavorless pastry dipped in melted brown crayon”. Even at it’s best, most pareve desserts leave me feeling I would have been happier if I just waited the 6 hours until I could have a real dessert.
Back to the moment (and dessert) at hand:
Pareve. Chocolate. Dessert.
The other 3 kids have joined my son in tasting. “Oh my G-d, Daddy. You have to try this!”
My kids never say G-d like that. They know it’s a pet peeve of mine. But they’re saying it now. Repeatedly.
I take a taste and immediately decide to do three things:
- Give the kids a pass on the OMG thing. These souffles are REALLY good.
- Accuse the owner of lying about them being pareve.
- Assuming he’s not lying (and I don’t think his business could last long in this area if he did) I’m going to buy every one of these things.
As our time in Israel continues, we visit Marzipan almost daily. I have a chance to talk with the owner in between customers.
Like all truly amazing companies, his success (both financial and culinary) isn’t an accident. He didn’t inherit one magical recipe from his grandmother and has been coasting ever since. He lives for what he does. And what he does – as we found in that first visit – is serve food so good that people forget themselves for a moment, get caught up in the experience. He serves food which provides a culinary counterpoint to the experiences of Israel that surround his store.
The Kotel. Masada. The Dead Sea. Marzipan.
I learned a few things that day at the edge of the Machane Yehudah market:
- Bakers who love what they do are a blessing on humanity. I now understand why the one food God commanded be ever-present in the Temple in Jersualem was baked bread.
- “Pareve dessert” does not need to be synonymous with “cold comfort while you wait 6 hours so you can have what you really want”
- At the end of a long day when you think you have seen all that is holy, and come face to face with the Divine, sometimes you find the greatest blessing in a spoonful of chocolate souffle