Sunday, August 9, 2009

Truth, Beauty, Sabich and Love

I may have got that quote from Moulin Rouge wrong. Let's see, was it truth or freedom?

Those of you who know me understand that if I'm going to romantic musicals for inspiration I must be especially giddy. What can i say, it's the thought of Sabich that sends me bonkers. It won't be anything out of the ordinary for me to hum on the way to my favorite Sabich place "The hills are alive with the smell of amba".

A good Sabich is something worth celebrating. Any Sabich eater has their place, the place they swear prepares the best pita-full-o-goodness. Mine is in Tel-Aviv. It's not the first Sabich Stand in the world, and it's not the original. But my oh my, the guy that makes it there is a master. It's not so much the list of ingredients that make the place so magical. Sabich rarely varies in that sense. It's the art of putting it together, the skill, the architecture, the attention to fine details.

Sabich is a pita stuffed with deep fried eggplant slices, boiled potato, a hard boiled egg, tehina, amba and a bit of salad. A mega sandwich, that goes down best accompanied with a cold beer. The true genius of the Sabich place on Tschernichovsky street in Tel Aviv lays in the way that the man behind the counter constructs the dish. With all the TLC one could hope to receive via pita, he places one layer after the other - taking out any folded piece of eggplant and laying it straight. A feat possible only by virtue of his meticulous work ethic and seemingly never ending quest to be stoned. And the result, oh, the result. In every bite you take, you get all of the flavors at once, mixing and mushing in your mouth with glee.
That's really the secret of the place. Enough care and precision so that you never have a boring mouthful of just potato or amba.

It might be a tad late to mention this, but I won't be supplying you with an actual recipe in this post. Instead, I'll tell a bit about where the Sabich came from. It's a simple dish, and by the time the story comes to an end, I'm pretty sure you'll be able to recreate it yourself.

This is the story of Sabich, as I understand it after reading arguments over the web and talking with friends and family:

In 1961 the first sabich stand opened. An Iraqi Jewish immigrant had an idea, and shoved it into a pita. He took the traditional Jewish-Iraqi sabbath breakfast: potatoes and eggs slowly boiled over night on low heat, onion, salad, fried eggplants and amba, and added to it tehina and humus. In true Israeli form, you got a whole meal in your pita. I'm usually not a fan of this tendency, throwing fries into your pita with the falafel, gosh. But sabich is gestalt: put those ingredients together in a pita, and cherish the moment you bite into it.

That man's name was Sabich. The dish got its name when people would come up to his stand and say "Give me one, Sabich". Didn't take much for the comma to drop.

A few years later another stand was opened. This time by a man renowned for his mastery of two things - his Sabich and his word games. This new player announced the that the dish's name comes from an abbreviation of the words Salad, Eggs More Eggplants - in Hebrew what comes out of it is Sabich. Thus, severing the connection between the name of the man Sabich and the dish Sabich.

Later on, another suggestion for the origin of the dish's name was born. It was claimed to be derived from the word "morning" in Arabic - sabah. Israelis of Jewish-Iraqi decent comment on the web that this is an exceptionally stupid idea.

Talking with one of my friends from Iraqi decent, I asked if he had Sabich at home. Indeed he did. His grandmother would prepare it, and the name Sabich penetrated their jargon. He couldn't tell me what it is called in Iraqi. From what I've read, it would seem it isn't called anything - it;s just the normal stuff you eat on the sabbath morning.

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