Something’s Fishy in IsraelOpinion
As an American who loves history, I’ve always been stoked to get a chance to visit a World War II museum, or a battlefield from the Civil War era (1861-present, for some), or a place where some famous historical figure slept, or ate lunch, or got a haircut. Although I can’t remember who it was, a great American once said, “Those who can’t remember their history had better concentrate on math, or something,” or maybe it was me who said that; I’m sure someone said it.
The thing is, American history only goes back to about the late 15th century, when Columbus supposedly discovered the Americas. Which is kind of hilarious, since he admitted there were already people living here. I guess I could pull a Columbus and discover Canada. Maybe next week.
Traveling around Israel on our tour bus, we would often pass ruins that had no signs, or any indication as to what they were. A few times I asked our guide, Yossi Paz, about such ruins, and he would say, “Oh, that’s what’s left of a 15th century Roman castle. That’s not old.”
But Israel is full of old stuff, and one of the first things we visited was the Ancient Galilee Boat, often referred to as the ‘Jesus Boat.’ A couple of fishermen discovered the boat, sunk in the mud at the edge of the Sea of Galilee, in 1986, and decided to chop it up and use it for firewood.
Not really. They immediately alerted the Committee of Ancient Boat Preservation, or whoever does that sort of thing. The Committee assembled a team to move the boat without ruining it, which wasn’t easy, since the wood was all spongy and fragile, being as how it had been swamped for 2,000 years. The boat was dated as having sunk sometime between 50 B.C. and 70 A.D., before lunch. Which is why it’s called the Jesus Boat, since Jesus may have ridden in it … or he may not have, they didn’t find a manifest.
The funny thing, to me at least, about the Galilee Boat, is that one of the first things the preservation people did, when assembling the preservation team, was to call Texas A&M. The school sent one of their archaeologists over to Israel to help with the project. Really? So if you’re going to try to dig a 2000 year old boat out of some mud, you might want to keep an Aggie handy.
One of the most memorable experiences of my trip to Israel was when we stopped for lunch at St. Peter’s Restaurant, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. I guess, since Peter was a fisherman, it stands to reason he would have a restaurant. Gotta do something with those fish.
The reason this lunch was memorable was because I ordered the fried fish. That was a mistake. My fish came complete with fins, scales, and head, garnished with shredded, dry cabbage, accompanied by three small boiled potatoes and a lemon slice. I’m not entirely sure Peter didn’t catch my fish, himself. I couldn’t tell whether the cook had fried the thing in grease, or laid it on a rock behind the kitchen for a few weeks, in anticipation of my visit. It was the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen on a restaurant table. I still have nightmares about it.
Still, the fish was marginally better than our lunch choices most days. Israeli fast food consists of two basic items: shawarma or falafel. The shawarma is a round loaf of bread, cut open on one side and hollowed out. First they dump in some cucumber slices, the amount determined, probably, by how many cucumbers they need to get rid of that day. There are usually a lot of cucumber slices. I hate cucumbers.
But on top of the cucumbers they throw in some chunks of chicken, probably boiled, with some strange spices. Or you can order some other meat, but I never figured out what it was. Lamb, maybe. On top of the chicken or lamb they put some shredded cabbage, and sometimes they’d squirt some dressing in there that looks like Ranch. It’s not Ranch. I have no idea what it was. I don’t recommend it.
The way the shawarma is made, you don’t want to start from the top and eat your way down. You need to start from the side, so you get a variety of the stuff inside in each bite. That doesn’t make it taste good, necessarily, but it keeps you from getting a mouthful of cabbage alone, or cucumbers alone, in one bite.
So that’s a shawarma. The falafel is pretty much exactly the same thing, as far as I could tell. I think they have two names for it just to offer the illusion of choice, but it all tastes the same. So, basically McDonald’s.
But as bad as the food it in Israel, the history is fantastic. Next week I’ll recount how I won the battle of Masada. As far as you know . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who may never look at a chicken the same way again. Write to him at [email protected]