June 21, 2007
Melting Pots and Ice Cream
One of the things I love most about the community in which we live is the ethnic diversity. Because we have a large Jewish population, we have diaspora from Israel, Russia...Jews from all over Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
But unlike many Jewish communities, we also have something really unique; a huge Arabic and non-Jewish Middle Eastern population. Some are Catholics from Iraq (Chaldeans), Lebanese, Saudi, Palestinians of both Christian and Muslim faiths. In fact, it's not unusual in these parts to attend a bar or bat mitzvah and see a girl wearing a full Muslim headcovering in the synagogue. I find this remarkable.
It also amazes me that our local Jewish Community Center, where I teach classes, is so welcoming to the ENTIRE community. In any given class my students are a mix of Chaldeans, Jews, Gentiles, blacks, whites, Indians, Asians.
What got me thinking about this, ironically, is ice cream. I seldom eat ice cream. Don't get me wrong, I love the stuff. It just doesn't love me. I almost always suffer for having eaten it, so if I'm going to take the risk, the reward had best be worth it. No low-fat, Splenda sweetened stuff (so popular in West Bloomfield among the wanna-be-anorexic set) for me.
There is a little middle-eastern pastry shop in West Bloomfield named, appropriately, "Pistachios". It's really more of a "dessert" place than a pastry shop. They sell ice cream, heaveny filo pastries, like the rolled "fingers" filled with ground cashews and those honey soaked pistachio "nests". And wonderful Lavazza coffee, available "Turkish" style, and when you order a coffee or pastry "for here", even if it's to take outside to enjoy at one of 40 or so outdoor tables, it's served on real china. No paper cups or plastic spoons for the ice cream, either. Real glass dishes and real flatware. A small thing, really, but such a nice touch.
But the big draw for me here is the ice cream; it's so good it's actually worth the intestinal risk...intensely flavored, full-fat, European style ice cream, with exotic flavors like mango, pistachio, apricot (studded with bits of fresh and dried apricot) and lemon, to name a few. The pistachio ice cream here is essentially a "nut delivery system"; so loaded with chopped pistachios...so redolent with the smell and flavor of the freshest nut meats. It is simply indescribable and despite the other wonderful flavors they offer, I can't pass up the pistachio.
Fortunately, your $3 gets you a "split scoop" and you can have two flavors in your glass bowl, so I added my other favorite, "Kashta". Kashta is simply a sweet cream base flavored with rosewater. It is the single most exotic, sexy ice cream I have ever eaten. It's like cream colored 800 thread count sheets sprinkled with freshly picked rose petals in the palest of pink; delicate and decadent at the same time. I imagine feeding it to a lover in bed.
We decided to enjoy our treats at their outside cafe tables. All around us old Arab men were drinking coffee and smoking. Some were playing chess or backgammon on boards the shop has available for rent. Behind us, a group of attractive couples were chatting in Portugese. The women next to us were speaking Hebrew and the people to our other side were having an animated discussion in Russian.
We ran into a friend from the gym; she and her husband were enjoying coffee, ice cream and pastries. I was glad they weren't at the "other" nearby ice cream place, eating no-fat, non-dairy, maltitol laced "frozen dessert".
At 11:30, the parking lot was so packed we had to wait for a spot. The air was warm and still. I ate my ice cream slowly, relishing the tantalizing flavors and the exotic sound of lively conversation in a cacaphony of languages, accompanied by the clicking backgammon tiles and the tinkling of spoons against espresso cups and icecream dishes.
I could have had my ice-cream to go. They even sell it in one-pint containers to take home. But it wouldn't have been the same.