The Perfect Marriage of Meat and Bread | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

The Perfect Marriage of Meat and Bread

Arais (Courtesy HaKubiyya restaurant, HaTikva market)

Arais: the stars of Israel’s street food scene

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I always smile when American tourists get to Tel Aviv and start looking for chicken soup or knishes. Hello! This is Israel! Chicken soup is extinct. And we don't do knishes. Actually, we never did. In 2019, Israeli food is far from Eastern Europe (or the US.) Very far. We are Middle Eastern, becoming more and more Arab.

And you know what? It's great. Isn't this what terroir is all about? Our emerging cuisine is local, bold, spicy, and fresh (in more than one way.) Tzimmes, knishes, and gefilte are things of the past. The new, up to date Israeli cuisine is all about street food, grill, and fresh produce.

Take for example the current undisputable star of the Israeli street food scene: a dish called arais. You can find it in markets, in butcher shops, and even in gourmet restaurants. It seems everybody is ordering arais to go. It is our new McDonald’s and the comparison is right: arais is the Arab hamburger – a spiced meat patty, stuffed in pita bread, and grilled (with the pita) on a pan or on a charcoal grill.

Arais (Courtesy HaKubiyya restaurant, HaTikva market)

In Arabic, “Aarousa” means a bride. Arais is the plural. The brides are both sides of the pita, unified around the meat, and seared with barbeque love. It is Middle Eastern in a major way: spicier, hotter, and crunchier than a hamburger and hey, if you don't use minced lamb, people will laugh at you.

It is fast food, eaten by hand. No cutlery, please. Yes, you may make it at home, or at the park for a picnic (and we actually do), but usually, this is something you buy, with no frills, no salads, no side dish, and even no napkins. Wipe your hands on the back of your pants.

But who can fight zeitgeist and general demand? Arais are getting so big, so popular, that they have already invaded high-end restaurants and even vegan joints.

As Tel Aviv is one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, there are already vegan versions of the new wonder: mushroom-filled arais, chestnut-filled arais, and even – the horror! – tofu arais. In chi-chi restaurants I have already come across seafood arais, molecular arais, and even deconstructed arais. Dreadful, but if you can't stand the heat – stay away from the Middle Eastern grill.

Arais

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