Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Olive Oil

A bit of a realization last night: When I was kid vegetables pretty much always were accompanied with butter — peas, butter; (cooked) carrots, butter; broccoli, butter, uzw.. Nowadays, it seems, my favorite vegetable recipes involve tons of olive oil — φασολάκια, loubieh bi zayt, lima beans, uzw.. (The farmers market had fresh baby lima beans again ... they were so good.)

Part of the realization came because I finished up the big jar of Al Toor olive oil I bought a few months ago. There's a Palestinian grocery near my office that I always like to go to for olive oil; they generally have big tins of it from Greece, Spain, Jordan, Tunisia, and other places, and most of them have turned out to be pretty tasty. I don't know for sure why (I did have a bad experience with a Spanish olive oil once), but I tend to like the ones from the Levant best, so Mount of Olives has been my go-to place for olive oil for a while now.

The last time I was there, however, it seemed like they were cutting back on some of the variety of the oils, at least in terms of the big, 3+ liter containers I tend to buy. I ended up with a 3-liter glass bottle of Al Toor, a Jordanian olive oil that looked a bit green to my eye and that was packaged in a large glass jug instead of a tin.

I spent a bit of time poking though my other options — a few Spanish ones, a Greek brand in a can that looked like it'd been on the shelf for quite a while, smaller bottles that looked tasty, but very expensive compared to the price:volume of the big tins — so I eventually went with the Al Toor. When I got to the counter, the shopkeeper and another guy were conversing in Arabic. I put down my jug of oil and they started talking about it.

I don't speak Arabic, so the paranoid side of me started wondering if it was a bad oil or something. I smiled, they nodded and one of them picked up the jar and held it too the light. Some more words in Arabic were exchanged and they pronounced it a good oil.

We all then chatted in English a bit about my purchase. The shopkeeper inquired about my heritage that I would need so much olive oil; I explained that we ate olive oil pretty much every day and that such a bottle would only last two or three months in our house. (I seem to have not blogged this incident, so I can't check my estimate.) He said he and his family would go thorough such a bottle in about three weeks, largely because they would eat the oil with bread and za'atar almost nightly.

Given this, I shouldn't have been surprised when I went into the store today to find that the olive oil selection seemed even thinner than before. There were two small bottles of Al Toor, but I ended up with a 1.5 liter bottle of Nabulas brand olive oil. I don't know if it's from the West Bank or not (there's no indicator on the label, unless it's in the Arabic portion, which I haven't tried to puzzle out), but the shopkeeper insisted it was good oil, and he didn't steer me wrong last time.

[ASIDE: The preceding not withstanding, I am apparently not the only one consuming more olive oil these days. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Olive Oil Council, as well as the North American Olive Oil Association, the U.S. imported 12,071,925 gallons of edible olive oil in 1984, as of 2004, we were importing 71,324,150 gallons.]

Happy Ramadan

Since I was headed over to Mount of Olives, I figured I could stop at the Iranian place nearby for lunch or, failing that, maybe get a falafel from the Palestinian place next door or one from the Lebanese place up the street. But seeing the note on the door that the store would be closed each evening for the iftar, I remembered what that it was Ramadan and while I might not be a Muslim, it still seems like it would be awkward at best to go to a restaurant where many of the staff and regulars would be fasting. So, I picked up a sandwich from the deli instead.

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patrick said...

Good call on the deli, that seems like the right move. I wonder why they wouldn't close during the day?

T. Carter said...

I'd guess that not all of their customers are Muslim or observant (for all I know, the owners of the places aren't Muslim or observant) ... The places weren't busy, but they weren't empty either ...