New Grocery Store, New Butcher
Our nearest grocery store is shabby, the cashiers are nerky and frequently absent and the management simply doesn't care. Slimy lettuce leaves on the floor are a constant danger. I really try not to patronise it because it’s such a trial.
Wandering beyond my new neighbourhood, I discovered a branch of this store but one quite differently managed. I quickly decided it was a real find, stocked with items I thought were gone from here forever—Quaker Squares, Knorr Kneidlach, even Schweppes Tonic Water without Popsicle flavouring—wow. I drifted to the back to find a meat counter resembling a newly constructed stage set, completely unattended. Shortly a nice, round, man in a spotless apron came in from a side door and asked if he could help me. I admired his bristling, white moustaches before remarking on the bargain prices I was seeing in the case. Meat of any kind is expensive in Israel.
It’s been a long time since I had a kindly, capable butcher. My former butcher, a native of Brooklyn, exchanged his shift with that of a colleague so as to attend a lecture and got dead in a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem, many years ago. So when this man, whom I felt was one of our ‘cousins’, greeted me with warmth, I was happy to have him show me his domain. The chickens and beef were basically the same as those sold absolutely anywhere in this country, but the showcases were clean and the meat looked fresh and appealing. I chose some karayim, which are called Maryland in Australia (I don’t know why) and legs-and-thighs or pulkas elsewhere.
Cut them up for you? he asked. Yes, please. Remove the schmaltz? Yes. What was that? Startled, I looked up at the Arab butcher who was surgically removing the fat from my chickens and humming By mir bis du Schoen under his breath. Um, where do you come from? Teibeh, a village about half an hour’s drive from here. Uh huh.
Hurrying to a doctor’s appointment I did not get the rest of the story but oh boy, when I have time, will I return to my Yiddish-speaking Arab butcher and find out. Maybe he once was a shabbas goy, as was General Colin Powell in his youth.
The chicken was very tasty.
cross posted Geoffff's Joint