If there’s such a thing as a Middle Eastern “ploughman’s lunch,” I think I’ve found a great spot to sample it.
In Britain, the term applies to a simple meal, often served in a pub, consisting of crusty bread, butter, cheese, a pint of beer and perhaps the addition of a pickle, onion, chutney, hard-boiled egg, roast beef or even a type of meat best left unmentioned in this kosher publication. You can walk into most pubs, ask for the ploughman’s (or ploughboy’s) lunch, and they’ll serve you whatever combination is their specialty.
We’re all familiar with our own region’s traditional fare of felafel, humous, pita and Israeli salad. If you ever attended any kind of Israel fair anywhere back in chutz la’aretz, you’ll know that’s the food presented as being typical of this country. In fact, when I spent a year working in kibbutz fields, that was often a mainstay of our dining hall lunch.
I was walking down the west side of Herzl Street in Rehovot one steamy mid-afternoon not long ago in the direction of home, famished after several hours of errands and shopping, facing more of the same before schlepping that last killer kilometer to my castle. To say I had an appetite would be an understatement, but my budget and anticipated further exercise would not permit indulging in a heavy restaurant meal. I figured I could survive on a refreshing salad. Not exactly a ploughman’s lunch, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.
I had noticed the restaurant Humous Badrah Le’derech a few times, but aside from perusing the community bulletin board just inside its front door, had never eaten there. However, this time the prominently displayed certificate from the Rehovot Rabbinate certifying the parve kashrut of the establishment caused me and my growling gut to gravitate indoors towards some scintillating scents.
In search of a menu, l hefted my backpack and parcels along a narrow passageway containing seating at perhaps half a dozen tables, up a couple of stairs to the back, where I discovered a few bar stools lined up on one side of a high counter. On the other side was the food prep area and cash register, beyond which could be viewed a small open kitchen and a traditional stone pita and lafa oven.
Having traversed the entire restaurant, I had not yet found a menu and soon found out why.
Upon request, I was handed a small card, previously invisible, upon which was printed a list of perhaps 20 items that include4d mains, appetizers, beverages and beers. Well, at least making a decision wasn’t going to take a long time!
Bandana-headed Barak Zabary was the man behind the counter who, together with his partner Adam Zabari (both Yemenite), inspires the heimishe
atmosphere that permeates the restaurant.
Between his friendly greeting and the informality of the place, I immediately felt taken back about 30-odd years to my university pub days. As I perused the ”menu”, trying to decide on something inexpensive yet satisfying, Barak described how everything they serve is made from scratch, including the house specialty, the humous. I’d been wanting to bring home some humous that isn’t full of chemical additives, and finally I’d found some. Now I was really getting ravenous!
The fresh-made pita was not available in whole wheat, but the lafa was. Ultimately, I decided to have just the Israeli salad, and Barak motioned me to an empty bar stool. First he had me sample a hot-out-of-the-fryer felafel ball, perfectly flavored with cilantro.
Then I watched as he added freshly chopped cucumber, tomato and onion to a large metal bowl, mixed them around with some olive oil and lemon juice, transferred it all to a small white ceramic bowl and placed it in front of me – along with a fork protruding from the top of a de-labeled tin can. Can you spell rustic?
The restaurant was busy, and while chatting with Barak I witnessed him, and Adam, whipping up various dishes and manning the cash register. By the time I was seated, things had slowed down momentarily, yet Barak continued to prepare various items. Imagine my surprise when he placed in front of me a bowl of warm humous, a just-baked lafa and tiny bowls of pickles and olives! Somewhat puzzled, I reminded him that I had ordered only the salad.
“On the house”, he replied with a smile.
Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it’s certified by Rav Kook himself, I ignored my misgivings about exercising after a heavy meal and proceeded to indulge.
Wow! The bread was soft and moist, the humous warm and creamy and flavored with the addition of some tehina, oil and whole chickpeas. The pickles weren’t only your standard pickled cucumbers either; included was a small jalapeno pepper. They were made in-house and, of course they were all blow-your-head-off spicy. I was grateful for the bread and water! Adam told me that they receive the dried chickpeas in bulk and soak them for six to 10 hours before they are transformed into that heavenly humous. I thereupon resolved to return and bring some home for a Shabbat treat.
Along with a couple of their lafas, the humous and our own homemade salads and pickles, my entire family enjoyed the Israeli ploughman’s lunch this past Shabbat.
The restaurant’s prices are extremely reasonable, as one might expect for a youthfuloriented establishment located so close to two large academic campuses. In addition to the indoor seating, one can also dine al fresco at the picnic tables in the shaded garden out back.Humous Badrah Le’derech
Kosher, 173 Herzl, Rehovot
Tel: (08) 619-9556 Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays from 9 a.m.to 4 p.m.
Closed on Shabbat.