Palestinian poultry

A mission to sample Kentucky Fried Chicken leads our intrepid reporters to Bethlehem.

By BEN FISHER,
January 19, 2017 14:47
KFC in Bethlehem

KFC in Bethlehem. (photo credit: SARAH LEVI)

 
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Many people remember the KFC in Mevaseret Zion fondly. Looking for the same thrills and crunch, three hungry Jerusalemites set out on a fried-chicken mission a few Fridays ago that led to an unlikely locale – over the Green Line in Bethlehem.

The Palestinian Authority police department turns out in full force when Mahmoud Abbas is in town.

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The aging president was in the ancient city that day to attend Orthodox Christmas celebrations, so many security personnel were on duty that they seemed to outnumber tourists in the famed Manger Square.

We were patted down by PA policemen at a checkpoint just outside of the city center, in a way familiar to anyone who has ever entered a government building such as the Interior Ministry, but which seemed foreign for Area A – where the large red signs at the entrance to every Palestinian village or town warning of bodily harm or death would lead some to imagine that security is at one’s own risk.

In some ways, Bethlehem isn’t all that different from the Old City of Jerusalem, though it feels worlds away. Both feature the same ancient winding alleys, and vendors selling coffee and corn from their carts.

Both are home to some of the holiest churches in Christendom, and occupy the minds of the faithful around the world.

Even though it was a holiday weekend, Bethlehem was quiet, and down-on-their-luck taxi drivers accosted us the second they had us in their sights, offering rides to see Shepherds’ Field and Banksy graffiti.



Their persistence is commendable, as they literally follow you with promises of Banksy and Jesus for several hundred meters. Rooms at the gorgeous five-star Jacir Palace hotel, built for an Ottoman pasha and his family, can be had for less than $100 a night, and the once-hour-long lines to see the birthplace of Jesus in the Church of the Nativity have shrunk to more manageable sizes.

Larry David was definitely onto something when he made that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm about the Palestinian chicken. For those not in the know, in the episode, David becomes obsessed with a Palestinian- run restaurant called Al-Abbas that prepares especially delicious poultry. He dines there with his manager, Jeff, who suggests they “send over the chicken to Israel.”

David nods and deadpans, “For the peace process! They’d take down all the settlements in the morning.

Believe me!” Of course, nothing ever goes too well for David, and by the end of an episode, he winds up in a relationship with the owner and creates a rift among his Jewish friends.

For some reason, Israel proper does not offer its citizens much in the way of breaded fried fowl that is not in the form of schnitzel. There was a span of nearly 20 years when KFC restaurants could be found scattered about the country in major cities such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Rishon Lezion. However, in 2013 the franchise closed its doors on the last restaurant in Israel, leaving a people with a land, but people without a colonel/bucket to satisfy their cravings.

But it’s not only Israelis who love KFC; Gazans used to smuggle the sought-after chicken through the tunnels from Sinai to satisfy their cravings.

Today, seven branches of the restaurant are located in Area A in the West Bank along with dozens of other fried chicken eateries that are owned and operated by Palestinian families. AFC (Arab Fried Chicken), RFC (Royal Fried Chicken), BFC (Benyamin Fried Chicken)...

the list goes on and on.

After a nearly two-hour journey from the capital’s city center to Bethlehem’s Central Bus Station, no thanks to the No. 234 bus which kept passing us by as we tried to flag it down, we arrived at our destination to greet the colonel and to sit down and break bread (literally, since bread comes with every order, perhaps because we were dining in the place whose name means “city of bread”) and devour our very own, well-deserved bucket of juicy, greasy fried chicken.

The centrally located KFC is just down the hill from Manger Square, directly inside the central bus station.

The square itself featured a handful of people and a bunch of journalists with their TV cameras and tripods set facing the Christmas tree that stands in the square for about a month. Unlike American or Western renditions of holiday decorations, what was strewn around the square and in nearby storefronts somewhat resembled the humble decorations found in your typical succa, including some additions of tinsel, colorful crepe-paper chains, plastic stars and hanging lights, interspersed, of course, with jolly ol’ Saint Nick figures that varied in size and movement.

The real Santa Claus was nowhere to be seen, however; not even a guy in a red suit and beard made an appearance during our quick visit.

Through the main entrance, past the hijab and cellphone shops, brightly colored signs guided us.

But let’s face it, our noses would have done just fine in that capacity, as the aroma of freshly fried delights lured us in.

The eatery itself was familiar and exotic at the same time, where two worlds collide: The nostalgic smells of fried chicken and Colonel Sanders smiling warmly at us made us feel at home, while the all-Arabic menu indicated we were nowhere near Kansas... er, Kentucky.

The layout was simple and austere, with a long vertical corridor offering several dozen red tables and chairs.

For just NIS 75, three people can comfortably share a nine-piece bucket of fried chicken (spicy or “the colonel’s original secret recipe” of 11 herbs and spices); a paper box full of unsalted fries; a large plastic container of coleslaw that none of us touched; three pieces of bread that were essentially hamburger buns (instead of the traditional buttermilk biscuits, to our dismay), which our one brave diner described as a mix between a “sixth-grade lunchroom loaf and Passover rolls”; and a liter of Coke with about 20 plastic cups.

Since we wanted to get a fuller dining experience, we also opted for four pieces of their “crispy, spicy whole chicken wings” for NIS 19. We noticed that locals were offered a small container of red sauce that we could only imagine was extra spice; instead, as obvious Anglos, we were given a handful of Heinz ketchup packets.

Compared to Israeli spins on fast food, the service was relatively prompt, as the pieces of pullet were patiently waiting for us under the red glow of the heat lamps behind the handful of young hijab-wearing cashiers.

On a Friday afternoon shortly before the eve of Orthodox Christmas, the restaurant had a decent number of patrons, mostly local young men, sharing buckets of chicken. (Questions as to licensing and whether this branch was an official KFC franchise went unanswered.) Have your fowl with a view: The seating options offer up a pretty stunning vista of the surrounding mountains.

Please note: Israelis without tourist visas are unable to enter Area A.

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