Anna Quindlen has written, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” It should come as no surprise, then, that the way I read reflects the way I travel (or vice versa): always with the next meal or market or café in mind.
My night table is piled high with cookbooks, and I, post-shower, before bed, in my pajamas, page through, stopping to read the blurbs and chapter introductions, putting sticky notes on the recipes that I want to make. Sometimes I fall asleep midway through, to dreams of vendors hawking their goods or new salad combinations.
Having recently returned from Israel, one of the books gracing my nightstand is There’s Always Room Downtown: A Haifa Food Diary by Hilla Alpert, a Hebrew-language chronicle of the delicious gems that can be found in downtown Haifa, from LunchBox Press.
Founded in 2009 by Ofer Vardi, a journalist and the lifestyle editor of Israel HaYom newspaper, LunchBox Press creates books that showcase Jewish and Israeli culinary delicacies through mouthwatering photos and recipes and the stories of the people and traditions behind them.
It all started with a column that Vardi, whom I met through a mutual friend, was writing for Israeli news site Ynet called “Goulash LaGolesh” (a Hebrew pun that means “goulash for the [web] surfer”) or “Going Paprikash” in English. Following his beloved Grandma Nana’s death in 2006, Vardi was looking for a way to memorialize her kosher Hungarian recipes and stories. A book was a big first step, so he started with a column, becoming one of Israel’s first food bloggers in the process.
That column eventually turned into a book (actually, a recipe box with cards for each) of the same name and an English-language app (no longer available), and grew into a full bookshelf of nine tasty offerings, one more stunning than the next, and another four currently in the works.
“Our books are more than just recipe collections,” says Vardi, “They’re meant to be savored not only in the kitchen, but also in an armchair.”
In addition to Hungary, the LunchBox-guided journey takes us on tours within and outside of Israel. For Communal Dining: Stories and Recipes from the Kibbutz, Vardi and Assi Haim traveled up and down the country in search of kibbutz dining hall specialties—some of which, like cabbage soup or potato chip casserole, were more about function than flavor.
We experience Jewish Iraq and Babylonian Jewry through Ashtidek: The Iraqi Jewish Cookbook by sisters-in-law Shoshi Oren and Lorraine Ravid, a collection of the Ravid family’s Iraqi recipes, like Saturday morning sabich (a pita sandwich filled with fried eggplant, slow-cooked brown eggs and amba, a pickled mango condiment).
FoodTrip: Tasting Jerusalem is the delicious souvenir of Jerusalem’s first food truck, which, led by esteemed Israeli chef Assaf Granit, embarked upon a four-week socio-culinary artistic journey through 23 neighborhoods in the holy city. Each day, a different guest—local celebrities, athletes and personalities—visited the truck, and passersby were given the chance to try a new Jerusalemite delicacy.
LunchBox’s newest offering, The Best Patisseries in Paris, is the ultimate guide to Paris’ best pastry shops, written by popular Paris-based Israeli pastry chef and blogger Sharon Heinrich. Armed with this beautiful and friendly little book, no calorie will be wasted on subpar croissants or soggy baguettes.
Currently, LunchBox’s only English-language book is the adorable, pocket-sized Israel To Go: Look and Cook Book, Vol. 1, a compilation of reader-submitted photos and classic Israeli recipes, like Israeli salad and hummus. It will soon, however, be joined by The Gorgeous Gay Cookbook: TLV Edition and others, hopefully translations of the current books and some additional projects that are in progress.
But even if you don’t know Hebrew, you can savor the beautiful photos and the special layout of the books. One thing’s for sure, though: you’ll want to pack a lunchbox for this journey.