Editor’s Note: It’s amazing sometimes what seemingly small things from our travels become huge, even life-altering. This story from Madeleine reminds me that the best experiences are the unexpected ones. For more of her stories, click here.
Before I tell you about the juice, it’s important for you to understand how much I don’t care about juice. I don’t buy it at the store to drink at home. I don’t order it at restaurants – $4 for five sips? What am I, the heir to a diamond mine? It’s also important for you to understand that I have indeed drunk juice before in the course of my life. This isn’t the story of a sad, sheltered person tasting juice for the first time and naively assuming it to be the best juice in the world. This actually isn’t a story at all, given that it lacks all the classic elements of Freytag’s Pyramid (so don’t hold your breath for a denouement), but if you are interested in hearing about The Best Juice, do read on.
When I was in Jerusalem for work in the autumn of 2017, I had the good fortune to have two local friends show me the city’s best-kept food secrets. Hummus, falafel, lamb, fresh knafa – so many delicious foods that I’m not going to describe because they are not the juice – we spent the day walking around the city and eating like royalty. At one point in the afternoon, Hamodi and Ibrahim (hello, if you’re reading this) said that since we were so close to their favorite juice place, we might as well go. As I was a guest in their city, I politely refrained from pointing out what a waste of time this would definitely be. Instead, I followed them through the Damascus gate, up the stone steps to the main road, and along the curving street mirroring the northern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Damascus Gate
We stopped at an unassuming spot – the awning covering the small shop was unmarked. A man stood behind an open counter, set back only a couple feet from the sidewalk, flanked by two plastic tubs of juice. He sold three things: one kind of juice, the other kind of juice, or a mix of both. I was told that the two juices were almond juice and tamarind juice, and that I needed to get the mix. I got the mix.
Before I continue, I would like to reference a line I found from Israel and the Palestinian Territories: The Rough Guide, by Daniel Jacobs, Shirley Eber, and Francesca Silvani, which came up when I did a Google search for “almond and tamarind juice Israel”. This book told me that while West Jerusalem has a wide variety of juice bars, “east of the Green Line, the prices are lower, but you’ll be confined largely to orange, grapefruit, and carrot, plus the traditional Palestinian drinks of almond milk and tamarind cordial”. Confined? Confined? The housing options are limited, I’m afraid you’ll be confined to this marble palace with fountains in the courtyard. CONFINED?! There aren’t a lot of food options, I’m afraid you’ll be confined to eating whatever this Michelin star chef comes up with. Confined.
I hope my indignation alone will serve to tell you how I feel about this juice – it doesn’t taste like anything I’ve ever tried, and I fear that any clumsy attempt I might make to describe the flavor or draw a comparison would be an affront to the splendor of the juice. Therefore, I will not try to describe it. I will simply say that when I took that first sip of juice, that may have been the only perfect moment of my life.
We had walked about 50 meters with our cups of juice when I excused myself, telling my friends I would be right back. A few minutes later, I returned with a second cup of juice.
At the end of the week, I was packed and ready to leave; my bags sat piled neatly in the corner of my hotel room, and I had already settled my bill. I checked the time and realized I had three hours to kill before calling a taxi to take me to the airport in Tel Aviv. A quick Google search told me that my hotel was only 1.3 miles from the juice. I put on my sneakers and started walking.
I drank my first cup of juice in a few quick gulps, having worked up quite a thirst on my walk over. I immediately bought a second cup, thanking the vendor and promising I would savor this one on my walk home. I managed to make the second cup last until Damascus Gate, where I began the rest of my slow, meandering return journey through the Old City juice-free. Back at the hotel, I kicked off my shoes and sat down on the bed, laughing about the fact that I had just walked 2.6 miles round-trip for juice. Juice, of all things! I checked the time again. I still had an hour before I had to leave for the airport. Could I? Should I? I put my sneakers back on and started off for Damascus Gate.
There are a couple things I would like to tack on the end here. First, I am very aware how silly I must sound to anyone familiar with the almond juice-tamarind juice mix. It’s not particularly rare, and people who are used to drinking it must think I’m insane. To that I say, oh well. Second, Ann (who I have previously written about in my Barcelona post) was with me when I tried this juice for the first time. She did not like it. She was not with me when I walked five miles back and forth for four more cups of juice, but had she still been in Jerusalem, I would have happily abandoned her to go on this juice trek. She knows this, and somehow we are still friends.
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