In May 2001 my mom took a life-changing trip to Israel with her friend. Most people probably love to tell stories about their travels and where they went but for many reasons it is my mom’s trip to Israel that stands out to me because of how it affected me and my family.
My mom’s trip to Israel was the first time that anyone in my immediate family traveled outside of North America. It was the first time anyone in my family had traveled to the Middle East. Aside from one trip to the US (we went to Disneyland) my family vacations were not filled with trips to other countries. Instead we would drive around Alberta and Saskatchewan to visit family or go camping. No one in my family traveled far until my mom went to Israel.
My mom’s friend Joan got two buddy passes for Air Canada from another friend of hers. These passes gave Joan two round-trip tickets to anywhere Air Canada flew, and the only cost that would be incurred would be the taxes. The downside to the buddy pass was that the seats were standby, which meant waiting around the airport for seats to become available on a flight. When I asked my mom how much the airfare cost for her trip to Israel it came to a grand total of $165/person round-trip. That’s less than it costs to fly one-way from Edmonton to Calgary, a city I could drive to in 2 hours.
Why go to Israel? Joan had in-laws who lived there, and her husband didn’t have a particular desire to go to Israel (some people just aren’t into travel). When Joan proposed the idea of my mom coming with her to Israel there wasn’t any hesitation from my mom. So on April 28, 2001 my mom and Joan flew to from Edmonton to Toronto, and then to Israel. They spent about two weeks in the country before coming home.
My mom came back from her trip with a tan, souvenirs (including a CD for me), pictures, stories, and recipes. Joan and my mom spent a few days touring around in Jerusalem. They floated in the waters of the Dead Sea, visited the oasis of Ein Gedi, and saw the Red Sea. They went to Tel Aviv, and they spent a week with Joan’s in-laws on their kibbutz (a type of Israeli collective community) near the Eliat. My mom told us stories about what it was like on the kibbutz. She showed us photos of Jerusalem and the Dead CS. I loved the stories. I loved the pictures. I loved listening to the CD she brought back for me, though I couldn’t understand what was being sung. Out of everything though it was the food and the recipes my mom brought back that I liked the best.
Not all of the the food and recipes my mother came back with are specific to Israel. Many recipes and dishes are from other countries and regions in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Still I had never tried hummus before my mom tried it in Israel and made it for my family when she returned home. Before my mom went to Israel I had never had an egg and avocado sandwich, something my mom told me they had several times on their trip for lunch. I never had pita with tzatziki, or with baba ghanouj. One of my favorite dishes my mom made when she came back was a Turkish salad that had tomatoes, parsley, and green bell peppers. I never liked bell peppers until that salad.
Probably my favorite thing my mom brought back was za’atar a blend of spices that’s found in many Middle Eastern countries, including Israel. Za’atar has many variations depending on where you go, but it mostly commonly contains a variety of dried herbs (like oregano and thyme), and usually sumac, salt, and sesame seeds. You can use za’atar as a rub for grilling meat (it’s great on chicken), or you can have it with pita bread (really good with olive oil as well). Za’atar on toast was what my mom typically had for breakfast on her trip. When the za’atar my mom brought back from Israel ran out I searched all around my city to try to find the spice blend.
Today anyone can go online and look up a recipe for Turkish salad. Most grocery stores will have hummus in the deli section. You can likely order za’atar online, or at least find out how to make it yourself, but things were different before May 2001, at least for my family. Our meals before my mom’s trip considered of meat-potatoes-vegetable. My mother came back from Israel and returned with a new world of food and cuisine that I had never tried, and I loved it.
Having za’atar on pita bread won’t remind me of Israel. It will remind me that someone else’s travels can have an affect on my life, and that my travels could have an affect on someone else’s life as well. My mother’s trip to Israel gave me a taste of the world, and it made me realize travel wasn’t just a dream that would be left unfulfilled, but was a reality that can be reached.
I try to collect a recipe from the places I’ve been, and I think my mom’s trip to Israel is where this practice started. Last year I went to New Orleans, and came back with a recipe for a chicken étouffée. One day for supper I made it one day for family, and everyone enjoyed it. My mom is a fan of spicy food and she was surprised how the dish was flavorful, but not spicy like she thought it would be. This why I travel, to make people realize that another place or another cuisine or dish might be different, but different can be good.
The Internet gives us easy access to information about the world, and even in my own city I can get Taiwanese milk tea without having been to Taiwan, and I have roti without having been to India (or Sri Lanka or many of the other countries were roti is served). I can just as easily taste the world from the comfort of my own home, but I know it’s not the same. You don’t have to stay home and wait. You can go out and see and hear and smell and touch and taste the world, and your actions may also inspire other people to discover the world for themselves.
Alouise Dittrick is a writer from Edmonton, Canada. She has an obsession for travel, theatre, music, and road trips and looks forward to wherever her next adventure may take her. You can follow along with her travels on her blog Traveler Ahoy.