Let’s start with Gazoz, the new novel. In your words, what is Gazoz and how does it relate to Tel Aviv’s history?
The word “Gazoz” is borrowed from a Turkish term, and an Amazon search for “Gazoz” turns up a slew of imported Turkish sodas. I adore Gazoz, a refreshing seltzer-based drink with a fruity component. In its initial incarnation, it was a colorful sugary syrup that you mixed with seltzer to cool off on a hot day, and it was rather artificial. I imagine it in the same way that Americans imagine getting an egg cream or a root beer float at a soda fountain. In Israel, there were small kiosks advertising “We sell Gazoz here,” which was a way to upgrade your normal glass of seltzer.
Early Tel Aviv contains Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi influences. And I believe that Gazoz appealed to Eastern European immigrants who were accustomed to drinking sparkling water in their native countries. As Israel got more modern, it came to be associated with an older generation. Then it was dubbed “Gazoz shel paam”—”shel paam” literally means “from another period.”
Then there was this point where the old became new. It became fashionable.
As with everything in Israel, as the country has grown and matured, people have begun to return to old traditions. People started looking at food trends that were unique to and indigenous to Israel about 10 years ago, and gazoz was one of them. And then there was this one man in Tel Aviv, Benny Briga, a natural magician who opened a small shop in South Tel Aviv.
So, clearly, this is just an extension of the massive interest in food from Israel.
I’m thinking about food and food concepts, you know? Gazoz is a concept and a mood for me, not just a product. That is also true of Israeli cuisine, in my opinion. It’s about casual hosting and vegetable-forward eating, gathering ethnic customs, cleaning them up, and displaying them to the world, and sharing a variety of experiences. And Gazoz, in its own way, comes together in this unique way, thanks to its deep connection to the Levinsky Market and all of the products that come from there, as well as all of the cultures that emanate from there, and Benny’s personal background as a Libyan Israeli—Tripolitai, as Libyan immigrant Jews call themselves.
I believe it was successful because of the publications that before it, which helped to pique people’s curiosity in this cuisine. Obviously, there are Israeli influences, Palestinian influences, and inspirations from every other culture and literature that came before this one when I talk about Sababa’s influences. Part of it, I believe, was due to luck. Before I wrote my first book, I worked in the food industry for a solid 20 years, and during that time, I tried to support other authors, journalists, writers, and people, as well as to just be positive and contribute something positive to the scene, and I believe it paid off in terms of industry support.
Apart from that, I tried to approach Israeli food with a more personal and home cookbook centric approach. I prepare meals in the same manner as a typical home cook. They notice a half-empty jar of pomegranate molasses in their cupboard and wonder, “What the heck am I going to do with this before it expires?” or “How can I not waste this?” I just wanted to give folks an idea of what it’s like to be an American living in a foreign culinary culture by incorporating practical resourcefulness into the dishes.