La Patisserie.

This story, which Anatoly (from whose post I translate it) calls “somehow very Israeli,” brightened this gray morning for me, and I hope it will amuse you, however your day may be going:

A couple of years ago an amazing bakery appeared in our city. It was opened by a Frenchman who had flown here to conquer the Israeli market, spoke strongly accented Hebrew, and knew how to make stupendous vatrushkas, otherwise nonexistent in Israel, as well as divine pastries, quiches, eclairs, tortes, and so on and so on. The shop was in tiny premises located between a vegetable seller and a barbershop, in a boring neighborhood, not in the center of town, not on a main street, not in a commercial center, but who knows where, if you didn’t know to look for it you’d never find it. It was called La Patisserie. We started going there, and we told our friends about it.

Well, half a year or so ago the Frenchman sold his shop. The new owners kept the name and pretty much the same selection, but the trade secrets had clearly not been passed on. They did not know how to make vatrushkas, and didn’t even understand what they were. The eclairs were now the standard Israeli version. We went there a couple of times, then stopped. What can you do, everything flows, everything changes, everything goes downhill, yada yada.

But our punctilious friends, who were even more hooked on those vatrushkas than we were, discovered the other day that the Frenchman had not disappeared, had not gone back to France, but had opened a new bakery in the next town over, just a ten-minute drive from us. And everything there was just like before! The vatrushkas! The eclairs! And the pastries, and the quiches, and the tortes, and there was even a little more room. And as before, the bakery was in a quiet neighborhood, between some local pizzeria and a vegetable seller. The only thing that had changed was the name, and it is because of the name change that I am telling you this story.

It had been, as I remember, La Patisserie.

The new place was named Shmulik.

The man had found his Israel and his Israeli self, in short.

Go to the link to see a photo of a “divine vatrushka” from Shmulik. (And I still mourn the hash browns that were for a brief, glorious period made a few blocks away from my Astoria apartment by the only man in New York City who knew how to make real hash browns. As cooks go, he went, and I was never able to learn whither.)


  1. I remember superb hash browns at the Pink Teacup, but I hadn’t been there in years when they closed in 2009. They reopened in Brooklyn, but the Jews do not eat at the Samaritans’ hash house.

  2. (The “as cooks go” bit is shamelessly stolen from the great Saki, “Reginald on Besetting Sins.”)

  3. Chunks, not shavings, first of all.

  4. “The standard Israeli version.”

    I frequently buy spanakopita from the deli at my local grocery store. If you ask, they will give you a small plastic container of tzatziki to go with it. About a year ago, the tzatziki tasted just awful, so I asked the woman behind the counter what was up. She said they’d changed brands, and showed me the new product. It was from an Israeli company; they’d used sour cream as a base instead of yogurt. The horror! The horror!

    So now I’m wondering — do Israelis make their eclairs with sour cream, too?

  5. According to Karin Goren, the everyday pastry guru, eclairs are made using whipping cream, a standard Israeli cooking staple, indeed like sour cream and unlike yogurt. We like our yogurt in moesli and not much else, thank you very much.

    Tsaziki, incidentally, is much less popular in general because the main context for it I know of is meat dishes like shawarma, making it unkosher and thus unlikely in Israeli cooking (normally replaced with tahini).

  6. Proper eclairs are filled with a yolk-based pastry cream. I would be quite put out if I ordered one and got something filled with sweetened whipped cream.

  7. Sheesh, of course they’re not proper eclairs. They’re for quick household preparation with reasonable substitutes, as the genre dictates. The point was the expected taste (sweet vs. sour).

  8. Greg Pandatshang says

    I don’t think I quite get the point of the story, but it seems vaguely sad. If a Frenchman moved to my neighborhood and started selling really good éclairs, it seems like it would be only fitting for him to call the shop La Pâtisserie, and I’d have to sigh at my neighbors’ parochialism if they preferred it to be called something aggressively American, like, I don’t know, maybe “Doug’s Place”. Especially if the propriétaire felt the need to sell and move someplace new in order to start over as Doug’s Place.

  9. America and Israel are quite different places, and I don’t think the point of the story has anything to do with parochial neighbors. It is, at least in Anatoly’s telling, about the Israelization of a Frenchman. Who knows why he sold the first place? Maybe he got a good offer; maybe he wanted to expand; maybe he didn’t like the neighborhood. I presume the name change was in the first instance because the people who bought the place also bought the rights to the name.

  10. In my local supermarket, the bakery section is called Boulangerie or even La boulangerie. Needless to say, it sells standard American fare. Somehow the meat section is still called Meats

  11. I have long thought that “All Flesh” would actually be a really cool name for a butcher shop, even one not located in a toxic-waste-fouled, Christo-fascist dystopia.

    Of course, this came to mind just now because my wife has been watching the new television version of The Handmaid’s Tale. I, on the other hand, have discovered that I just can’t watch it–surprisingly, because the geography is all wrong. In my mind, the narrative is so closely associated with the Harvard Square neighborhood that I just can’t see it taking place anywhere else.

  12. “A Subway Named Moebius”: read it and weep. (Alas, the original version with the London setting does not appear to be extant.)

  13. Greg Pandatshang says

    Well, it’s certainly the case that I had trouble catching the drift of the story as told, so my mind tried to fill in the gaps based on my familiar setting.

  14. Here’s how I read it. In Tel Aviv, which has opened its arms to Western culture (and particularly to American tastes), as well as to gentrification, a place called La Pâtisserie would be expensive and popular among the upper classes.
    In a suburb (Rishon LeZion?) a place named La Pâtisserie might come off not as particularly fancy, merely foreign. The French are not as exotic in Israel as they are in the US: there has been a recent mini-wave of immigration from France (mostly to the city of Netanya), and many North African immigrants of older generations speak French. I see it as similar to an unfamiliar ethnic (say Sri Lankan / Georgian/ Venezuelan) restaurant opening in a conservative American suburb, without having the local ethnic population to support it.
    As Shmulik, the bakery would not be an unusual bakery, merely a good one. The pastries would not be unfamiliar to the general pastry-buying public. You’d go there, probably go there again, and eventually learn from the proprietor or from a nieighbor that the proprietor is French, but you might not connect that fact with the style or the quality of the pastries.
    I am creating here a pure fiction, based on a vague sociological impression. I’d be curious to know what other Israelis think of this analysis.

  15. On yogurt: in Israel yogurt refers either to the strong, tangy Middle Eastern style, or to the sweet fruit-at-the-bottom style. The mild, thinner kind is known by its main brand name, leben, or its competitor, eshel. I would never refer to either of those as yogurt.

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