My Father’s Kitchen, Tel Aviv | Yossi Gutmann

from Gastronomica 8:2

My father is ninety-four. He lives alone in a four-room apartment that once held twelve people. For seven decades his shop, where he still works full-time repairing watches, has been across the street. The Carmel market, Tel Aviv’s oldest, is next door. There he can shop easily and cheaply—three tins of sardines for $2.25, three radishes for eight cents, and two bananas, which will last for a week, for twenty-five cents. When I come to visit, the repertoire expands to include pomegranates, guava, and persimmons.

Photograph by Yossi Gutmann © 2007

In my father’s kitchen nothing ever disappears. It just accretes. The watches he brought home decades ago wait to be repaired. The measuring tape his mother once needed still lies on the counter. On the window you find the residue of the tape meant to protect the family against the Italian bombing of Tel Aviv in 1942. Only the hanging radio works; the other three do not.

My father is frugal—won’t even invest in napkins. The plastic tablecloth covers a wooden table. Although it’s easy to clean, he’s invented a better way, what he calls a “patent”—old newspapers as a second tablecloth. He peels vegetables at the table, hammers his walnuts open on the newspaper, and daily collects the fallout from the radishes and green pepper he grated for his salad. The plastic tablecloth always remains pristine.

Photograph by Yossi Gutmann © 2007

When the apartment was filled with four families, the women took turns cooking on the paraffin burners, more or less still in their original place on the marble counter. On these they’d prepare kishkes and cholent. On holidays, the chicken that had been locked in the bathroom and fatted up for a week ended up in a pot on one of those burners. And the carp that had been swimming in the tub next to the chicken turned into gefilte fish here. My father does nothing fancy in his kitchen. He prepares the same thing every day: for breakfast, one small cucumber, a hard-boiled egg, five tablespoons of low-fat yogurt mixed with cottage cheese (each time he eats it, he tells me how much he likes that particular combination). For lunch he heats up a frozen chicken schnitzel in a dry pan and accompanies it with a few tablespoons of oatmeal cooked with fenugreek. Dinner always consists of a cup of his grated salad, half an avocado mixed with a quarter of a chopped onion, and a few more spoonfuls of his yogurt/cottage cheese “patent.” My father never eats more than this measured amount. He never drinks more than one glass of water before each meal, no matter how hot it is, and even though the doctor tells him it isn’t enough.

Photograph by Yossi Gutmann © 2007

Photographs by Yossi Gutmann © 2007