September 14, 2006
Live in the hood: ‘last time the shoulder no good’
If you want to get the full flavor of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, there's no better season than this time of year. When mainstream Judaism talks about the High
Holidays, they usually mean one or two days of Rosh Hashanah, and then the Big Day a week later. In the Hood, they don't talk about days, they talk about the Month.
Think of the Month as 30 days of religious dominoes, from lighting the first candle of Rosh Hashanah to passing out after the last shot of vodka at Simchat Torah, and in between, a whirlwind of shul-going, spiritual atonement, sukkah-building, carousing and, of course, lots and lots of food. And in this part of town, you can't say food, especially kosher food, without saying Pico Glatt.
When one of the Perfectly Coiffed Frum Supermoms came over a few weeks ago to work with my new nanny on creating a super kosher kitchen, every third word out of her mouth was Pico Glatt.
Before you actually enter Pico Glatt, which is across from Factor's Famous Deli ("celebrating 58 years!") and next to Paul's Tailoring ("I've been here 26 years!"), you have the option of perusing a collage of overlapping fliers on the entrance doors. There's one for Shira Smiles that covers up one for Milano Collection Wigs, which is next to fliers for David Sudaley Music, Rabbi Noach Orlevek ("Secrets of Successful Living") for bubble.com (Juicy Bite flavour) and, among others, one for Bamboo mats to cover the sukkah ("lowest price guaranteed!").
When you do enter, the first thing that hits you is an explosive aroma of competing spices. If the word ethnic had a smell, this would be it. The second thing that will probably hit you when you enter Pico Glatt is a shopping cart. You see, the first turn around the first aisle is in a constant state of gridlock, so I would suggest the alternate route eastbound between the checkout counter and the cereal display.
The interior look of Pico Glatt can best be described as "Busy Closet." As you navigate the narrow aisles, you might come across a display of a new Cabernet Sauvignon, right next to a case of pre-powdered Latex gloves, just behind bottles of Downy fabric softener (Spanish only). If you wanted to put a positive spin on this look, you'd call it "Deliciously Random."
Should you experience any frustration from either the gridlock or the difficulty of locating items, it's quickly alleviated by the joy of watching Persian women order their meat from Hispanic meat cutters. ("If I keep it in the refrigerator for tomorrow, it's OK?" "Last time the shoulder no good").
The Persian influence is definitely happening at Pico Glatt. Nestled among the gefilte fish and chopped livers are prominent displays of Persian rice, Persian bread (Tehran Sangak) and several varieties of dried fruit and nuts. A brand of rice (Aftab Basmati) comes in bags of thick, rope-like material that they probably used in Mesopotamia, and that I might use as an art project with the kids.
If you're like me and you like your advertising raw and innocent, keep an eye out for the signs at Pico Glatt. There are two in particular that have stuck to my neurons: one for Milky ("enjoyed 75 million times a year in Israel") and one for an Israeli food product (Pikante Salads) that actually promoted "more weight".
The nice thing about randomness is that it's cool if nothing makes sense. For example, right below (and I mean right below) a big sign that says SUSHI is a beautiful display of fried chicken breasts, a meat-spinach-bean dish and Persian rice (day-glo orange). In fact, when I finally located the sushi, it was in-between small containers of sugar-coated almond slivers and saffron rice puddings. I bet you the Perfectly Coiffed Frum Supermoms don't see the charm in this kind of scavenger hunting.
There is a little sign that says "If you need help reaching or carrying an item, please ask an employee to help."
Notice that the sign says nothing about finding an item. Anyhow, good luck trying to figure out who the employees are, since most of the employees I saw looked just like the customers.
It's true that there's nothing like the conveniences of the modern supermarket: bright lights, wide aisles, clean layout, big selection, easy parking and, of course, perky people in uniforms who help you find everything you need. You won't find perky at Pico Glatt. But if you want to really feel your Judaism, if you want to taste the "bottom of the cholent" where the rice is sticky and everything is real, you could do worse than this old-world food market on the edge of the Hood, with the big Month fast approaching.
Think of the Month as 30 days of religious dominoes, from lighting the first candle of Rosh Hashanah to passing out after the last shot of vodka at Simchat Torah.
David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.