Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Grand Maqluba Ceremony (or My New Job is Kind of Weird)

Well, the vacation's over for me. Back to work. At my mother's urging (nagging) I've been looking for a job. It's a good idea in any case to save up some money because you just never know when you're going to suddenly need to book a plane ticket to Africa, or buy a jungle cat. I also remembered that I have a 20 book long wishlist on the Book Depository website. I think that's what I'll spend my first paycheck on. I will also very likely have to pay for much of my school tuition since I screwed up the government by switching majors. Luckily, school tuition here will not leave you in debt until retirement age (if not longer) and it is actually possible to work enough to be able to afford it without having to sell your house and cats and live in one of the empty lecture halls on campus.
I found an ad for waiters in a dairy restaurant so I replied and sent in my resume and within two hours got a call from the manager asking me if I could come in for an interview. I said, sure, why not and a few days later went in to meet him. After the interview he told me that he'd call either that week or next. A few days later he called me to inform me that I would be working at the meat restaurant that they also own (the dairy one hasn't opened yet) and which happens to be in the same location, since I already have experience working at a meat restaurant. I was like, ok, whatever. I will go where you tell me to go.
I was told to come in on Monday at 5pm, so I came in wearing a black shirt, jeans, and closed-toe shoes assuming that I was actually going to start working that day. I walked in and there were a whole bunch of people standing around looking confused. I was like, “um, hi, I'm the new waitress,” but it turned out that we were all the new waiters/waitresses and this was to be a group meeting/tour of the restaurant/learning session. We were taken around the whole restaurant, all 3 and a half floors of it, plus storage area outside, plus balcony where they grow herbs. The new manager told us to make sure to point out to the customers which bathroom is for the women and which one is for the men. He admitted to us that he had walked into the women's bathroom (yes, the one with the picture of a stick figure in a dress) the first time and that it was an easy mistake to make. I disagreed but I didn't want to call him an idiot 5 minutes after meeting him. That's just not nice. After the tour, we all sat around a table (me and 5 other Israelis, plus the old manager and the new manager). The old manager pulled out a bunch of 5 page booklets in English about the restaurant and menu and informed us that we would have to read and learn them. The other waiters looked at the booklets in horror as if they were dancing garden gnomes (which would frighten anyone). I was chuckling gleefully on the inside. Someone then decided that we should go around the table reading out loud. When I started reading everyone just stared at me, astonished, as if I had held up a stick and parted the sea. Then they said suspiciously, “your English is a bit too good.” So I had to admit that English is my mother tongue. Thereafter I became the human dictionary when confronted with words like chastised, charcoal, drizzled, hue, lentils, and okra (many people didn't know what this vegetable was at all), etc. It turns out that there's no good translation for chastise in Hebrew. The two closest words that show up in the dictionary are the words for torment and flog. Hue was an especially fun one. “What's a hoo?”
After this two and a half hour meeting, we were all finally allowed to go home. I was scheduled to work the next three days in a row.

The next day I showed up to work at 11:00 in the morning. A group of 17 people was scheduled to arrive a few hours later so the manager (the new one) showed me the opening procedure. This was made of a list of 30, I kid you not, 30 things that had to be done after opening. Things like refilling EVERYTHING, cleaning and dusting EVERYTHING, and probably anything else you can think of. We spent the next few hours just “opening” the restaurant, ironing tablecloths, polishing, making juice for the large group, etc. The manager was actually a really nice guy, and very helpful. I don't mind cleaning and organizing (as any who knows me will tell you) as long as it's in a pleasant atmosphere.
The group was made up of surprisingly mild-mannered and undemanding Israelis and the time passed fairly quickly. They had ordered one of the tasting menus which is made up of course after course of small dishes- spreads and salads, soups, more vegetables, 2 main dishes, teas and coffee and desserts. One of the main dishes, the maqluba, requires a ceremony every time it's presented. It's basically a rice and chicken dish served in a pot which is turned over, whacked a few times and then removed so that the food is upside down. Why eating chicken legs with the rice on top requires a ceremony I have no idea.
The waitress I was following around that day was the initiator of the ceremony. A table was carried in from outside and an empty pot was set down upside down. The pot of maqluba (or should I say cauldron because that was a pot you could do laundry in) was brought out by the chef with a gigantic serving platter covering the opening. The chef solemnly turned the whole shebang over and the rest of the ceremony was handed over to Charlie, the guy who seemed to be the most in charge of the group. The waitress instructed him to whack the bottom of the pot 4 times with a spoon, circle his hand over the pot 7 times in a clockwise direction, and then make a wish. He performed his duties quite admirably and then the cauldron was turned over and anything stuck to the bottom of it was scraped off into the serving dish.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concluded the maqluba ceremony. I whispered to the waitress afterwards, “we don't have to do that every time do we?” She was like, “yes, of course.” Great. As fun as that is for the tourists, I have a feeling that this kind of thing could get old VERY fast.

1 comment:

  1. Never heard of maqluba and certainly never saw this ceremony. Two thoughts:
    1. I obviously don't hang around with the right crowd
    2. Wait staff ought to be paid a lot of money for this sort of thing.