I falaFELL in love with this place!
In lieu of my recent interview with Israeli native, chef and local Iowa City restaurant owner, Naftaly Stremer, I had to pick up some of the most popular menu items from Oasis to try for myself.
This actually was my first experience having Middle Eastern cuisine in the United States since returning from Israel, and it did not disappoint!
As the days passed by on my Birthright trip, I noticed that people throughout the country follow a very similar pattern in their food and meal choices. Specifically there were two dishes continuously being offered that stood out to me as the most popular.
The first being falafel, a chickpea based fritter that is usually formed into balls and mixed with garlic, onion and spices. So naturally this was the first thing I was craving from Oasis’ menu!
In Israel I noticed that the falafel balls were commonly ordered in a pita and topped with various fillings to make it a more substantial meal. So for dinner in Iowa City I decided to order a falafel pita and add and a Mediterranean salad.
Since my only other experience with the dish was in its area of origin, I applaud Oasis for its tasty effort! The falafel was cooked perfectly and smelled just how I remembered.
Oasis made a spectacular version of the traditional salad as well – which combines diced tomato, cucumber and onion tossed in olive oil. I love to add it for a fresh contrast against the fried chickpeas.
The second dish that I have been craving since my days in Israel is chicken shawarma. While it is popular for its garlicky seasoning and ability to go in a pita sandwich, the dish is most renowned for its unique cooking style – placed in a cone-shape and onto a vertical rotisserie where pieces are shaved off.
From Oasis I ordered a chicken shawarma kebab, which I then took the pieces off and had them in my pita as well!
I know it looks delicious, but I was even more pleased with how this dish turned out because the flavors and seasoning in the chicken were so powerful and really made it stand out as traditional shawarma.
Between falafel, shawarma and my 3 weeks of culinary touring in Israel, I really started to notice the cultural differences between their habits and my habits in America.
At every outdoor market, mall, gas station, etc. there were multiple stands selling these dishes. As comparison, I would honestly consider these two items the country’s “fast food” options because even though a traditional dish, they are very easily accessible and sold for very cheap (on average 15 shekels / aka 4 USD) & I would much rather have these daily than McDonald’s!!
When I met with Naftaly last week, he said something that very much stuck out to me that I want to reflect on as I end my journey with Oasis. He shared stories about his background growing up in Israeli, his family’s cooking, but ultimately how these dishes can vary between countries.
When he got to America he cooked what he liked, he made the falafels spicy, but evidently his customers didn’t have the taste buds to handle it.
So he quickly learned that he wasn’t cooking for himself, but for his community, and ultimately adapted some of the recipes to please the patrons of Iowa City! I am proud of the relationships that Oasis has established in Iowa City over the past 14 years, and I will definitely be returning when I have another craving for some Middle Eastern cuisine!