Cars once roared through this part of Zurich, but today time stands still. With its kosher store and synagogue, Weststrasse has the feel of an old Polish shtetl. Tip of the week: eat cholent and watch the world go by.
On Thursday, I visited Kosher City, a Jewish grocery store. It serves hot cholent to go. The big soup tureen sits right next to the cash register. Consisting mainly of beans, cholent is a traditional dish enjoyed by Jews from Eastern Europe. Judaism is split into two factions – those who love cholent and those who spend three hours sitting on the toilet after eating it.
An old rabbi is standing at the tureen, ladling the viscous soup into a small plastic dish. He tucks in straight away, and of course burns his tongue. He lets out a wail. I look helplessly around the store but there’s no first-aid kit in sight. I spot another rabbi, a young guy.
The young rabbi starts dancing and clapping along while the old rabbi continues to moan. I’ve never seen anything quite so bizarre.
The young rabbi is working behind the till. Jewish music blares from the loudspeaker. It sounds like Peter Alexander from the early 1980s. Very Jewish. He starts dancing and clapping along while the old rabbi continues to moan. I’ve never seen anything quite so bizarre.
I depart the scene and take a look around the store. The shelves are packed with colourful sweets. Right at the back I find a bottle of Knorr salad dressing. But ‘Knorr’ is the only word I can read because everything else is in Hebrew. They also sell tuna at Kosher City – the XXXL version, a 1.8-kilogram can. 1.8 kilograms of tuna? Seriously, who eats that? Maybe a family with 10 kids.
I’m amazed to see how, in just a few minutes, they have a fistful of notes. Suddenly they turn and stare at me. I duck back into the store.
I step out of the store for a moment. Opposite Kosher City there’s a synagogue. Men with long beards hurry to and fro between the synagogue and the kosher store. Weststrasse used to be Zurich’s unofficial motorway, but now it’s been tamed. It’s like a Tyrannosaurus Rex curled up on the sofa, purring peacefully. It’s rare for a car to drive through here. Cyclists weave their way down the street, cursing at pedestrians and rabbis.
They’re particularly annoyed by two beggars, one with a red beard, the other silver. They stop everyone and point to a piece of paper. It probably says they need money. I’m amazed to see how, in just a few minutes, they have a fistful of notes. Suddenly they turn and stare at me. I duck back into the store.
The old rabbi is still standing there. He’s on his second cup of cholent. And the young rabbi? He’s immersed in a Jewish book. I hang back a moment until the soup pot is free, then finally fill my plate. It smells delicious. I was brought up to pay first, then eat. But, just like the old rabbi, I can’t wait – and burn my tongue.