Category Archives: Israel

L’chaim: Cheers to Israeli cuisine

Standard

Over varieties of local bread and the ubiquitous hummus, ANURAG MALLICK finds the pulse of the Israeli platter

IMG_7250

As I raised my Taybeh Golden – ‘Taybeh’ is Arabic for delicious – the steward pointed out that it’s not technically Israeli craft beer but one made in Palestine. “L’chaim,” he said with a smile (pronounced ‘la haim’, Hebrew for ‘cheers/to life’). The political undertone was ironical. I was drinking a Palestinian interpretation of a German style lager in Jerusalem, a city that has jostled over shared legacies for over two millennia. Israel’s unique geographic location at the crossroads of culture as it straddles Africa, Asia and Europe has a lot to do with its hybrid cuisine.

Celebrity chef Moshe Darran was giving us an intimate experience of what he described as ‘Biblical Israeli cuisine’ at his award-winning restaurant The Eucalyptus. He clutched a bunch of assorted herbs reverentially and brought it to his nose to take a deep whiff. He was an Iraqi Jew who grew and harvested his own herbs and the dishes mirrored his rich cultural legacy. The Soup Trio (Jerusalem artichoke, red lentil, Iraqi tomato) was followed by fire-roasted eggplant with tahini (roasted sesame dip) and aged pomegranate syrup, then roasted cauliflower with tahini and lemon-tomato cream. Quick to follow was macaroon filled with chicken liver paté, red wine and wild berry sauce besides figs stuffed with chicken served with sweet and sour tamarind sauce.

IMG_8554

Chef Moshe challenged us to tell him the origin of the word ‘tamarind’. I cleared my throat and began, “When the humble imli was exported from India, it was usually deseeded and pressed into blocks for ease of transport. When it landed on Arabian shores, it looked just like dates. Local traders called it ‘dates from India’ or Tamr-i-Hind, hence the name.” Moshe’s jaw dropped and he stared incredulously as if I had snatched his punch line. Impressed, he asked me to grab an apron and share the spotlight to help him lay out his pièce de résistance.

In the middle of the restaurant a large platter covered by an overturned vessel lay in waiting to be uncovered like a hidden treasure. It contained maklubah, a slow-cooked dish like biryani made of chicken, rice, vegetables, saffron, almond yoghurt and tomato relish. “Wave your hand seven times over it, hold the vessel from the edges and lift it”. I willingly played the apprentice to Chef Moshe’s conjuror and to slow claps of the diners the dish was presented with great flourish.

IMG_8537

“The best part is the crunchy layer of rice that gets stuck at the base,” he confided! “Mothers would secretly give the ‘scratching’ to their favourite son. Iraqi Jews even have a special name for it ‘Hkaka.’ And so do other cultures! The Spanish call it socarrat, Colombians La pega (literally ‘glue’), Puerto Ricans pegao, Filipinos tutong, Koreans nurungji, Chinese guoba, Senegalese xoon and Dominicans con con. Is there a name for it in India?” Not wanting India to lag behind in the unofficial global competition for burnt rice, I dug deep into my culinary knowhow and replied, “Umm, in Kashmiri it’s ‘fuhur’.

Moist-eyed, the chef clasped my hand after he jotted it down, and introduced more local specialties like Ingeria – a beef and eggplant stew in sweet & sour tamarind sauce from his mother’s kitchen, Kube-niya – Syrian style beef tartar with mint, red onion, lemon zest and kube wrapping and Jerusalem Siniya – minced lamb and beef, slow roasted garden vegetables, tahini and pita bread to mop up all the goodness!

IMG_8014

In a region where Jesus had performed miracles with bread, the humble bread had been elevated to divinity by its people. Jerusalem’s streets heave with a wide assortment of baked goodies – challah (braided bread used at Shabath), Jerusalem bagels or Ka’ek Al-Quds (ring-shaped sesame bread) and pita bread topped with zaatar – an oregano-like spice of dried hyssop with thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt.

We stopped at Ikermawi near Damascus Gate, the purveyor of great hummus since 1952 and grabbed assorted falafels with onion, herbs and cheese. Walking through the Arab quarter, we got a sugar rush at Ja’far Sweets with their excellent baklava, knafeh (Arab sweet pastry of noodles and goat cheese), mutabak (folded pastry) and borma (pistachio-filled sweet). Spice stalls sold Bedouin tea, dried rose, apple cider and masalas for shakshuka, zataar, kebab, pesto, fish, meat, chicken and falafel.

IMG_8073

There was a feeling of déjà vu – the labneh, tahini and hummus were reminiscent of Oman, the shawarma, ubiquitous across India was typically Middle East, nougat was Turkish and baklava Greek. But it was heartening to learn that beyond the shared Mediterranean legacy of hummus and falafel, there was a thing called Israeli cuisine!

Whether it was the beachside Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv, the cliff-top Dan Panorama Hotel in Haifa, a city hotel like Prima Royale in Jerusalem or lakeside at Rimonim Hotel in Tiberias, the buffet spreads were extensive – various breads, sour creams, cheese, olives, a colourful assortment of vegetables, some pickled like fish.

IMG_8965

Much of the local cuisine is a sum total of Jewish migrations from various parts of the world – be it Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe or Sephardic Jews from the Mediterranean or Iberian Peninsula – Spain, Portugal, Middle East.

Shakshuka, literally ‘mixture’, the quintessential Israeli staple of eggs poached in a red spicy onion-tomato sauce is of African origin and was introduced by Libyan and Tunisian Jews when they migrated to Israel in the 1950s. Zahara, fried cauliflower with tahini, curry and tomato salsa, is believed to be of Syrian parentage.

FullSizeRender

Another classic Levantine or East Mediterranean dish is kibbeh or kubbeh, literally ‘ball’, a deep-fried shell of bulgur (cracked wheat) filled with minced onions and ground lean beef, lamb or goat meat spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and Middle Eastern spices. It is the national dish of several countries in the Middle East and the Syrian city of Aleppo is famous for over 17 varieties.

One variant, the oblong Kibbeh Raas or Nablusi kubbeh from the Palestinian city of Nablus, is shaped like a miniature rugby ball. British soldiers stationed in the Middle East during the Second World War nicknamed them ‘Syrian torpedoes!’

IMG_7248

In Migdal, the Biblical town of Mary Magdalene, Magdalena Restaurant is hailed as the best Arab restaurant in Israel for good reason. The kubbeh here was a veg variant stuffed with chickpeas, onions and garlic, served with black lentil salad, drizzled black tahini sauce and homemade pickles.

The house bread with dips was divine, as was the Shishbrak, dumplings stuffed with lamb and pine nuts, cooked in goat yoghurt, besides desserts like Halawet Elgeben, semolina dough filled with sweet Arabic cheese and Nuts Kadaif in cream and Amarone cherries. The highlight was frikeh – a crunchy salad of fire-roasted tender green wheat.

IMG_6825

Enough hummus has been spilt in the raging debate about its Arabic origins and its Jewish love and appropriation. But nowhere is Jewish-Arab coexistence more apparent than Haifa where Douzan restaurant is a living example of the secular ‘Haifa atmosphere.’ Located in a renovated old bungalow in German Colony, an avenue of bars and restaurants, its friendly open-air vibe is infectious. Owner Fadi grabbed a chair as he explained, “The art of fine-tuning the stringed instrument oud is called douzan; this is where people are fine-tuned so that they remain in harmony.”

Douzan’s furniture has been sourced from Lebanon, Syria, Germany and Italy. Every item is special and unique. Food too is a hybrid of Palestinian, Arab and Lebanese dishes with a bit of French and Italian. We had great tabouleh (parsley salad with bulgur, tomatoes and cucumber), fattoush (fresh garden salad with sumac, toasted bread and goat cheese) and malabi (milk pudding).

IMG_7520

Man has always wandered far for food and water. And the quest for good hummus is no different. We chased the ‘hummus trail’ from Café Ziad in Jerusalem with its no-frills version to Osul (literally ‘Genuine’) at Yesud HaMa’ala, where owner Shahar served it with a mind-boggling array of side dishes and pickled vegetables.

At Abu Hassan in Jaffa, it came in a variation called Msabaha – mushy chickpeas with hummus and tahini, garnished with paprika, fresh parsley and chopped onion. In some places it came with ful (fava beans), at others alongside baba ghanoush – a Levantine dish of cooked eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil and seasonings.

IMG_9713

Humus Magen David, an old synagogue with painted glass interiors, lies half-hidden in the crammed bylanes of Shuk HaCarmel – Tel Aviv’s only Arabian style market. Jews, Arabs, tourists, all queue up to devour the creamy hummus on seats that once chaired congregation members.

Bar Ochel has local street food, starters and chimichurri (sauce) serving shakshuka, salads and ‘the best beef kebabs in Tel Aviv.’ Rani of Beer Bazaar is quite a character and gives a lowdown on the Israeli craft beer scene. The Carmel market offers a great food tour, giving a ‘bite card’ with coupons and a map.

IMG_9917

Puaa in Jaffa has furniture sourced from the Jaffa Flea Market and every item at the restaurant is for sale. It dishes out traditional but stylishly plated fare like mansaf – ground beef with rice served with yoghurt and majadra – white and wild rice, green and orange lentils and vegetables, topped with yoghurt. The grilled eggplant with crème fresh, red tahini, goat labneh and fried cauliflower is to die for, as is the kadaif – mascarpone, cream and raspberries.

At the legendary Jaffa sweet shop Abouelafia, people queue up for bourekas (stuffed pastries), which they dish out proudly sporting ‘Abouelafia’s Co-existence Association’ t-shirts ‘Jews & Arabs refuse to be Enemies’. Definitely not over a plate of hummus…

IMG_9078

FACT FILE

Getting there
Israel’s national carrier El-Al flies direct from Mumbai to Tel Aviv thrice a week and takes less than 8 hrs. A new connection from Delhi is in the pipeline. Turkish Airlines has daily flights to Tel Aviv via Istanbul – a journey of 11 hr 45 min while Ethiopian Air flies via Addis Ababa (12 hrs). Haifa is just over 90km north of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem 72 km.

Where to Stay

Carlton Hotel, Tel Aviv
Ph +972 3 5201818
www.carlton.co.il

Dan Panorama Hotel, Haifa
Ph +972 4 8352222
www.danhotels.com

Prima-Royale Hotel, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 5607111
http://prima-royale-jerusalem.hotel-rn.com

Rimonim Galei Kinneret Hotel, Tiberias
Ph +972 4 6728555
www.rimonimhotels.com

The Scots Hotel, Tiberias
Ph +972 4 6710710
www.scotshotels.co.il

IMG_8556 

Where to Eat

The Eucalyptus Restaurant
14 Khativat Yerushalayim, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 6244331
www.the-eucalyptus.com

Magdalena Restaurant
90, Magala Centre, Migdal Junction
Ph +972 4 6730064
www.magdalena.co.il

Puaa Restaurant
Rabbi Yohanan St 8, Tel Aviv-Yafo
Ph +972 3 6823821

Douzan Restaurant
Sderot Ben Gurion 35, Haifa
Ph +972 539443301

IMG_8971

Cafeteria Ziad
65 Aqabet Al-Khanqa, Jerusalem
Ph +972 6283640

Abu Hasan/Ali Karavan
1 Ha’Dolfin Street, Jaffa
Ph +972 36820387

Osul Restaurant, Yesud HaMa’ala
Ph +972 525588881

Adir Winery & Dairy, Kerem Bin Zimra
Ph +972 4 6991039
www.adir-visit.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 24 September 2017 in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald. 

 

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Advertisements

So long and thanks for all the Hummus: Notes from Israel

Standard

In trademark lightning swiftness, Israel has made the evolutionary leap from the Land of Creation to the Land of Recreation, discovers ANURAG MALLICK

IMG_8400

As Narendra Modi touched down at Ben Gurion airport at Tel Aviv amidst unprecedented excitement, I couldn’t help thinking about my own trip to Israel just a few weeks before his. Modi is the first Indian PM to ever visit Israel and its geopolitical importance is undeniable. But I am just an ordinary traveler – definitely not the first from India to visit Israel and surely not the last – but memories of my warm welcome with open arms everywhere are still fresh.

India enjoys unbelievable popularity and equity across Israel. Unlike other countries, the reason is not Bollywood or cricket, but pure unbridled, unabashed love for India and all things Indian – be it yoga, food, culture, history or hashish. Much of this stems from the three years compulsory combat training in Israel that is usually followed by a ‘mandatory’ (sic!) yearlong holiday in India!

IMG_8615

“You from India?”, they enquired effusively wherever I went. Waitresses, restaurant owners, bartenders, DJs, drivers, in hipster bars and sandy beaches, all welcoming me with the warmth of a long-lost relative bringing tidings from their homeland. They showed the same excitement with which we spot Indian names in the end credits of a Hollywood flick!

“I went many years ago… Beautiful country, beautiful people! It’s been too long!,” sighed Inbara the naturalist at Agmon Hula Birdwatching center as we leisurely explored the park in golf carts. At a candle shop in the town of Safed (Tzfat), former center of Cabalistic learning and one of the four holy cities in Israel, Gabriela reminisced about her trip as a teenager and was looking forward to taking her teenage daughter to India on her maiden visit.

IMG_7199

Tzefat is also the highest city in Israel and offers a close look into Jewish culture and traditions. “So, your PM is coming! You the advance party, eh?”, joked an art shop owner in the Artist Quarter. Some rattled off names of places they visited in India. “One time in Dehli, you know…” Everyone had a favourite India story he or she was dying to narrate…

And the love is being well reciprocated. Since 2015, the number of Indian tourists visiting Israel has seen a jump of 49%. In 2016, it touched 45,000. The numbers were only rising each year… Our amazing guide Ofer Moghadam who specializes in Holy Land tours and often caters to German and American tourists mentioned that he too had seen a rise in Indian arrivals in recent times. What started off as a trickle of pilgrim tours to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, was now a flood that went beyond the holy trail to more offbeat locations.

IMG_8200

The recent bonhomie seems like some strange fairytale love of species as disproportionate as the Ant and the Elephant. India is massive, like a lumbering pachyderm; Israel is tiny in comparison, but swift like a bee. India has the highest mountain ranges in the world in the Himalayas while Israel has the lowest point on earth’s surface – the Dead Sea. Yet, there were uncanny similarities. Ancient lands of spirituality and enlightenment, both India and Israel were birthed in violence, mid-wifed by the British. Both countries run on organized chaos, a concept Ofer explained as balagan, Hebrew for ‘bedlam’ or ‘absolute pandemonium’!

Tel Aviv is the main international port of entry and many assume the vibrant city to be the capital of Israel (which actually happens to be Jerusalem!) But Tel Aviv was conceived as a secular anti-thesis of overtly religious Jerusalem and Tel Avivians are often blamed for being on a different planet. From the time we landed at the Ben Gurion Airport, named after Israel’s first Prime Minister, any place seemed just a short drive away.

IMG_9387

You could have lunch at Israel’s northern tip at the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra that has a cable car descent into sea grottos carved out by seawater into limestone cliffs. And be in time for dinner at Eilat in the south on the Red Sea. One could drive from north to south and be out of the country in a matter of hours. At one moment we are at the border with Jordan, the other instant with Lebanon and Syria.

Haifa, Israel’s third largest city and a port town in the north, shares an interesting Indian connection. During World War I, lancers of the Jodhpur and Mysore cavalry regiment overran Turkish Ottoman and German machine-gun positions in a dramatic horseback charge to win the Battle of Haifa for the British. Many Indian soldiers who valorously took part in WWI in Egypt and Mesopotamia lie buried at the Haifa cemetery, their sacrifice not forgotten.

IMG_6813

Today the same hillside of Mount Carmel is covered with landscaped gardens of the Baha’i world centre, a UNESCO world heritage site. Haifa is proud of its Jewish-Arab coexistence, best exemplified in Douzan restaurant in the old German Colony, renovated into an avenue of bars and restaurants. Owner Fadi explained that douzan was the term for the tuning of the oud, a stringed instrument. The alfresco restaurant with a convivial air was where he fine-tuned people so that they remained in harmony.

All the furniture at Douzan was sourced from Italy, Germany, Lebanon and Syria and no two tables were alike. Each piece, like an individual, was special and unique. The food is hybrid – a shared Mediterranean legacy of Palestinian, Arab and Lebanese dishes with a smattering of French and Italian cuisine. Its friendly vibe recreated what is called the ‘Haifa atmosphere.’

IMG_8102

Our hunt for the best hummus took us from Café Ziad in Jerusalem to Abu Hassan in Jaffa and Osul Restaurant (literally ‘Genuine’) at Yesud HaMa’ala to Magdalena, voted as the Best Arab restaurant in Israel, which serves fresh Tilapia from the Sea of Galilee. Puaa, whose furniture is sourced from the Jaffa flea market and every item is for sale, has been wowing gourmands for 16 years in a country where trends don’t last 16 months.

In Jerusalem, Chef Moshe Basson of Eucalyptus restaurant, who fondly remembers his encounter with Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, dishes out meticulously researched Jewish Biblical cuisine. The chef harvests his own herbs like sage, rosemary, mint, using them in dishes like fish falafel, figs stuffed with chicken, eggplant and cream, pate macaroon and maklubah – like a potato and chicken biryani!

IMG_7904

For me, Israel was a childhood dream come true – reading a book while afloat in the Dead Sea, visiting Jerusalem, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea Scrolls, sailing on the Sea of Galilee, eating a ‘Jaffa’ orange! And yet, there was so much more Israel offers… from the Negev desert to the beaches of Eilat, old Crusader towns of Akko (Acre) and Sfad, erstwhile Roman outpost of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, Segway rides down Tel Aviv’s Sea Shore Promenade to food tours through Carmel shuk – the only authentic Arabian style market.

There’s craft beer on offer at Israel’s first microbrewery The Dancing Camel or Beer Bazaar, architecture tours in the Bauhaus district or White City, a Tel Aviv Port Tour, a street art tour in Florentin and night tours through the hip quarter of Rothschild to hipster clubs like Kuli Alma, Sputnik and everything in between. In trademark lightning swiftness, Israel has made the evolutionary leap from the Land of Creation to the Land of Recreation. So long and thanks for all the hummus!

IMG_9052

FACT FILE 

Getting there
Israel’s national carrier El-Al flies direct from Mumbai to Tel Aviv thrice a week and takes less than 8 hrs. Turkish Airlines has daily flights to Tel Aviv via Istanbul – a journey of 11 hr 45 min while Ethiopian Air flies via Addis Ababa (12 hrs). Haifa is just over 90km north of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem 72 km SE.

Shalom-NaMoste: Modi’s pitstops
Ben Gurion International Airport
Danziger Dan Flower Farm
Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
King David Hotel
Synagogue Route at Israel Museum
Indian War Memorial, Haifa
Water Desalination Unit, Olga Beach

IMG_9516

Where to Stay

Carlton Hotel, Tel Aviv
Ph +972 3 5201818 www.carlton.co.il

Dan Panorama Hotel, Haifa
Ph +972 4 8352222 www.danhotels.com

Prima-Royale Hotel, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 5607111
http://prima-royale-jerusalem.hotel-rn.com

Rimonim Galei Kinneret Hotel, Tiberias
Ph +972 4 6728555 www.rimonimhotels.com

The Scots Hotel, Tiberias
Ph +972 4 6710710 www.scotshotels.co.il

Where to Eat

Douzan Restaurant, Haifa
Ph +972 539443301

The Eucalyptus Restaurant, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 6244331 www.the-eucalyptus.com

Magdalena Restaurant, Magdala
Ph +972 4 6730064 magdalenarest@gmail.com

Puaa Restaurant, Tel Aviv
Ph +972 3 6823821

IMG_9430

What to Do

Holy Land/Tel Aviv/Dead Sea tours
Ofer Moghadam Tours
Ph +972 587833799 www.ofermog.com

SEGO Segway Tours, Tel Aviv
Ph +972 528551932 www.sego.co.il

Tel Aviv Night Tour & Graffiti Tours
Dror Shoresh Ph +972 507814575
GetRealTLV@gmail.com

Cable Car Ride, Rosh Hanikra
Ph +972 732710100 www.rosh-hanikra.com

Ancient Galilee Boat & Museum
Nofalon Tourist Centre, Ginosar
Ph +972 4 9119585 www.thegalileeboat.com

Galilee Sailing, Tiberias
Ph +972 509397000

IMG_9553

Agmon Hula birdwatching centre
Ph +972 4 6817137 www.agamon-hula.co.il

The Night Spectacular Sound & Light show
The Citadel, Tower of David, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 6265333 www.tod.org.il

Wine tasting at Adir Winery & Dairy
Ph +972 4 6991039 www.adir-visit.com

Ilana Goor Museum Tour, Old Jaffa
Ph +972 3 6837676 www.ilanagoormuseum.org 

For more info, visit www.goisrael.in, www.tel-aviv.gov.il

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 14 July 2017 in Indulge, the Friday magazine supplement of The New Indian Express. Here’s the link: http://www.indulgexpress.com/life-style/travel/2017/jul/15/notes-from-israel-so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-hummus-2694.html