I realised my passion for writing, as I pursued blogging on my arrival to Israel five years ago, in the form of Untangling Noodles. As my fervour for writing grew, an epicurean zeal began to stew inside, yet to be touched by the communicative haven of blogging. In the last year, with laptop in tow, I made the conscious decision to embark on a new phase, to become a food writer. I took the reigns of life into my hands, and began the journey of uniting my two loves, food and writing, into a joint force. My reporting skills needed a little dusting off, so I hit the streets of Israel in search of some inspiration. I thought it only fitting that I play homage to my adoration for Indian cuisine, as I embarked on this direction, and unearth curry in the houmous-loving Israel. I identified a target, Ramla, with the help of my friend, and the town’s platform of Indian food.
A Curry Hit in Ramla
On arrival to Ramla’s food market, Ben enlightened me and hubby on the historical culinary precedence of the city. Ramla was a major pit stop on the ancient spice route, a path taken by spice traders on camels, across the region. Sat quietly next to the market is the widely-known Indian restaurant, Maharaja, 87 Herzl, the restaurant that was going to give me the culinary adventure of complex taste and texture.
I entered Maharaja with curiosity. I hid my ever-shaded grin, drawn by the thrill at the pit of the stomach, with the composure of a professional. From the outset, David, the restaurant owner, was reluctant to speak, having found my introduction more likening to an undercover tax inspector, rather than a serious journalist. Ben giggled behind the bright blue menus. I relaxed my lip muscles to a soft smile and turned on the charm with a squint in my eyes. Reservation soon dissipated to a gentle demeanour and warmth, as David proceeded to divulge into the history of the restaurant. Born in Bombai, David made Aliyah to Israel 30 years ago, along with his family, to the port city of Ashdod. During his early years in Israel, working in the air force, he noticed how Indian culture, which came with the wave of Indian immigration, was fading into the shadows of Bissli and Bamba. Indian food became increasingly hard to locate, and his yearning for Indian produce grew.
It only took David five years till he decided to open an Indian-specialty store and cafe, to import foods that much of his community missed, and to revive his culture in Israel. Today, Maharaja has become a renowned restaurant and store, beyond the Indian community, and is recognised to serve some of the best Indian dished in the country. The colourful laminated menu, in Hebrew and English, includes a wide range of appetizers and curries, largely vegetarian. In hesitation, we opted for a mix selection of starters and mains, as recommended by the waiter, David’s son.
Crunchy poppadums and soft na’an bread provided the perfect pedestals to the range of spicy, sweet and creamy dips. Flaky samosas and pani puri were earthy and delectable. Onion bajis were sweet and crunchy. Deep-fried savoury pastries heightened with complex spices.
The selection of mains was presented in a row of tiny silver bowls, strategically placed on a large platter around a multicoloured mound of pilaf rice. Each dish maintained an individual composition of spice, flavour and smell. Heat came in the form of spicy lentils; Aloo Gobi, a meaty cauliflower dish, dressed in a mild curry, was hearty and aromatic; and Aloo Pahal, a thick, vibrant green spinach pate, was rich and luscious. The indulgent portion of Golub Jamun, a solidified ball of butter, sugar and rosewater, was India’s answer to comfort food.
David had successfully transported the three of us to India in the tiny realms of his little café, all for 150 shekels. I was a happy chappy on the way home, with my little bags of garam masala and tandoori spice mixes tucked away in my bag. I now hoped of recreating these Indian wonders in my own kitchen.
A collage of my snaps around Ramla’s food market.
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