Tandoori at Tel Aviv
'Desi food' in faraway Israel makes Indranil Gangopadhyay satisfy his cravings for Indian cuisine.
||Fri, Sep 26 2014|
Photograph: Indranil Gangopadhyay
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I was visiting Tel Aviv for a few days and was content eating in restaurants near the hotel where I was staying. I liked the food, especially the hummus dips and roasted vegetables. On a few occasions, I visited the Italian and the British restaurants and was happy with the culinary choices on offer. I was a bit reluctant to venture out too far away from the hotel because of the prevailing war-like situation. I must admit though that at no time did the place seem unsafe.
As the week was drawing to a close, I suddenly had the urge to taste some ‘desi’ food in all its spicy glory. My first challenge was to find an Indian restaurant in Tel Aviv and had no idea what I would get. My Google search brought up around four restaurants. One closest to my hotel turned out to be a place called ‘Indira’. I jotted down the address, called a cab and headed out of my office at Petach Tikva, a Tel Aviv suburb.
I got into the cab and gave the driver the address of my destination. The driver, an elderly gentleman, engaged in small talks and eventually we came to the subject of the restaurant where I was going to.
The passionate driver told me to forget ‘Indira’. “Let me take you to the best one around here”, he declared with gusto. Not one to argue with such passionate support for a restaurant, I asked him the name of the place. “It’s ‘Tandoori’, and it’s only 10 minutes from your hotel”, he said. With the matter settled, he proceeded to the new destination and dropped me there.
Walking inside the restaurant, I was greeted ‘shalom’ (a Hebrew word meaning peace) by a pretty girl with hazel-brown eyes. She showed me my table and handed over the menu. ‘Good start’ I said to myself and hoped that the food served be at least half as good as my hostess. After taking my seat, I noticed a decent crowd in the restaurant. I felt reassured as a young guy came to take my order.
I ordered ‘chicken kabab’ for appetiser, ‘gosht bhuna’ for the main course, couple of ‘naans’ and a Heineken to wash it all down. While sipping my beer, I watched the flat screen television playing songs and dance numbers that seemed to be an endless and diverse playlist. ‘Dandiya Queen’, Phalguni Pathak, was then seen singing ‘Maine payal hai chhankai’ with Kajol giving the on-screen lip.
As Phalguni Pathak was singing her chart buster, my ‘chicken kababs’ arrived with a sizzling sound that added to my curiosity and appetite. It enhanced my pride too when I caught quite a few of the diners stealing a glance towards my table with nothing less than admiration. The chicken went well with the Heineken and I ordered another beer to go with the main course which had since been brought to my table by my beautiful hostess.
As I was preparing to dip a piece of naan into the bhuna gosht curry, the owner of the restaurant walked in, followed by a couple of his men all carrying grocery sufficient to feed an army.
The owner then came over to my table and greeted me. In a friendly tone, he introduced himself as Mr Sharma. Glad that someone from the United States liked the food in his restaurant, an enthusiastic Mr Sharma told me that his family owned a restaurant in faraway Buffalo, NY. “It also has the same name - ‘Tandoori’!” I promised to visit the restaurant when in Buffalo next time.
Mr Sharma was from Delhi. He mentioned that next day he was catering for an Indian event of at least 200 people. Now I could reason why his men were carrying grocery in such large amount.
The enthusiastic owner never forgot to highlight that he knew the Indian ambassador in Tel Aviv, who happened to be a Bengali – Jaideep Sarkar. I made a mental note to see Ambassador Sarkar during my next visit to Tel Aviv and have a cup of tea. It’s not very often that you get to see a fellow Bengali, of all places in Israel.
On the television screen, behind the back of the owner, Falguni Pathak gave way to Daler Mehndi who was belting the popular Punjabi song “Ho Jayegi balle balle”.
The gosht bhuna was mouth-watering but a bit spicy to my liking. So I ordered the third Heineken to soothe my tongue. After all, I was not going to drive in Tel Aviv that night. Mr Sharma, the owner, then moved away to another table to allow me to finish my food. On screen, Daler Mehndi was replaced by Lady Gaga.
I don’t know whether it was the food or the beers or watching an on-screen Lady Gaga, I was tempted to ask random questions. I asked the owner, if the girl who served me the main course was his daughter.
He refrained from answering and stopped coming to my table. I then asked the waiter if he was from Nepal, which seemed to have offended him as was evident from his mumble that I overheard.
After a few such questions, the staff quickly cleared my table; got me the bill, swiped my card, and got the charge slip back to me for signature. I really could not sit there any longer.
With a heavy stomach and a content mind, I ordered a cab to get me to the hotel. While leaving the restaurant, I took one last look at the television screen and realised that the musical journey has seen a full cycle.
On the screen, Raj Kapoor was singing ‘Aawara Hoon’.
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Indranil Gangopadhyay (Friday, Sep 26 2014):
Mr. Banerjee, Thank you. While I was there, we were asked not to venture out of Tel Aviv which I obeyed. Life in Tel Aviv was not impacted at all except occasional warnings of rocket fire. Every hotel, every office has bomb shelters which one is expected to go within 2 mins when the warning sirens go off. I talked to few people on ground and couldn't help but feel saddened by the enormity of the problem.
Rajshekhar Banerjee (Friday, Sep 26 2014):
Mr Ganguly, many thanks for your write up. It is good to know that there are Indian restaurants in Israel. I understand that you travel to Tel Aviv for work. There is a lot of curiosity among the ordinary people about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It would be good to have a picture of how the conflict is affecting the ordinary Israelis and the Palestinians. And don't forget to visit the Indian Ambassador when in Tel Aviv!
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