A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
I know that right in my mission statement on the About page, I claim that you can find pretty much whatever you want in Jerusalem if you know where to look, so it seems rather defeatist to admit in my sixth post that there’s something I love that you can’t get here. But there’s no point in sugar-coating the truth, right? Probably my least favorite thing about Jerusalem, as far as food is concerned, is the lack of good Indian food.
Anyone who knows me knows that Indian food is my absolute favorite kind of food ever. My basic routine when I visit the US is to go out for Indian my very first night, if at all possible. (It doesn’t hurt that some of the best Indian food that I know of comes from India House in Croton, oddly enough). When we went to London this past fall I declared to AB that we would eat Indian every day. (In the event, we only had it twice.) And I’ve been often heard proclaiming that the best day of my life was the day I ate Indian food two times in one day. (This was in Bangkok. We trekked across the city, which ended up including an extensive detour through Chinatown, to eat lunch in a hole-in-the-wall Indian place we had heard about it. For dinner that night we took a cab to the upscale section of the city to try a fancy restaurant our guidebook told us about, but we when got there there was a long wait and we could only eat about two things on the menu. So we decided to wander till we found a more appropriate restaurant, and stumbled upon upscale Indian. Best day ever.)
But I digress. The point is Indian in Jerusalem. There are two options for Indian in Jerusalem. The problem is, the options aren’t very good. On one end, there’s Kohinoor in the Crowne Plaza hotel, which is an upscale Kosher meat Indian restaurant run by people from India. I’ve been there a handful of times over the past eight years, and each time has been more disappointing than the time before. The basic problem is that the food has no flavor, which negates the whole point of Indian food. And the prices there – not cheap.
On the one end, there’s Ichikanda in the shuk. Ichikanda looks to be run by people (Israelis) who spent a while in India and really liked the food. It is fully vegetarian and they claim to be kosher, but they are part of the growing movement of Jerusalem restaurants who do not believe in having to pay the Rabbanut to be kosher. (A topic for another post). The place has about four tables and the main item on their menu is thali, which is a platter consisting of rice, dal (lentils), yoghurt, chutneys, and a choice of vegetable curries. The food is actually quite good. When this place first opened, the prices were reasonable, and it was pleasure to eat there. Cheap, tasty though not amazing food in the middle of the shuk. What’s not to like, right? (Actually, the precursor to this place, a different Indian restaurant in a different location in the shuk, was even better when it first opened – they charged something like 30 nis for a thali, with unlimited refills. I used to eat there literally every Friday. But with time the quality went downhill and the prices went up, and then it quickly closed, circa 2007). Anyhow, with time the prices at Ichikanda rose to the point that there really isn’t much of a point to eating there.
I don’t mind eating in restaurants when I know I can make the same food at home. I like cooking, but I love eating out. I love that I get to eat tasty food without having to do the work myself. However, I have my limits. I will eat in a very expensive restaurant without a second thought if I believe the food is amazing and impossible to replicate at home. I will also happily eat in a cheap or mid-range restaurant even if the food isn’t innovative (as long as it’s tasty) because that means I didn’t have to make it myself. However, at a certain point the ease no longer balances out the cost and it’s just not worth it. And such is the sad case with Ichikanda.
The good news is that Indian food is actually very easy to make, if you have the right spices – cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, garlic, hot pepper, and garam masala. And all of these spices are pretty easy to get in Jerusalem, pretty much anywhere, but in particular at any one of the many spice guys at the shuk. My two favorites are a guy in the Iraqi shuk, and the spice/coffee store on Yaffo.