Where does a hungry Israeli tourist go in apni Dilli for some authentic food from his side of Gaza? It’s got to be Hare Ram Café in Paharganj.
Granted the place might sound like just another food-joint at Paharganj, with a jazzed up name serving shudh vaishnav bhojan. But here, instead of rotis and paneer pasanda, one can find pita bread, falafel and Israeli salad on the menu.
Paharganj has always been the favourite haunt of tourists in the Capital. In the recent years there has been a huge influx of Israelis to this area. Given the business these tourists bring, the place has adapted itself accordingly. So it should come as no surprise that there are signboards written in Hebrew and many restaurants serve ‘authentic’ Israeli cuisine.
Ajay Aggarwal, owner of two such restaurants in the area, says, “Between 1986-1991, we had a large number of tourists coming from Poland. Then the Israelis started pouring in. We got so much business from them that we decided to serve them the food that would make them feel at home. And also because Indian food was a tad too spicy for their palate.”
But then the restaurant owners knew practically nothing about Israeli food. So they thought of a novel way to learn how to prepare the nouvelle cuisine. “We used to give them (Israeli tourists) free accommodation or money and they, in turn, would teach our cooks the intricacies of their cuisine,” says Surender Sharma, a restaurant-owner in Paharganj. “Now we’ve become so good at it that they think we have an Israeli chef,” he adds.
The food has gone down well with even the most finicky of the lot. Say Arno and Hadar, backpackers and regulars at the restaurants here, “The food served here is of good quality. When we came here for the first time, we never imagined that we would find food from our country.”
The restaurants now serve dishes such as Matbucha (a salad mainly made from tomatoes, roasted pepper, oil and garlic cooked together), hummus (a dip made of mashed chickpeas, sesame, lemon juice, and garlic), kebabs, shashliks and baked dishes like Ziva made from refined flour and stuffed with cottage cheese. It’s all there on their platter.