More than Mere Curry

“The mixed grill combines the fine delicacies of the Indian kitchen… We find it all quite delicious, and we soon stop trying to determine which bite belongs to which dish, and simply let the flavors speak for themselves…” Shifra Zach journeyed into the culinary culture of India at Curry Palace restaurant in Herzeliya.

The trip to India has long since been known as the ultimate Israeli right of passage. However, even those who have yet to go there make the immediate mental connection between Indian cuisine and curry, which is considered its main spice. So what name could be better suited for an Indian restaurant than “Curry Palace?” This is the name which is now above what used to be “Indira” restaurant in Herzeliya (there is no connection whatsoever to “Indira” in Tel Aviv, and with the new name, there is no more room for confusion).

But truth be told, curry is just one of the many spices which the Indian kitchen puts to use. In fact, “Indian Cuisine” and “Indian Kitchen” are false terms, because they encompass many different culinary traditions, created throughout history and influenced by faiths, economics, and foreign cultures. Generally speaking, the characteristics of Indian cuisine are the usage of available and cheap raw ingredients such as simple vegetables and legumes, and a rich selection of spices, which are produced from roots, seeds, and herbs, or mixtures of these. Curry Palace shows proper respect to all such spices, and features a surprisingly rich menu, which includes over 70 traditional Indian dishes – vegetarian, meat and chicken, seafood, and dairy. More surprising is learning that this entire endeavor is the product of hard work by two people: Yefet, the owner, is a member of a family of Indian decent, and one Indian chef. Why is this? Because of the “closed skies” policy which prevents additional foreign workers from entering Israel. One can only wonder at the logic of this – what may make sense for manual labor does not seem to apply to the field of ethnic restaurants. After all, intimate knowledge of a cuisine is brought by the cook from his own nation of origin, in many cases, and there is often no true substitute. Luckily Curry Palace has a particularly gifted person in charge of the kitchen, as well as familial spice shop, which provides the authentic flavors that make the food what it is.

It is best to come here in a large group in order to enjoy the great variety of tastes offered to you, as did the family seated at the table next to us, celebrating a birthday. However, even when it is just dinner for two, there is a solution – plates containing samples of everything, as we had: along with a plate of garlic naan (a sort of seasoned flat leavened bread), we tasted to openers: vegetable Pakora – which included sliced potatoes, cauliflower, and onion pancakes, all fried in lentil flour mix – and chicken wings fried in a piquant sauce. This is all served with three sauces – tamarind, coriander, and coconut – the original spiciness of which has been lowered slightly to better suit the Israeli palate, although, make no mistake, they are still quite spicy!

We follow the same concept in our entr?e selection, as well, with an order of mixed grill and “chicken tikka masala.” This, we are told, are the most popular dishes, although Yefet has set himself a goal to accustom his clientele to new flavors, as well, such as chicken Tandoori in cashew sauce or chicken in coconut sauce. We, at any rate, enjoy our food very much: The “tikka masala” is made of small chunks of charcoaled chicken which are seasoned with traditional Indian spices, and served in a thick sauce and rice which soaks it up with ease. The mixed grill combines the fine delicacies of the Indian kitchen: Tandoori chicken with traditional Indian seasoning; chicken tikka and Afghan chicken, which are two dishes of charcoaled chunks of chicken with various spices; and two types of kebab, chicken and beef, ground and well seasoned. We find it all quite delicious, and we soon stop trying to determine which bite belongs to which dish, and simply let the flavors speak for themselves

All that remains is a sweet finish: “Gulab Jamun,” which are balls of milk-based dough, deep fried, and as if that wasn’t enough, immersed in thick, saffron l