To Conquer Bangkok in a Day

“I am served the Crazy Ebi Maki, a sushi roll with shrimp and avocado, coated in panko crumbs. The dish looks like a small and meticulous bonsai creation: a celery garnish, ornamental like a tree, shadows the orange ginger …” Litchi restaurant, located in the heart of the Carmel, is the perfect place for making acquaintance with the Asian cuisine.

The man, may he live a long life, is a known decliner of Asian food. True, he does defrost chicken on his wok at home, mixes in some vegetable sand soy and calls it “stir-fry,” but beyond that – nada. The thought of Chinese food turns his stomach, he refuses to eat the wonderful recipes his parents picked up in Thailand, and on the one occasion in which we ordered sushi delivered, he played with the rolls (with a sour expression on his face), sampled one, and was off to make himself a sandwich. From the moment I began to educate him, culinary-wise, I looked for a place in which he could eat Asian cuisine that was also use-friendly, simple, tasty, suitable to the Israeli palate, and hopefully not too expensive so that he won’t feel cheated. The answer, as it turned out, was close to home – Litchi restaurant in Haifa.

Litchi restaurant has been located in the heart of the Carmel for nine years now, and is considered the standard-bearer of Asian restaurants in Haifa. No too long ago, the restaurant won first place in a national ranking of the cleanest Japanese restaurant, as determined by ‘The Marker’ magazine. At first, only Thai food was on the menu. Later on, the selection expanded to include Japanese cuisine and an Asian seafood bar. The initial menu was put together by a Thai chef, and since then, only Asian chefs have decided on the dishes, although they have tempered the spiciness to regional tastes. As the shift manager tells us: “they get a laugh from what we consider to be spicy.”

The restaurant itself is relatively small – six tables in the front and five more on the terrace. The top level houses the Japanese bar and additional tables, which typically serve private events. Asian-themed wallpaper covers the walls. A divider with a drawing of a sumo wrestler separates the dining are from the kitchen and delivery station – around 50% of the restaurants earnings are from the deliveries made to the Haifa area. Round, red, rice-filled candlesticks, sit atop the tables, spreading soft light. The background music is, in fact, Israeli songs. The general atmosphere is calm warmth, one that is not too ‘in your face.’ “This is a restaurant with a family atmosphere,” Lior, the owner’s daughter, will later tell us.

We toast with two glasses of Choya, a sweet umeshu plum liqueur, and take a long look at the menu. Litchi’s menu is divided into subsections of Japanese, Asian, and seafood bar menus. It offers dozens of dishes which makes our selection difficult. Lior rushes to our aid with recommendations. For the first course, the man is served yakitori – 2 chicken skewers with sesame, served on a colorful bed of vegetables, in a special yaki sauce which is sweet-sour-spicy. I am served the Crazy Ebi Maki, a sushi roll with tiger shrimp and avocado, coated in panko crumbs. The dish looks like a small and meticulous bonsai creation: a celery garnish, ornamental like a tree, shadows the orange ginger. There are circles of carrots fanned out by the edges, serving as a bed for the wasabi. The roll itself is widely-sliced and dotted in brown and white – thick teriyaki and mayonnaise – and its flavor combines fish and vegetable. “As far as combining presentation with taste,” I decree, “this is one of the best sushi rolls I have ever had.”

The man takes advantage of the break between courses and leaves the table and make a long phone call, and so I should not be blamed when his food arrives – a Thai dish of stir-fired crispy chicken with pineapple, carrot, sweet potato, and scallions in a Thai sauce – and I steal all his pieces of pineapple, and significant portions of his chicken.. My own order is a steaming-hot dish of Kong and Calamari Lat Bok, which, plainly-speaking, is a heaping bowl of tiger shrimp and calamari, swimming in a sweet, seasoned, and fascinating sauce. The sauce soaks into the seafood, melting them in the mouth, and I enjoy this delicacy with its accompanying mountain of white rice, wh