Not that it’s anything new, but it’s always nice to be reminded of how Tel Aviv so easily blurs the lines between high and low when it comes to the food choices the city has to offer. You can grab a 10-shekel slice of pizza on the street or enjoy a 65-shekel pizetta at a trendy bar. You can bite into a delicious shwarma in a pita from a local shwarma joint, or dine on shwarma served up with molecular amba jelly at a fancy chef restaurant. You can enjoy some cheap burekas from the Carmel Market or nibble on some pricier ones in the market at the Tel Aviv Port. I could go on, but you get the point.
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And yet, one type of cuisine has seemed to remain the sole domain of restaurants – Indian food. And this is rather peculiar when you consider that, for the past couple of decades or so, Israeli Gen Xers have been traipsing back and forth to India, photographing it and writing about it and coming up with a whole unique, New-Agey lingo about it. But Indian food? You can hardly find it. And Indian street food? Forget about it. There may have been a few attempts here and there, but none lasted very long. All we have pretty much are a few longtime establishments and some adaptations by various chefs in their restaurants.
In a way, it’s easy to understand. Indian food tends to inspire a dichotomy – you’re either really into it or really not into it. There’s no middle ground. And that’s a problem, because Tel Aviv street food stalls generally aim to appeal to a broad common denominator. That’s certainly their right. So it’s rather symbolic that Captain Curry, chef Yonatan Roshfeld’s new Indian street food stall, opened recently at Sarona Market, taking over the location of the decidedly average Gina Falafel.
The menu at Captain Curry is a bit limited compared to the standard restaurant, but it does offer a wider selection than many of the other food stalls in the market. The chota (“small”) category includes six appetizers (9-39 shekels); there are four main courses inspired by “the Captain’s childhood memories” (52-56 shekels); biryani lamb and chicken (62 shekels) that gets a section unto itself – “From the Palace Kitchen.” In keeping with Indian culinary traditions, and in the spirit of the times, some of the dishes are vegan.
For starters, we ordered the Goa Beach chicken wings(28 shekels for a small portion, 38 shekels for a large portion). They were served in a plain tin foil pan set atop one of the prettiest take-away trays I’ve seen in the city, along with cutlery in a colorful cloth bag. There was plenty of sauce and plenty of fresh cilantro, but not so many wings. Just four half-wings, to be precise. Without considering the price, that is a very small amount. And considering the price, it’s downright aggravating. Luckily for me, and for them, I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed such tasty wings anywhere. They were quite meaty and tender, and grilled just right before they were slathered, or flooded, with a sauce made of yogurt, mango and coconut. Each taste brought a pleasurable deliberation over whether it was more sweet or more spicy, and I ultimately decided that it didn’t matter, it was just so incredibly good. After finishing the chicken, I had a nice amount of sauce left, and I thought of going to one of the local bakeries and getting some bread to sop up every drop with.
But I decided instead to go for a main course of Tandoori chicken. Laid across a reasonablysized bowl were two skewers of chicken that was pinkish-red from its seasonings, and drizzled with a little sour cream. The bowl was filled with white rice mixed with cilantro, fried chickpeas, minced red onion and a little red masala sauce. How inventive can one be with a chicken skewer at this point? Just a few weeks ago I was disappointed by the skewers of chicken tenders in the Ramen soup at Miazaki in Shuk Tzafon (North Market), so I came in with lowered expectations. But once again, I was very pleasantly surprised. The chunks of meat on the skewers were quite large and very tender and juicy and flavorful. With the first one, I couldn’t resist eating the whole thing right off the skewer. I gently mixed the meat from the second skewer in with the rice. I can’t vouch for how aesthetic it turned out, but it sure was delicious, with each of the ingredients making itself felt in just the right way.
Another main course was Raja Mun Beef with Egg Yolk and Hot Green Peppers (56 shekels). I’m no expert here, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this dish become a major hit on Instagram. Atop a bed of white rice comes a dish of shredded beef, black lentils, fried onions in a chickpea flour tempura, and red hot chili peppers (apparently in place of the green ones listed on the menu). In the center of the bowl was the pale orange yolk, and on the side is a crisp round disc made from chickpea flour. It’s quite lovely to behold, and more important, quite tasty to eat. The yolk is beaten and mixed in with the rest, perfectly offsetting the spiciness of the dish. This, too, was a successful, rich and filling dish – which is all the more welcome as the prices here are a bit on the steep side.
The food at Captain Curry is not completely authentic. It is Roshfeld’s take on the boundless variety of Indian street food. And it bears pointing out that he is not aiming to please the average taste buds either. The food is seriously seasoned, the Indian flavors are dominant, and nearly every dish is at least somewhat spicy. In fact, you could say this is the most radical food stall in the Sarona Market. And this is a point worth lingering over – In my previous visits to the covered market, I found food that I liked a lot and food that I wasn’t so keen on, but no matter how good, none of it really stood out as being so different from what you could pretty easily find elsewhere in the city. Captain Curry is the first place here that really feels unique, and it does so in a very good way. That alone makes this captain worth saluting.