With Restaurants Shut Over Coronavirus, the Next Best Food Option in Tel Aviv

Enjoying takeout Asian delights from Nam is about the closest you'll get during these coronavirus days to eating in a restaurant

Eran Laor
Eran Laor
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Away from the coronavirus pandemic: Enjoying dishes from Nam at home.
Away from the coronavirus pandemic: Enjoying dishes from Nam at home. Credit: Eran Laor
Eran Laor
Eran Laor

A few days ago, I went out to get a bite in Tel Aviv. People were still filling the streets, Taqueria and Vitrina were overflowing, as usual, but hanging over everything was a cloud of unease, ruffling the peaceful atmosphere. It’s hard to shovel your food in with abandon, or even enjoy your meal in a moderate way, while casting suspicious sideway glances and cringing when hearing every cough or sneeze.

We’ll go back out to the street at some point, but meanwhile adjustments need to be made, also when it comes to hunger. In a world that needs to hunker down and make do at home, we’re lucky that the coronavirus, the biggest story of 2020 (hopefully not beyond that!), has led us to one of the most significant advances in our lives – one that began in 2019.

If Gett taxis have changed the way we transport ourselves, if Netflix has changed the way we consume media content, then the Wolt food-delivery service – with its cute site and app, good arrival times and endearing casualness – has completely revolutionized the takeout and food-distribution business, not only for us as lazy consumers and lovers of food needing sustenance brought to our doorstep, but for restaurants as well.

Wolt couriers ride in Tel Aviv. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Take Nam as an example. When this restaurant, situated at 275 Dizengoff Street (the northern part), opened six years ago, it didn’t attract any special attention or exceptional reviews, but that didn't stop it from becoming one of the more stable and reliable options in town. It’s not a flashy chef restaurant, but a fairly high-quality Asian one, situated somewhere between authentic Thai and Israeli taste. It's also billed as vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. As with many other local eateries, however, its in-house delivery service was geographically limited, by and large, operating on a random schedule you couldn’t really understand.

And then something interesting happened. As its delivery service expanded its range while reducing arrival times, Nam enjoyed a surprising flourishing. From a restaurant that did not evoke any emotion, for better or worse, it somehow burrowed its way into the consensus of takeout lovers. It made its way onto the 2019 list of best restaurants compiled by Wolt, and the limited roster of eateries people search for on their apps for ordering food before the restaurants get overwhelmed and/or have to take time-out.

This is not self-evident. Nam is not a cheap option, to put it mildly. It doesn’t offer business lunches or any deals. And yet it excels when it comes to three important parameters: the quality of the food, the state it's in when it arrives, and the size of the portions. While this can't be compared to what you’d pay for and get outside, in a restaurant or a food stand in the street, it should be judged according to what lands in your living room.

When Nam opened six years ago, it didn’t attract any special attention or exceptional reviews.Credit: Eran Laor

For example, take the spring rolls (Popiah Gai), at 31 shekels ($8.30) for two. These are unequivocally the best spring rolls in the greater Tel Aviv area: a perfect combination, no less, of leaves of dough, thin and almost not oily at all, with a crispness that keeps remarkably well even after delivery, not dissolving into a soggy mess. They have a variety of rich and juicy fillings, including chopped chicken, bean noodles, shitake mushrooms and carrots, and a sweet-and-sour sauce, orange-colored and addictive, leaning toward a citrus-y flavor, but far removed from the phosphorous-red liquid of yore.

Bring on two, bring on three or even four spring rolls – they'll make you happy, especially the ones from Nam.

As for us, we chose two different main courses. Pad See Ew with beef (67 shekels) may be the most generic noodle dish around (it steals its name from Pad Thai). It’s made of wide and browned rice noodles, broccoli, green onion, cilantro, spinach, egg flakes and garlic, with soy and oyster sauce. You can't really go wrong with this dish: It is a bit sweet but in a non-threatening and unchallenging way, and demonstrates Nam’s strong suit: It’s huge, something two people can share, generous in its contents (lots of good-quality strips of beef and broccoli), and overcomes a well-known problem with takeout rice or noodle dishes by arriving not as one sticky lump, but as a dish that maintains a blessed separation between its components.

Innumerable earlier orders had shown Pad Phet (79 shekels) as the best item on Nam’s menu. A generous stir-fried dish of excellently prepared shrimps and fresh calamari (which can be switched for fried or steamed white fish), in a red, slightly spicy red curry sauce, with lots of crispy green beans, lime and Thai basil.

The Pad Phet comes with steamed or sticky rice on the side. We recommend the second option, less frequently ordered, which allows one to break up the sticky rice balls and let them float like white clouds in the slightly sour-slightly hot sauce, which slowly seeps into the rice. A refreshing choice, light in comparison to other curry dishes (and less objectionable to people with concerns about curry). It’s more interesting and original than the average dish in this genre.

Ordering from Nam in terms of price and quality is the closest thing to eating out – albeit not something you could routinely afford. But if an old unwritten law regarding takeout says that it’s not worthwhile to order something you can make at home, current conditions have provided a new rule that justifies delivery of this food. Sometimes you have to order in what you cannot eat out, at moments like these.

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