On the Ashdod Boardwalk, in a building whose towers and turrets lend a foreign look from another century, the Indian restaurant Namaste can be found. The truth? I've never eaten Indian food. My group of friends, all of whom are more than aware of my culinary tastes, preferred to save me (and primarily themselves) from the experience of watching me eat Indian food for the first time. But my curiosity had been awakened, even though it was received with skeptical giggles. There is no doubt, however, that I got a point or two in favour of my willingness to try, even if my ultimate success in accomplishing the task seemed doubtful to them.
In the end, one of the gang decided to accompany me, and all the way from Tel Aviv she regaled me with all the amazing recommendations she had heard about the restaurant we were headed to. I wasn't totally sure that she herself had heard all these great recommendations, or if she was simply trying to ensure that I didn't chicken out half way there and force her to miss out on a good meal that she'd be looking forward to and instead have to make a u-turn in the direction of the nearest McDonalds.
As soon as we entered, I understood that we weren't dealing with just any old ndian restaurant, but with a hard core Indian restaurant. As in, the owners are actually from India and decided that to make a living in Israel they may as well return to their roots and do what it is they do best. Cooking just like at mom's place. To staff the restaurant, the owners brought in a few ringers direct from India, so not only is the food authentically Indian, but the dominant language and the design are also Indian, par excellence.
After ordering, we received papadums, a crispy fried cracker bread made of lentil flower and served with a range of dips like green curry, a mango chutney, carrot and orange curry and more. The nan bread we ordered reminded me of a lot of garlic bread, but is much crispier in comparison, and the garlic and roasted peppers gave it a spicy aroma and flavour. The potato nan, on the other hand, reminded me more of focaccia. The derisive look coming from the direction of my friend made it clear to me that perhaps I should keep my running commentary to myself, and start sampling the Indian flavours.
Not that I needed much encouragement, but the text messages we'd started getting from the friends who stayed home with requests for doggy bags, urged me on to continue eating. The chicken pakora, spiced and fried chicken wings in a crispy coating, were the tastiest thing we ate, in my opinion. For someone who's main source of nourishment comes from chicken (and chicken products), I just loved the special seasoning and the tender melt in your mouth texture. In contrast to myself, my friend ordered the vegetable pakora. The eggplant, onion, and potato in a chickpea flour batter were crunchy and tasty. The standout vegetable was the eggplant, whose delicate flavour went excellently with the chickpea flour.
Just before the mains arrived, a hot plate was placed on the table, complete with lit candles beneath. On top of the hot plate, in a traditional dish, was chicken biryani – basmati rice with pieces of curried chicken, sprinkled with roasted almonds. My friend pounced on the dish with delight.
And in regards to me – after much debate between the chicken tikka and the chicken tikka masala, the owner decided to make me a combination dish, so that I can compare the two different flavours. Both dishes are comprised of pieces of marinated chicken, only the marinade for the chicken tikka masala is a bit lighter, and therefore has a much less spicy taste the chicken tikka, and is more subtle and therefore more suitable to the delicate palate, which can't handle strong flavours. The meat was tender and light, and in general, a treat for the palate, so much so that it inspires great indecision as to whether or not to finish the dish knowing full well that it means you won't be able to eat another bite for at least a week.
Namaste restaurant provided us with a truly authentic Indian experience: from the language in the background, through to the design and up to the restaurants crowning glory – the authentic Indian food. For all those who miss the flavours of their post army trip around India and want a reminder, or for those planning a trip and want to get to know the flavours – this is the place.
10 HaTayelet, Mi Ami Beach, Ashdod