Gandi is located on Aza Street in the centre of Rehavia; a bamboo fence separates the restaurant’s patio from the street. A sign hangs over the restaurant bearing a sign of the sweet looking man himself and letting us know we’ve come to the right place. Manager Eli has just finished building the natural juice and cold beer bar next to the tables on the patio, the perfect recipe for fighting the icky heat on a Jerusalem summer day. Just on the other side of the patio fence stands a waiter offering cold cups of lassi (a traditional Indian drink of yogurt, crushed ice and, in this case, banana) to passers-by.
Equipped with two cups of chilled Lassi, my friend Doron and I step into the restaurant. Passing through the patio, we go down three steps to enter a small structure containing a single table and a small kitchen full of wonders. Having traveled in India for a year and checked out the culinary traditions of the north, I was pretty impressed with the look of Gandi, which inspired bouts of nostalgia and reminded me of the local bars in India (well, with the exception of the Goldstar.) We took a seat in an attractive corner of the patio and examined Gandi’s menu. For those of us who haven’t been to India, the menu offers a short description of each dish. Doron, who’d never been there, let me guide our meal, and I decided to start us with 2 samosas, fried dough in a 3D triangle filled with onion, peas and potatoes spiced with curry. With the samomas came three small dishes of chutney, one made of cilantro, another of peppers and beets and a third of raita – yogurt with herbs. Every bite brought me back to another place on a different continent.
After the samosa I ordered a traditional thali dish served at the centre of the table, a dish made up of rice surrounded by a variety of toppings: daal – a lentil, onion and curry stew, subzi – cauliflower and zucchini cooked in an excellent Indian sauce and a basket of chapatti, the famous Indian flat bread. As they say – when in Rome – and even though the Gandi restaurant is not in India, this is as close as we were going to get that night, so we dug in with our hands, using the chapatti to scoop everything up. You can, of course, get a knife and fork, but we preferred an authentic experience. With the thali we ordered another two dishes – we wouldn’t want to leave hungry, god forbid. The first dish was called palak paneer – a spinach stew resembling a thick soup and containing cubes of melting cheese. The second dish was a lovely portion of malai kofta – cheese and cashew dumplings in a bright tomato sauce. Along with the food we ordered refreshing glasses of draught goldstar. I found myself telling Doron stories from my experiences in India – but managed to stop myself before he got tired of listening.
After finishing our main dishes we were served two glasses of chai, but as a refreshing change this wasn’t English tea served with milk, but authentic masala chai with pepper and cloves. For dessert we ordered a very tasty strawberry pie and banofee, a favourite on the Indian backpacker circuit thought to have been brought over with travelers in the late 70s, made up of a pie crust, dulche de leche, bananas and coconut flakes. I enjoyed every bit and I think even Doron got into the spirit.
In closing, if you are looking for authentic Indian cooking at reasonable prices don’t bother paying hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket – just head over to Asa Street, for an evening at Gandi.
29 Aza Street, Jerusalem