Eat With Who?

As soon as we entered the apartment, the hostess ushered us to a low sofa. Odors of cumin and coriander, turmeric and curry wafted through the air. Philippe and I and our friends scanned the unassuming space with the kitchen flowing into the living room and a dining room table propped in the midst. The hosts were engrossed in stirring and grinding, preparing and mixing. We glanced at our fellow diners sitting in small groups of two and three and four and heard only Hebrew. “We’re no longer in Raanana,” one of our friends said.

John, Rhoanna and Philippe (from left to right) with pumpkin soup

EatWith had intrigued me when, early November, I awoke to an email from Benjamin:

…this is fast growing israeli startup

you should join a dinner, or host one sometime, seems very cool

http://www.eatwith.com/

When I clicked on the link, the homepage grabbed me with its clean and catchy graphics and the picture of an Asian woman cooking. It read: The best meals are homemade. Enjoy a dinner party at the chef’s house. You’re invited.

Explore your city. Possibilities are Barcelona, San Francisco, New York, Tel Aviv. And 150+ additional cities worldwide.

Of all the Tel Aviv offerings—Israeli Italian Feast, Secrets of my Magical Arabic Cuisine, Dream Dinner at the Manor—one lured me in immediately: Join our Indian House-Vegetarian Rich Thali.

The hosts, an Israeli woman and Indian man, had been serving Indian meals in their home for years first in Jerusalem and now in south Tel Aviv. I knew Philippe would be interested and, after realizing the dinner can accommodate up to 20 guests, invited other friends to join us. We chose 8pm on a Saturday night, mid-November.

Despite the late autumn chill outside, the heat from the kitchen warmed us. The hostess, Sigal, returned carrying a tray of curried pumpkin soup. She set the bowls down on a coffee table, and we each inhaled the fiery, fragrant smell. After the soup, we received a plate of appetizers: a fried pastry stuffed with potatoes called samosas and pakora, deep fried pieces of eggplant and onion covered with chickpea powder. Philippe opened a bottle of red wine brought from home, poured us each a glass and made a toast. “To eating with strangers,” he said.

After lingering over wine with our bellies partly full, we were summoned to the long, narrow table in the center of the room. The four of sat at a little round table at one end and smiled with our neighbors, but mostly, everyone seemed to talk amongst themselves. Sigal and her husband Chanchal served us each a plate of Thali, a traditional Indian meal consisting of several small dishes and a heaping portion of Biriyani rice in the middle. Their vegetarian version included dal lentils, aloo goobi (cauliflower and potatoes), malai kofta (potato cutlets with nuts in cream), palak (spinach with pumpkin), chana masala (chickpeas in rich gravy) and rajma (beans). A salad, puri (fried bread) and papadam (lentil crunchy bread) were served on the side. Bite by bite, we tasted and chewed and swallowed and discussed what we liked a lot, a little or not at all.

our Thali

At some point during dinner, the hostess stood at the far end of the table, her back to the kitchen, and shared her story, about her draw to India, how she and her husband met, how they have been hosting people for meals for years. While she spoke, I watched Chanchal at the stove, frying what became our dessert, a mélange of oil, flour, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and I’m not sure what else. He opened one spice after the next, whiffed each container and sprinkled them generously into the wok. After the dishes were cleared and dessert was on our plates and chai tea in our hands, Chanchal introduced himself. An artist, he had studied at Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem and to earn extra income, he worked at an Indian restaurant in Moshav Even Sapir, where he mastered preparing large quantities of food. He proudly pointed to his prints, which decorated almost every empty wall.

Eventually, he and Sigal created “The Open House for Indian Culture” sometimes serving up to 60 people. A few years later, they relocated to Tel Aviv and their homespun business turned into one of the more interesting offers on EatWith.com.

In a country where security guards check the trunks of our cars or inside our pocket books before entering a mall or restaurant or bank, where the political deeply interferes with and impacts the personal, EatWith seems daring and brash. The idea of opening up one’s home to and eating with strangers is based on a profound mutual trust. And even if we didn’t make any new friends or strike up meaningful conversation with our fellow diners that night, eating together in the intimacy of someone’s home is one more example of how this country continues to surprise me—the good, the bad and the beautiful.

Sigal at far end sharing her passion for India--the food, country, culture, people

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5 Responses to “Eat With Who?”

  1. Zondra Barricks December 8, 2014 at 4:33 am #

    I have my masala dabba (Indian spice box) here in NYC and have made my own little cookbook adapting here & there – it too is vegetarian. We enjoy having Indian Shabbat dinners. Loved this story and fascinated by Eatwith. XOZ

  2. Jeanette lerner December 8, 2014 at 7:41 am #

    I love Indian food you made my mouth water. I have heard of this concept it was profiled on one of the news programs here. Enjoy and keep writing.

  3. marianne/mom December 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    My first reaction was WOW! How you dissected the concept and ended up with a political, social statement relating to the country amazes me. I should say, you never cease to amaze me with your thoughtful blogs!

    love, Mom

  4. Charles December 15, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Dis Jennifer, tu n’es pas qu’une très grande experte en yoga, tu es aussi
    une experte exceptionelle en innovation de toute sorte, telle que trouver
    un site comme EatWith et d’y aller et d’en parler resp. écrire … et nous
    avons la chance de pouvoir profiter de tes expériences resp. vos expériences
    puisque ton mari t’y accompagne … et par la même occasion nous faisons
    connaissance de Philippe (via la photo) dont tu parles si souvent …

  5. Jennifer December 15, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    I LOVE this idea! and great post…. yes, a profound expression of trust, which we need more of in this crazy world!

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