Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cochini delicacies bag second spot in Tel Aviv cooking contest

By Bala Menon

Ilanit Menachem from Atlit, a small town in the north of Israel, was the First Runner-up in a cooking contest "Cooking India, Flying India" organized by the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv recently.

Ilanit, of Cochin Jewish descent, made the Vada (lentil fritters), the Cochini Hubba and the unique rosette-like, crunchy sweet of Kerala called Achhappam during the finals at the famed Tapas Ahad Ha'am restaurant (of Yonathan Roshfeld) in Tel Aviv. "Everything had to be completed within two hours and it was a great experience to cook in Roshfeld's kitchen," says Ilanit.
Ilanit with her dishes -achhappam, fritters &  kubbah
The five finalists – Yaffa Samson, Ilanit Menachem, Jacqueline Solomon, Orna Reuben SRK and Tamar Michael (all Jews of Indian ancestry) were given a list of ingredients and asked to devise a menu with a main dish, a side dish and a starter or dessert.

The dishes reflected the diversity of Indian cuisine – Fish Cutlets, Shrimp Curry and Pea Rice (Yaffa Samson);  Cochini Huba and Achappam (Ilanit Menachem); Amritsari Fish, Masala Rice, Aloo Tikki and Halwa-Puri (Jacqueline Solomon); Punjabi Samosa, Tandoori Chicken with Rice (Orna Reuben SRK); and Palak Panner with Rice and Makkhani Lassi (Tamar Michael). (It must be mentioned here that the Cochin dishes were the unknown factor - and which are not found on regular Indian restaurant menus. These dishes are also featured in the book "Spice & Kosher: Exotic Cuisine of the Cochin Jews", published in August last year.)
  Israeli Television Channel 2 (Keshet) aired the finals of the contest  in their popular Friday morning show “Bokher Shel Keshet”, with the contestants dressed in traditional Indian attire when presenting their creations.

Video of the finals of the 'Cooking India, Flying India' contest.
The panel of judges comprised: Yonathan Roshfeld, Israeli food critic Hila Alpert, Indian restaurateur Reena Pushkarna and Indian culinary expert Sarraju Narasinga Rao. There was a just a single point difference between Ilanit and the final winner, Ms Orna Reuben SRK, who won two return flight tickets to India and a weeklong holiday in Kerala (the home of the Cochin Jews).

Indian Ambassador to Israel Jaideep Sarkar  noted in his address about the affection that Israelis had for India and Indian cuisine. Indian Restaurateur Reena Pushkarna showcased the diversity of Indian cuisine.  The finale concluded with a vibrant Bollywood dance performance by choreographer David Nigrekar and his troupe of Bene Israelis. (Bene Israelis are Jews who settled in the Konkan region of Maharashrtra near Mumbai in ancient times). Sponsors of the contest included the Spices Board of India,, Indigo Airlines, Tal Aviation, Government of India Tourism Office, Lev Cinema, Tandoori Restaurant, and Om Indian Store.

Video of the semi-finals at Lev Cinema.
The semi-finals at the Lev Cinema in Tel Aviv, a few days earlier, saw 19 candidates prepare about a hundred dishes for the judges, after which the five finalists were selected. Al semi-final candidates were invited along with their family and friends to watch the critically acclaimed Indian film The Lunchbox.— at the same venue. Ilanit 'idli' proved to be a big hit with Roshfeld "who liked it so much that he thanked me and showed me pictures of it on his cellphone."
A composite picture of the contest finals

As Ilanit says "It was an amazing experience for me and a great honour to participate in this competition and to represent the Cochin Jewish community. I did it with great pride!! Thank you all! Ilanit writes a popular blog related to Cochin Jewish cooking, called Chipappam.