Sahlab for the intrepid foodie

Bengalureans like trying new foods, but ever gone for a truly Israeli fest?

Published: 20th August 2016 03:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th August 2016 03:44 AM   |  A+A-

BENGALURU: Chef Shachar Aschengrau, a culinary expert from the port city of Haifa, Israel, was recently at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park for the ‘Taste of Israel’ food festival. It was done in association with the Consulate of Israel in Bangalore.

The festival spread included Mediterranean, Arabic and East European cuisines, made from local ingredients.

In an interview with City Express, Chef Shachar Aschengrau spoke about different aspects of Israeli cuisine.

Chef Aschengrau started his culinary journey 25 years ago, at an Israeli coffee shop and since then has been through different geographies and jobs. “I have worked in several countries, even in Japan and Mexico, trying my hands at several things like TV shows, teaching at gastronomical schools, training teams at restaurants and even writing about food for blogs and newspapers,” he says.

But through it all, his love for Israeli cuisine remained. “I am constantly intrigued by its diversity and sub-cuisines,” he says. The chef keeps trying variations of the recipes, without straying too far from the traditional.

His idol, in cooking, is the famous Israeli chef Haim Cohen. “Chef Haim was among the very first ones, outside of Middle East, to use local ingredients to create traditional Israeli food,” says Chef Aschengrau .

Despite being inspired by the local, Chef Aschengrau knows how important it is to tailor traditional dishes to suit different palates. “I have learnt a great deal just by observing my culinary comrades,” says the chef. “The most significant takeaway was learning and acquiring the skill to differentiate the same dishes in order to match the palate of local diners”.

Israeli cuisine has a tremendous variety in traditional foods. “We often eat them at home because they are easy to make and quite filling,” he says. “A chopped Israeli salad is often served on the side. Some of the other dishes are bourekas, falafel, hummus, pita bread, shawarma and sahlab among others”.

People in Bengaluru love experimenting with their food and different cuisines. But,  Israeli cuisine is less familiar. Will it be appreciated by diners here? “When it comes to food, it is nearly impossible to educate someone,” says the chef. “If you are a food enthusiast, the dishes will definitely appeal to you”.

The ingredients used in Israeli cuisine – cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, tomato, olive oil, chilies and sesame seeds – are similar to ones that are used in India. “In the food fest, the texture and blend of spices will be different,” says Chef Aschengrau. The well-travelled chef finds it fascinating how every ingredient influences the dining experience.

“Israel’s culinary tradition has a history of three thousand years,” he says. “Over this period, our cooking has been shaped by  influences from Asia, Africa and Europe, even by religious and ethnic groups. But, some ingredients, such as olives, figs, dates, pomegranates, wheat, barley and grapes, have stayed.”

“People prefer healthy, organic and more local foods, and I am serving these,” he says . “I believe in the best quality ingredients that will suit diners’ palate... It is time to go back to basics, offering dishes that are simple, yet exotic”.

The food fest, at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park, will be on till August 26.

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