Ichikidana is a fun word to say and a delicious place to grab some Indian fare. Literally, it means, "to sow one's oats." At least that's what owner Lehava (and others who watched the song and dance number in the first Bollywood to Hollywood film) have concluded. The word's frequently repeated in the refrain of a musical number about grain.
If you ask politely, the waitresses will sing you a bar or two.
Just off Machane Yehuda's main artery, this eatery features a mostly vegan menu that's chock-full of appetizing treats: fried favorites include - samosas (NIS 9 each), pakoras (NIS 7 for two) and in the evening hours, momos, Tibetan dumplings also served steamed (NIS 16 for four/NIS 22 for six). There are variations on Indian thali, with seasonal vegetarian main dishes known as sabjis, rice, daal, salad, yogurt, homemade chutney accompaniments and papadum, a flatbread made of lentil flour. A new color-coded menu, in English or Hebrew, shows you what each plate includes and the quantities therein (NIS 26-52).
Lehava and her husband/business partner, Yonatan Herman opened Ichikidana just over a year ago. Before immigrating to Israel, Lehava grew up in Calcutta and learned kitchen talents at home. Her other passion is textile design, an aspect apparent in the decorative details of the restaurant. The tables are covered in collages of images of India - Bollywood stars, regional maps of the country, shiny stickers of Ganesh and the "om," and colorful sunsets (or are they sunrises?) There is color everywhere with knickknacks from afar interspersed with some local finds and a warm terracotta tiled wall with a bulletin board that serves as a guide for the local community. The duo graciously welcomes all, whether you've just returned from an adventure abroad, are a student with ID (then thali is only NIS 24) or are simply a lover of the spices, tastes and textures that are infused into the preparation and presentation of the food.
The stainless steel platters provide a neutral background to bright salad slivers, yellow lentil daal, and rice sprinkled with dark raisins, carrot ribbons and turmeric. The thali could be likened to an artist's palette with the white dollop of yogurt and the deep hues of pineapple and other chutneys delicately placed along the curve of the oversized plate.
"I have the shuk right here so I can buy the freshest vegetables and herbs," she notes. Jumping to the next course Lehava asks, "Do you like sweet things? I made this dessert with chickpea flour and flaked coconut - it isn't even on the menu." Her creation was just perfect and a delightful ending to a varied meal. With my sweet tooth, it was easy to savor the desserts (NIS 7-14), which are served on rose petals, further satisfying my eye for aesthetics. The ingredients may surprise you but the tastes will satisfy.
To accompany your meal or as a finale, drink down some warm chai (NIS 12) or a lassi (NIS 15) and then, plan your next visit. I sure did.
Ichikidana is located at 4 HaEshkol St., in the Machane Yehuda market, Jerusalem, (050) 224-7070. It is open from Sun. to Thurs. from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fri. from 8 a.m. till one hour before Shabbat; kosher and a member of Tav Chevrati. Take out and catering services are available. The writer was a guest of the restaurant.