Quality and ethnic kosher fast food is becoming ubiquitous and inexpensive

Sarona Chicho (photo credit: ELAD BRAMI)
Sarona Chicho
(photo credit: ELAD BRAMI)
This endless pandemic has had mixed effects on Israel’s restaurants. While some of the country’s leading restaurants have been closed for months, and a few have been forced to close permanently, others have not only survived but even thrived. While Tel Aviv’s sidewalk bars are full to bursting, the largely indoor Sarona Market – ordinarily bustling with locals and tourists alike – has been experiencing many evenings when it is depressingly empty.
Desperate times call for desperate, or at least creative, measures; accordingly, Sarona’s management last week launched a special, limited-time promotional campaign designed to bring people back to the erstwhile popular giant food court. Until September 18 (for the time being, I would not be surprised if it is extended), most of the Market’s restaurants and vendors – some 28 in all – are serving one dish per evening at the attractively discounted price of NIS 25.
For some time now, Sarona Market (as opposed to the compound) has been witnessing a growing number of eateries serving certified kosher food. In fact, the Market’s current website has an entire page devoted to “kosher in the Market.” Clearly, these 10 businesses – seven of which are participating in the present promotion – are meeting public demand, whether they have been there for a while, are brand-new or are replacing similar places that were previously not kosher.
Sarona’s management invited journalists to sample a few of the dishes being served at reduced cost. For the purposes of this review, I chose to focus on four kosher eateries, namely: Rotisserie, Mexicana, Tandoor and Chicho.
The tiny Sarona outlet of Mexicana is a particularly unusual case, since its parent restaurants in the city are both non-kosher. The menu here is also much more limited than in other Mexicanas, although there is still enough choice to keep it interesting. Except, of course, when it comes to the promotional dish, which is restricted to one: chili con carne on rice, with nacho chips. The version here is American-style – made with ground beef instead of cubed – and slightly under-seasoned; but just a few drops of either the red or green imported habanero chili sauce perks it right up, rendering it ultimately satisfactory.
Tandoor also has an interesting background: It is Sarona’s exclusive purveyor of Indian food, after Yonatan Roshfeld’s Captain Curry ceased functioning. Its NIS 25 dish is chicken curry on rice, with a choice of two side salads. The servers recommended the cilantro and cabbage salads, as refreshing counterparts to the slightly spicy coconut milk curry, which is actually quite tasty. For those wanting an even more savory version, there is also a choice of two chutneys.
Chicho expanded to Sarona several years ago, after building its reputation on homestyle Moroccan tavshilim, which I consider akin to comfort food. Most people order the frena sandwiches stuffed with their choice of signature meatballs: beef, fish, mutton or vegan. The promotional dish is Moroccan-style bourghoul, stewed with dried fruit, topped with two of the selfsame meatballs (one may order mix-and-match). It comes with a few pickled olives, and dollops of two condiments – one resembling mayonnaise and the other Chicho’s excellent matbouha. (Given my druthers, I would request the sauces in the same kind of container housing the olives.)
FOR THOSE eating with families, perhaps the best choice would be Rotisserie Chicken Club, both because the featured dish – chicken wings in a choice of three outstanding sauces – appeals to adults and children alike, and because other menu options (in particular, the value lunches, family deals and kids’ meals) offer terrific value for money as well.
The wings (roasted, of course, not fried) are meaty, and flavored with barbecue or sweet chili sauces that enhance the poultry without overpowering it. The third option, fiery diablo sauce, is for adventurous eaters only.
Another advantage of Rotisserie is the convenience that one does not need to get only to Sarona to enjoy the food, which includes excellent roast beef, in addition to the main event. Owner Ayelet and her husband chef arrived at Sarona Market upon taking over the space (and equipment) left behind by Kukuriku, the non-kosher rotisserie chicken place operated by prominent restaurateur Ran Shmueli, and after building successful kosher businesses in two other locations: Shuk Tzafon, a similar food court in Ramat Hahayal, and B’nei Dror, in the Sharon.
“It takes a long time to roast our chickens, and even longer for the roast beef, which is also cooked in the rotisserie,” Ayelet notes. “Therefore, we refer to ourselves as casual dining, which serves up fresh food quickly.”
Finally, a word about desserts. Sarona does not have any certified kosher vendors selling sweets, with the possible exceptions of the pareve Mamlekhet Hahalva (Kingdom of Halva), which wraps your purchases for take away; and Paletas, which sells pre-wrapped frozen fruit and chocolate bars (and is not necessarily open during all the same hours that the promotional campaign runs).
That said, there are sufficient options of seemingly kosher, yet not rabbinically certified, dessert options, such as Soft Cookie, or for those who lean towards the French custom of cheese for dessert, La Fromagerie, which is selling a cheese platter that is participating in the NIS 25 promotion.
An additional observation about dining during Covid: Sarona Market may be largely indoors, but I encountered no problem social distancing at tables positioned in the cavernous hall. Moreover, it is possible to take your food just outside and enjoy it there, even as a picnic (bring your own blanket). This circumstance holds true with regard to Shuk Tzafon and the mall at Drorim Junction as well, for that matter. The Rotisserie outlets in these locations will also deliver to expanded destinations throughout the Sharon and northeastern suburbs.
Sarona Market
Kosher (the four reviewed locations)
Aluf Kalman Magen St. 3, Tel Aviv. Phone: 03-624-2424
Drorim Mall, Gilboa St. 1, Bnei Dror. Phone: 09-880-7740
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.