An authentic taste of India

Discovering the secret of traditional Indian cuisine and culture in Israel.

Chanchal Banga alongside his exhibition at the Artist’s House gallery in north Tel Aviv, which examined a very Indian animal – monkeys (photo credit: VARDA CARMELI)
Chanchal Banga alongside his exhibition at the Artist’s House gallery in north Tel Aviv, which examined a very Indian animal – monkeys
(photo credit: VARDA CARMELI)
Finding authentic Indian cuisine in Israel is like searching for the Holy Grail: unlikely. Considering the thousands of Israelis who travel to the East in search of relaxation, enlightenment and/or other delights, it is surprising that, for the most part, the few Indian restaurants in Israel serve up a pale representation of this vibrant cuisine. They tend to be managed by Israelis who are afraid of or lack sufficient knowledge about spices and focus mainly on malai kofta, a North Indian vegetarian curry dish revered by Israelis above all others.
There is, however, an Indian man in Jaffa who makes the most delicious and traditional food in his own home.
Not only is he a talented cook, but he is generous with his culture, chatting companionably about his upbringing and offering a visual introduction to the Indian nation through his artwork, which adorns the walls.
Chanchal Banga was born and raised in the industrial city of Jamshedpur (Tata-Nagar), located in the eastern province of Jharkhand. After obtaining a BA in fine arts and a master’s degree in filmmaking, he moved to Israel 15 years ago, where he studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Banga has achieved the objective of most artists: to support himself and his family financially and work on his art full-time. How? By hosting Indian dinners in his home.
Let’s begin with the food. Banga can be reached through, an Israeli-based start-up that pairs talented cooks with willing guests through an easily maneuvered website. Each cook chooses his/her own menu and hosts a dinner in the comfort of his/her own home. The number of guests varies according to the amount of space available. All dietary requirements and payment are addressed via the website prior to dinner, so the guest’s only task of the night is to turn up and delve in alongside an assortment of fellow diners, which always makes for an interesting evening.
Banga offers two regular meals at his home, as well as cooking workshops available on request. Indian House – Vegetarian Rich Thali costs NIS 97, and Indian Festive Chicken Tikka Masala costs NIS 138. His home is a small slice of India, with pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and brightly colored throws adorning the sofas.
Banga cooks everything from scratch, dipping into recipes from throughout India and using them according to his mood. He’s happy to chat with his guests as he stands over the stove attending to the food and continues to be present throughout the meal, offering second helpings generously and introducing unique Indian customs to enhance the experience, such as lacing lemonade with ground cumin to add an earthy kick.
This is a way for Banga to support his family while expressing himself creatively and introducing guests to his beloved culture and roots. For him, it is far preferable to the pressures of restaurant cooking.
The menu consists of a variety of dishes such as potato samosas followed by a platter of fragrant and varied vegetable curries, from aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato curry) to creamy dal makhani (lentils), accompanied by steaming naan bread and decadent puri fried bread, and ending with cups of fragrant masala chai (heavily spiced milky tea). This is Indian food as eaten in India, minus the chilies, which are available upon request in the form of a spicy cilantro chutney, which serves to enhance every dish. Dining at Banga’s allows guests the right to snootily regard all other Indian meals in Israel with disdain. It’s the real deal.
The man himself is very happy.
“I have no complaints in my life,” says Banga, in the enviably content tone that Indians seem to find so much easier to adopt than their Western visitors. “That’s why I’m smiling, like the monkey.”
Monkeys in India, particularly in the south, are everywhere.
They roam free and wild, grabbing at people’s eyeglasses, deftly snatching their cameras and generally being a nuisance. These creatures are loved by Banga, who has placed them as the central figure in his latest art exhibition, which was on display at the Artist’s House gallery in north Tel Aviv through early April.
Banga explores the various facets of the monkey through small, unframed paintings in Indian ink, clustered together on one wall. Bouncing monkeys with intricate inky roots evoke the artist’s fond memories of childhood – the mischievous creatures that would regularly steal his aunt’s mangoes from the tree in her garden and the fables featuring playful yet wise monkeys narrated to him before he fell asleep. They continue to educate and inspire into adulthood, he explains. “The monkey knows how to jump into life and be happy, and this is my happy show.”
Banga is happy because of India’s progress, the decreasing “monkey business” which until recently caused business and government interactions to be slow and inefficient. Computers and the Internet now offer much-needed clarity and transparency, which he believes will catapult his homeland into modernity. This increasingly rigid structure is implied through the thick black frames in which Banga has mounted a small selection of his drawings, providing a contrast to the majority of his free-hanging paintings. They also serve to represent his frustrating journey toward becoming a recognized artist in Israel, a trial from which he feels he is finally becoming unbound – another source of happiness.
Arie Berkowitz, the director of the Artist’s House, attributes Banga’s increasing popularity in Israel to his focus on personal history, specifically the East vs West struggle and mix of influences that has been a prominent topic within Israeli art from the outset. This audience is sympathetic to Banga’s work. They easily connect to it with a deep understanding due to their own mixed roots and backgrounds.
Banga’s generous smile and enthusiasm for life and creativity, be it through food or art, probably has a lot to do with people’s affection for him as well. He is a gracious, open taste of India, and one too good to pass up.