Little India, food and spice in Ramle

by Sarah on June 13, 2011

Indian community in Ramle

On my last visit to Ramle Market I stepped into a clandestine little India. It is made up of only a handful of stores and restaurants scattered in and around the market and almost indiscernible for those outside the community.

maharaja, indian grocery in Ramle, Israel

The modest facade of Maharaja, Indian grocery and restaurant in Ramle, Israel

With eyes that looked but did not see, I must have passed one such shop a dozen times but never noticed it until a vegetable vendor pointed it out to me. It resembled a storage room from the outside with boxes and bags arranged haphazardly in the corners and piled high to the ceiling so even daylight had trouble finding its way. The real surprise was in the back where spices, jars of chutney, candied fennel seeds, jaggery (unprocessed brown sugar), curry leaves, dahl (lentils), sev (a salty Indian snack) and fresh okra were being sold and Hebrew and Hindi (or perhaps Marathi) was spoken interchangeably. With effort and observation it is possible to enter this other world, one that has always existed but was never acknowledged.

okra, ramle little India, ramle market

Okra being sold at an Indian store in Ramle, Tavlinei Haorim

Interestingly, a significant number of customers that frequent these small but substantial establishments are not of Indian origin but from Karachi, a town in southern Pakistan. They formed a vibrant community until tensions grew between them and their Muslim neighbors. Many escaped persecution to the more tolerant regime of India and eventually to Israel.

peda, indian sweet, Ramle market

Peda, an Indian sweet made with safron, ghee and dried milk

Today there is a growing interest in India, not only as a travel destination but for economic interests as well. One of the customers told me that as a native speaker, he works as a mediator between those living in New Delhi and the Israelis seeking to do business there.

candied fennel seeds

Candied fennel seeds, eaten at the end of a meal. A spoonful is placed on the left hand and then it is chucked in the mouth

 

The stores and restaurants catering to the Karachi and Indian community signify the continuation of this unique ethnic group and its culinary traditions. Although the borders never completely disappear, at the market a glimpse of this fascinating ethnic group can be experienced.

Indian Stores and Restaurants in Ramle:

bitter gourd, Indian store, Ramle Market

Bitter gourds at Maharaja Indian market and restaurant

Maharaja

Vegetarian restaurant, sweet shop and grocery

Selection of rice, spices, fresh bitter gourds, a variety of chutneys and an array of colorful Indian sweets such as barfi and peda.

Herzl 87, Ramle (opposite the park near the shuk)

kol bo ofra, ramle, Indian store

Kol Bo Ofra, stocked with Garam Masala and other good foods from India

Kol Bo Ofra

Contains a wide collection of spices, poppadoms, jaggery (unprocessed sugar), unusual flours such as chickpea and lentil (great for those eating gluten free), and Indian sweets called Halwa.

Hama’apilim 32, Ramle Shuk, Ramle

Telephone: 08-9214951

Tavlinei Haorim (Jonny and Grace)

They sell a variety of okra used mainly within the Indian community which is much longer and greener than the Mediterranean kind. The store also offers a selection of basmati rice in 5kg bags, spices, non wheat flours, Indian snacks such as sev and Indian henna. The owner of the shop also grows his own curry plant in his backyard, the only one of the fifteen which survived. He sells fresh curry leaves.

Hama’apilim 13, Ramle Shuk, Ramle

Telaphone: 08-9252756

Other places of Interest outside of Ramle:

Other large areas where large numbers of Indian Jews have settled include Beer Sheva, Dimona, Nevatim, Moshav Yuval and the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Learn more about the Cochini heritage at the Cultural Center in Nevatim 08-6238299

Try Cochini food in Moshav Aviad

Nirit: 052-5365021

Maoz:  052-5951787

More information on Indian Jews:

India’s Jews

Israel-India, Jewish-Indian Fusion?

candied fennel seeds, ramle israel

 

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin from Israel June 13, 2011 at 12:46 am

Beautiful photos of the fennel seeds! I haven’t eaten at Maharaja in years, I really should get back there :).

(By the way, did you see the note I sent you about Shuk Hatikva?)

———————————–
My photography is available for purchase – visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!

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Sarah June 13, 2011 at 12:48 am

thanks Robin, Those fennel seeds are delicious and so pretty to photograph!

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Angel of the North June 13, 2011 at 2:23 am

I wish there was somewhere in the UK which did online supplies for items like the beautiful wooden ma’amoul moulds and the vegetable corers, too. However, I have a good supplier for mahleb seeds and other goodies like Aleppo peppers.

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Daniela@isreview June 13, 2011 at 2:26 am

Super photos!! Thanks for introducing me to things I have never seen but are in plain sight:) I will have to look out for the candied fennel seeds, very intriguing thanks

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Sarah June 13, 2011 at 1:16 pm

thanks Daniela!

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Yaelian June 13, 2011 at 3:55 am

Great photos Sarah! The Maharaja seems to have a store in Tel Aviv too,opposite the tahanat mercazit hadasa.I once bought a box of those Indian sweets, really pretty,but did not like them.

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Sarah June 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Yaelian, Thank you. I remember you mentioned disliking fennel so I am not surprised you don’t like the candy coated fennel seeds. The flavour is the same.

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Yael June 13, 2011 at 4:09 am

Great photos and now I understand why are they so great (composition,light,blah,blah).

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Sarah June 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

We need to go on a photo safari!

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Shira June 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm

As usual, the photos are gorgeous! Did you by any chance note the cost of Saffron? I am in need of a refill, the jar I brought from the States is nearly empty!

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Sarah June 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Thanks Shira, It’s possible to buy Spanish saffron in Israel although I don’t remember the exact price. It is available at most spice vendors.

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usha June 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Beautiful photographs…and so alive. Thank you Sarah for a wonderful post It is good to know that there is a little bit of India in the markets you frequent. Meetha Saunf is indeed a mouth freshener and a childhood favourite. In India,most restaurants serving Indian food will ,along with the tab, serve fennel seeds (not candied) and rock candy. The combination of these is said to aid digestion.Pedas are delectable but can be somtimes, cloyingly sweet.
Thanks again

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Miriyummy June 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm

I really felt like I was walking down a street in some market in India. Amazing to think we have such diversity so close by. I see a trip to Ramle in the very near future, those candied fennel seeds seem like a must-try!

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Faye Levy June 14, 2011 at 12:23 am

I really appreciate this post. It’s great to know where to find Indian vegetables and sweets. I haven’t yet mastered making bitter melon taste good. Did you try the sweets or the vegetarian food?

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Sarah June 14, 2011 at 12:46 am

Thanks Faye, I did eat at the vegetarian restaurant which was good but not as spicy as I expected. I want to try it again, not on a Friday when they serve buffet style. I did not try the sweets yet but that will do that on my next trip to Ramle and will report back.

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Faye Levy June 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm

We’re also used to spicy Indian vegetarian food. Sometimes when restaurants serve buffet style they make the food less spicy to appeal to more people. We like peda and other Indian sweets when they are fresh but for us it was an acquired taste that took quite a long time to acquire! One that we liked immediately was ras malai, which is still a favorite of ours–a sort of cheese dumpling in a creamy sauce that kind of reminds of creme anglaise even though of course it doesn’t have eggs in it.

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Sarah June 14, 2011 at 11:43 pm

I was told that the food at the restaurant is authentic Bombay cuisine but it was less spicy than other authentic Indian restaurants I have been to. You are probably right about trying to appeal to more people, in my case it didn’t work. Ras Malai sounds wonderful

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Naomi June 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Do you know of any Indian food stores in Jerusalem?

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Sarah June 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

I know there is an Indian restaurant on Eshkol Street off the Mahane Yehuda Souk (near the Ethiopian spice store and Bukharian Burekas place), perhaps they sell food items as well.

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shimon alqiq April 14, 2012 at 2:02 am

is theer a store in jerusalem that sells indian spices?
thanx

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Sarah April 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

I am not very familiar with Indian spice stores in Jerusalem but I know there is an Indian restaurant on Eshkol Street in Mahane Yehuda. They might sell spices and if not they will certainly know where you can. Hope this helps

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Natalia May 20, 2012 at 4:14 am

I was looking for Indian spices shops in Israel and couldn’t find any…I’m learning aurveda and need some specific spices to use for treatment. It is a big surprise for me that there 2 Indian shops-restaurants are located in Ramla. I live in Ramla! Thank you very much for this post and help, I’m going now to visit that shops!

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Sarah May 20, 2012 at 5:11 am

Thanks for letting me know Natalia, so happy this post was useful for you

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Rivka January 13, 2013 at 5:09 am

I had a very bad experience at the Maharaja restaurant in Ramle. This place is non-hygienic, food is not served in time and customers are not even asked if they need anything. The service is terrible. Silverware is brought out in hands and the chutneys from previous customers’ tables are served to new customers. If this is what happens in front of customer eyes, who knows what happens in the kitchen. I DO NOT recommend eating at this place.

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Sarah January 13, 2013 at 6:49 am

Sorry about Maharaja. I went to the restaurant once and wasn’t impressed- very slow service and bland food. That said, they do stock interesting ingredients in their grocery store.

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