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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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
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
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
More information on Indian Jews: