Israel's Hottest Chefs: Asian-Middle East Fusion at Taizu

By Danielle Crittenden Frum

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with chef Yuval Ben Neriah of the white hot restaurant, Taizu, in Tel Aviv. Ben Neriah has managed to fuse together the Jewish love of Asian food with, well, the Jewish love of Mediterranean food. 


Chef Yuval Ben Neriah; Chickpea Koftas in Curry Sauce. Photos courtesy of Taizu.

I was somewhat skeptical. Faced with the Taizu menu – altogether so entirely foreign I couldn’t even BEGIN to taste the flavors in my head – I couldn’t imagine how Yuval made this work:
 
Taizu Tartar
Crispy Rice Cone, Black Sesame Seeds, Soy Foam, Flying Fish Roe
 
Salmon Peking
Chinese pancakes, Hoisin Sauce, Salmon Roe, Micro Celery
 
Shanghainese Dumplings
Veal Cheeks, Beef Soup, Pstachio Masala, Pomegranate Broth
 
Black Cod Fish
Tomatoes Honey, Peanut, Crispy Shallots, White Peach
 
Like, seriously?
 
“I take inspiration from the street food of five South Asian cultures,” Yuval told me, as we sat one morning in the beautifully designed modern glass-and-wood interior that is Taizu.  “Chinese, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India.”
 
Was this some longtime affinity with Asian cuisine, I asked him? Why these five cultures? Why street food?
 
Interestingly, the Israeli-born Yuval had little experience with this type of cuisine.  He allowed that he had always been “attracted to Asian food” not least because its appeal to him “is much like storytelling. There is a story to every dish – the layers of sauces, spices, and textures.”
 
Before founding Taizu, he was the executive chef at the well-known and highly regarded Herbert Samuel restaurant.  When the opportunity arose to start Taizu, he followed his dream and spent four months – with two sous chefs – traveling the five countries of interest and experiencing their food cultures.
 
“Before I started the journey, I didn’t realize that street food would be my inspiration,” he said. “Over there, everything starts from the street.”
 
This week we are pleased to offer Yuval’s recipe for chick pea koftas in curry sauce. When I received the recipe I was again skeptical. This was so beyond my comfort zone of cooking.  A lot of exotic ingredients.  A lot of chopping. And I had absolutely no feel for how the recipe might turn out.
 
However I gamely, if nervously, tried it. All the ingredients turned out to be readily available at Whole Foods. Much of the chopping could be done in the Cuisinart. It ended up being way more simple than the recipe seemed at first.  And: what a hit. The chick pea “koftas” are delectably moist patties simmering in maybe the best curry sauce I’ve ever tasted. The sauce alone could be adapted to other dishes, such as simmered chicken thighs. In any case I urge you to give it a go -- and tell me what you think!

 

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