Sunday, July 25, 2010

At Ima Restaurant in Teaneck

Israeli saladImage via Wikipedia

Ima is the Hebrew word for mother, but the food served at the kosher Teaneck restaurant pales in comparison to the dishes turned out by my Sephardic Jewish mother, who was born in Aleppo, Syria.

The cook at this restaurant is the daughter of the woman who opened the original Ima in Israel, featuring recipes from the family kitchen in Mosul, Iraq. Iraq and Syria share a border, but, judging from the food I ate at Teaneck's Ima, not the spices that set Grace Sasson's food apart.

This is also a kosher restaurant, which means it's expensive. I can understand why dishes with kosher meat are more expensive than non-kosher meat dishes at other restaurants. But why are dishes without meat so expensive?

I wanted to try one of Ima's signature items -- kibbeh -- which is a fried bulgur-wheat casing containing vegetables, but only the meat version was available Sunday evening. Instead, I ordered a red pepper stuffed with rice ($6), a bowl of tomato soup with white beans ($6) and an Israeli salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers that serves two ($8). Hummus was listed at $9.

The food was good, but bland. I couldn't taste any cumin, allspice or tamarind sauce, just three of the ways my mother seasoned her home-cooked dishes.

The restaurant is simply decorated and seats about 20. During my visit Sunday evening, I saw at least three, large Israeli families with noisy children eating there. 

After I ordered, I received a small bowl of pickled vegetables and a single, doughy, partially burned pocket bread. I asked for a second bread during my meal. I drank water, because there was no seltzer.

Ima is about a mile from my home, and I was hoping it was a place where I could experience the flavors of my mother's kitchen, but I'll have to continue driving to Paterson for the real thing.

Ima Restaurant, 445 Cedar Lane, Teaneck; 201-357-5789. 
Closed Friday at 4 p.m. during the summer, and all day Saturday.
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  1. Victor, I have always been told that food from Mosul is similar to Syrian cuisine. Looks like Ima doesn't spice it up as much.

  2. That's interesting, Chuck. Maybe the food loses its identity when filtered through the Israeli kitchen, which has adapted itself to cooking influences from around the world. But on the other hand, I have to say the experience of eating falafel in Israel would be hard to match. Each stand has 10 to 15 salads, peppers or sauces -- hot and otherwise -- you can add to your sandwich as you eat. I just wish more places there and here made their falafel from fava beans, as in Egypt, not chick peas.

  3. Victor, you should try the frozen falafel I buy at Brothers produce. They are from Egypt and made with favas. Fry them in shallow oil for 2 minutes a side and you have a tasty Egyptian style falafel. My wife has had the falafel in Israel and has stated they are hit or miss there, either very good or not so much.

  4. What a great tip, Chuck. In Egypt, falafel are called taamia, I believe, and I remember a colorful restaurant in Cairo where I enjoyed them. I had a wonderful time eating and sightseeing in Egypt for about three weeks in the late 1970s. The people are very warm and hospitable.

  5. I have only eaten at an Egyptian restaurant once in my life, in San Francisco. It was quite an experience (finding the place, the decor, different Egyptian takes on food)and rather pricey. I definitely enjoyed it.


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