By: Gabrielle Donati
Born from the minds and experiences of Israelis Guy Michlin and Shemer Schwartz, EatWith is a worldwide phenomenon helping travelers find authentic culinary and cultural experiences wherever they go by connecting them with local hosts for group dinners. After modest beginnings in Israel, EatWith now works with hosts and travelers in over 30 countries from Japan to Hawaii and everything in between.
While it goes without saying that the swath of restaurants in Tel Aviv offers a rich tapestry of tastes, EatWith is an experience unto itself that offers you an intimate glimpse at the culture and private lives of Tel Aviv locals — not to mention the fun of experiencing it with new people.
We could go on and on about the how great EatWith is, but could never really do it justice without exposing you to an actual dinner.
So while you’re deciding which one of Tel Aviv’s fab hosts to book with, we at iTravelTelAviv took the liberty of documenting our experience with one of the city’s most popular EatWith chefs to provide you with a table-side view into the Israeli EatWith experience.
Chanchal and Sigal have been with EatWith since 2013 and are known for their amazing and authentic Indian feasts. Born in Jamshedpur, India, Chanchal met and married Sigal, a native Israeli, and now divides his time and talents between the two countries.
In addition to hosting with EatWith, they have become the go-to experts in Israel for everything Indian, and together they created the Open House for Indian Culture in Jaffa which hosts monthly events of Indian food and music in an effort to educate and entertain guests interested in Indian culture. The food is prepared by Chanchal and they invite world-renowned Indian singers and musicians to provide entertainment.
When he’s not in the kitchen, the talented Chanchal can be found in his art studio. He is a gifted artist with a unique style who regularly exhibits at galleries internationally. If you eat with Chanchal and Sigal, you’ll also be able to check out some of his work on the walls of their home.
Sigal and Chanchal embodied the EatWith mindset long before EatWith became a working concept and subsequently, a successful internet start-up.
In 2006, this warm and vibrant couple began hosting diners at their home in Jerusalem every Thursday night, serving a full-course vegetarian dinner that consisted of whichever dishes Chanchal felt like preparing that day. Advertising was by word-of-mouth and the occasional local news story. At 40 shekel per person, there wasn’t a better deal in town, and the food was outstanding. It didn’t take long for those “in the know” to become regulars.
Table and chair sets adorned with linen and lit candles were scattered throughout their private garden, and on rainy nights, meals were served in their glass-enclosed patio, accented with Indian tapestries and lanterns. Back then, Chanchal prepared the dishes in their small kitchen and Sigal served them to eager diners. It was a good setup, but it didn’t allow for much personal interaction between guests and the chef. The only chance most guests had to interact with Chanchal was at the end of the meal when he was able to get away from the kitchen to thank the guests and say goodnight.
The Hosts with the Most
Sigal and Chanchal now have years of hosting experience under their belt and they welcome guests into their home like family. Today, their exquisite meals are served in a spacious apartment perched above a mini-market in the heart of Jaffa.
The dining space is an extension of their large kitchen so guests are now able to engage in conversation with Chanchal while he is preparing the food, and he often steps away from the stove to join a conversation or explain a dish. This allows for a lot of interaction between the chef, hostess and diners, enhancing the meal with an interesting and educational narrative of small details about India and Indian food that only a native could know. Chanchal and Sigal explain the subtleties of each dish as they bring it to the table, and if you didn’t already know, you quickly get the picture that India is a country with many personalities.
While Chanchal is making magic in the kitchen, Sigal makes sure everyone is seated, served, and satisfied. With seemingly limitless energy, she balances the needs of their dinner guests with those of the couple’s two children, who are typically hanging out in the living room or their bedrooms, further enhancing the “family” atmosphere. Theirs is a lively table of diners from diverse backgrounds who are eager to socialize and break bread with good people, and if you’re in need of an ice-breaker, “Is this your first EatWith dinner?” is the perfect way to start.
As talented as Chanchal is in the studio, he is equally as talented in the kitchen, and it soon becomes clear that authenticity in cooking is an art form in itself.
This is Indian food at it’s finest,with all the usual suspects making an appearance: Pakora, Samosa, Dal, Aloo Gobi, Chana Masala, Puri, Papadam, and more. Sigal explained that the concept of a “dessert” course has not been a part of traditional Indian culture, so you’ll often find a sweet dish, which westerners might classify as dessert, included with the main course. One bite of Chanchal’s Malai Kofta, and her point is driven home.
This unique dish is made of potato in the form of dumplings, and arrives in a creamy, sweet cashew curry that will almost spoil you for anything else. Much to everyone’s pleasure, Sigal is happy to dish out second servings, giving everyone the chance to indulge in their personal favorites.
The grand finale to the meal is Chanchal’s heavenly Masala Chai, a milk-based tea with cloves, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. Traditionally served in small cups, you’ll want refills until the pot is dry; thank your lucky stars, Sigal is happy to oblige.
The Open House for Indian Culture (Hebrew)
About the author
Gabrielle Donati lives a life of relative ease in the great White City. She is a veteran writer, critic and all-in-all decent person, once you get to know her. A devout Pastafarian who puts an emphasis on living healthy and happy, she enjoys discovering and sharing the many little pleasures of the city.