What’s Israeli food? Don’t know. Is hummus a staple in Jerusalem households? Don’t know. Baba Ganoush? Maybe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s house. Is shawarma an Israeli delicacy or just something Iron Man made the other Avengers eat after the Battle of New York?
What we’re trying to say is, unless you can claim to have gone shawarma-hopping in Tel Aviv, your knowledge of Israeli cuisine is probably equal to the existence of Donald Trump’s pet labradoodle. So when the folks at Miznon tell you you’re eating the authentic street food from their homeland, well, you just have to take their word for it.
Then again, their version of the truth is not hard to swallow, since we’re not aware of any other nationality that can give cauliflower a personality it never knew it had, or any bakery in the bread universe that can put a spring in a pita’s step.
Miznon is a well known (to other Israelis) fast casual diner in Tel Aviv created by Masterchef judge Eyal Shani – who has sparked queues from New York to Melbourne for his signature pita bread, but probably not here yet because our herd radar hasn’t quite extended beyond Hong Kong bo lo buns or durian-filled doughnuts.
But the pace at this all-day, fast-casual but not fast food-priced eatery is speedy enough that it sells out of its popular choices by mid afternoon, even though there’s enough left to give you a good sense of what it’s all about.
Miznon is bereft of ambience or efficient service, which leads us to think they care more about the welfare of their pita than the comfort of their diners who have to squash themselves into the few tables that may be one metre apart depending on the kind of ruler you use. You order and pay at the counter fast food style, and wait for your food to come.
But once you take your first bite, the whole cliche of fresh, simple and well-curated ingredients comes to life.
There are two ways to eat here: with or without pita. With the pita is most recommended, as it is made from a recipe so secret it has to be made in Tel Aviv and sent here frozen. The dough must have spent time bouncing on a trampoline back home because it stays resilient to the bite, baked to an attractive speckled brown hue and rewarding you with a satisfying bite. It is good with most of the fillings, particularly the Eggs No Steak (S$16), which is stuffed with a beautifully crispy-edged sunnyside egg, plump ripe avocado, tomato, onions and sour cream. There’s nothing to it, really, just the clever pairing of naughty fried egg and virtuous salad.
It’s also less heavy-going than the Steak and Egg (S$21) where thin pieces of minute steak squeeze themselves into the egg and salad mix – good if you need that beefy presence but otherwise the equivalent of a third wheel. ERotisserie (S$18) is a better bet for its jumble of shredded dry roast chicken that gets a moisture surge from the smoky, melting soft eggplant in baba ganoush, and some heat from a homemade green chilli paste. Just by switching around the condiments of sour cream, pickled green chillies, tahini and baba ganoush, Miznon builds up a whole repertoire of fillings that doesn’t get boring.
Outside of the pita, there is (S$11) – literally a hit-and-run tuber that arrives layered in a sheet pan; buttery soft waxy potato with little more than sour cream to complete this simple pleasure. And the signature whole roasted cauliflower lives up to its fame for its tender cooked flesh with a springy bite (S$16) seasoned with nothing but olive oil and rock salt. Intimate – aka beef short ribs getting it on with root vegetables and tahini in a braised menage a trois (S$24) – is again straightforward but underringly balanced in its seasoning.
Even the only dessert it has – essentially the cut off tops of the pita bread filled with banana slices and nutella (S$5) – is a child-like treat.
The appeal of Miznon is just how uncomplicated it is – it’s all about instant gratification with the exotic appeal of a new cuisine. It’s clearly a beginner’s guide to Israeli cooking and certainly nowhere close to Ottolenghi level. We’ll get to that in time, but for now, what we really want next is a good shawarma – whatever that is.
6 Stanley Street
Open Mon to Sat: 11am to 11pm
This article was originally published in The Business Times.