It's a restaurant that oozes warmth from the moment you step in. Run by a mother and daughter as if it is their home, Nagila offers several innovative vegan delicacies.
Located in Jerusalem's Even Yisrael neighborhood, close to the iconic Machane Yehuda market, the restaurant's leitmotif appears to be personal touch in the way it treats the customers. The place is not very big, the menu is not very elaborate but its ambience is easy, relaxed and friendly.
The restaurant was born out of passion of Gila, the owner, and her eldest daughter Hannah Jasmine, who is also the chef, for sharing their distinct home-made food.
But it did not happen in a flash. Gila, a kindergarten teacher and an exercise trainer, had prepared a vegetarian meal for 80 people at a Bat Mitzvah (the Jewish coming of age ritual often marked with joyous parties) of her younger daughter, who had turned 12. The meal, prepared along with Hannah, was liked immensely by the guests.
Gila then accepted a similar request from her friend which also turned out to be a success, and then she gradually embarked on the "greatest adventure" of her life.
Gila said eating healthy is of paramount importance. "Most of the meat they sell is with hormones and antibiotics. Milk has risk of infection. I prefer not to tell people eat this and that, but I say to people you should know what you put in your mouth," she said.
The arched building in which Nagila is located is over 120 years old and came up as part of Jewish neighbourhood outside the Old City's walls in the late 19th century. Gila said she could not find a proper place in the market and liked the building when she saw it.
Its inner space was reshaped by Gila and Yonathan, her husband, who also made the relatively big wooden bar inside, besides some of the other furniture.
The restaurant takes care to serve fresh food. It does not have a microwave and all the salads are prepared on order.
The menu offered a tantalising choice and I opted for lasagna, made of layers of cashew cheese, pesto, spinach, roasted mushrooms and home-made tomato sauce. There was an accompanying fresh side salad.
The dish, a little bland for my Indian palette, was fresh and filling and left me with little appetite to try more.
There were quite a few attractions on the menu. Yamburger is a beet and tofu burger made in a home-made bun that has black lentils and is served with baked sweet potatoes and a mild salsa dip. Moussaka is made of baked eggplant, stuffed tofu and green lentils; Caribbean Pastry is a crunchy curry-flavoured dough stuffed with mildly spiced vegetables and is served with a side salad and tahini-salsa.
Herb Latkes has root vegetables, leek, zucchini and sprouted mung beans served and is served with a fresh side salad and tahine-salsa.
Other dishes included Mejadra La J'ahdana and Curry Stew. The salads -- Nagila, Aphrodite's and Quinoa -- are served with whole wheat bread and tahina. There was also spaghetti and gluten-free pasta
For dessert, I had various options -- chocolate mousse in a short glass, banana bread with tahni and date honey, carrot cake with walnuts and raisins, raw chocolate cake with dates and nuts and a fruit crumble with coconut ice-cream.
I found the raw chocolate cake particularly awesome for its stark flavour.
A meal for two at the restaurant would cost approximately 170 NIS (About Rs 3,200).
(Prashant Sood was in Israel at the invitation of the country's tourism bureau. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)