In Hungarian, the word “igen” means yes. “Igen migen, haf de fliegen,” is a slightly mocking expression used for Hungarian Jews, translating roughly to “Hungarian Jews, go jump in the lake.” It is also the name of a just-opened restaurant in downtown Jerusalem that aims to introduce a new cuisine to a city that has almost everything from Moroccan to Ethiopian to Japanese to Chinese to Israeli street food.
There are a few Hungarian restaurants in Israel known mainly for chicken paprikash and goulash. Co-owner Rafael Kohn says one of his investors originally envisioned a similar restaurant, but he insisted on a dairy chef’s restaurant. According to the laws of kashrut, followed by most restaurants in Jerusalem, meat and dairy cannot be eaten together. Kosher restaurants serve either meat or dairy. In Tel Aviv, which has fewer Orthodox Jews, restaurants may not be kosher. One famous Tel Aviv restaurant that served dairy Hungarian food, Judith’s, was open for 35 years, and recently closed.
Kohn says he chose to make his restaurant dairy so he can serve traditional Hungarian pastries. He’s hired a Hungarian pastry chef currently working in a Tel Aviv hotel. He has also two chefs, one Hungarian who is currently competing on the Hungarian version of Master Chef, and Yohanan Lambiase, an Italian-born chef who started the Jerusalem Culinary Institute and has been cooking for decades.
IgenMigen is in a courtyard just off Jaffa Road, one of Jerusalem’s main downtown streets. The menu offers a series of Hungarian dishes like korozott, a paprika cheese spread, and langos, fried Hungarian read with cream cheese, yellow cheese and herbs.
The restaurant had a soft opening, with Kohn and Lambiase inviting friends to come taste the food before they opened for business. So far, Kohn says, it’s going well.
“Langos (pronounced lan-gosh) is my biggest seller,” Kohn told The Media Line. “Today I had a family that drove down from Haifa (a two-hour drive) just to eat langos.”
The menu, which is still being finalized, takes advantage of the proximity of Machane Yehuda, the nearby open-air fruit and vegetable market for fresh produce every day. Kohn lives above the restaurant, spending most of his days and nights there.
Hungarians are known as being good cooks.
“My grandmother was from Austria-Hungary and she was an amazing cook,” Dorraine Weiss, a friend of the chef’s, told The Media Line. “She would use a little bit of this, and a little of that, and it would always turn out amazing.”
Some of the offerings are international rather than Hungarian.
“This is gravlax, (similar to smoked salmon) which has been marinated with beet root, orange zest, capers, and left for five days,” chef Lambiose said as he put a colorful appetizer on the table. “It’s served with a raspberry coulis.”
There is also Turkish pizza or “pide” of an “oven-baked crusty dough stuffed with caramelized onions, black olive tapenade, mint, mozzarella, feta and diced tomato.
It is in the desserts that the restaurant really shines. Offerings include szilvas gomboc, Hungarian plum dumplings served with vanilla cream, and grundel palacsnita, also known as pancakes stuffed with ground walnuts, raisins and rum filling with a chocolate cream sauce. For those who want to go “light” there is a duo of wine poached pears with orange chocolate ganache, vanilla bean and marzipan cream.
Nicky and Binny Zuppnik, a young couple who live near Tel Aviv were on their way to a different restaurant when they spotted IgenMigen, and Nicky remembered she had seen the logo on Facebook. They decided to forgo dinner, and go right to dessert.
“I was a little nervous because I had never had Hungarian food, but it was really good,” Binny Zuppnik told The Media Line. “I had a Hungarian pancake with orange ganache and it was great.”
“I had the poached pears and they were delicious,” Nicky added. “Now we want to come again for dinner.”
Rafael Kohn has plans for his courtyard. Along with a neighboring bookstore/café, and a vegetarian/vegan restaurant moving in soon, he hopes to make the area an art gallery showcasing young artists and offer an organic produce market weekly. He plans to start a Friday brunch and offer Hungarian cakes for sale as well.