Neighborhood Profile: Ready to Eat
By Maxwell Hu
Rami is holding a knife and he thwacks at cabbage. The kitchen fills with the din of metal meeting metal and knives smacking cutting boards. A snowstorm of hands chops onions, grinds chickpeas, and pours olive oil. And yet, Rami is poised, back straight, calmly spooning a mixture of ground beef, rice and warm spices into a green leaf. Today he’s making stuffed cabbage, a recipe his mother made for him as a boy growing up in sun-soaked Tel Aviv.
Rami is the proud chef and owner of Ready to Eat, a small family shop amid other busy restaurants on Hudson Street, between Charles and W 10th Street. The name, pragmatically and almost comically American, doesn’t yet tell you the full story. Rami took over the business a decade ago and has since suffused the place with Mediterranean sun and Levantine spices. It has, however, not lost its original purpose in providing locals with fast food, lovingly and painstakingly prepared, all days of the week.
Many of the dishes Rami makes today are the same ones his mother cooked for him. “My mom was a very good cook, yes. You know, there’s a lot of stuff I cook from my childhood. Stuffed eggplant, moussaka we call it, stuffed cabbage, lemon roast chicken, I grew up on these flavors. This is the food I enjoy eating.” Rami was an active kid and “food put me in focus.” He cooked in the Israeli army, and when his wife wanted to move to the States, he came and began his cooking career in New York.
It’s a happy family here. The most luscious potato salad, fresh sandwiches and kale salads sit next to Sicilian eggplant caponata topped with ricotta salata, pomegranate glazed roast chicken and bright tomato salads. The casual marriage of American classics and childhood Mediterranean recipes feels effortless, simply because it reflects the flavors of Rami’s own life.
In many ways, Rami’s food is analogous to food of the now-internationally famous British-Israeli chef Yottam Ottolenghi, whose eponymous London shop sells the same salads and hot foods laid out on ceramic that recalls their mutual Israeli upbringings. When asked about the comparison, Rami responds, “Yes, it’s true my food is very similar to Ottolenghi’s. That’s true. But I’ve been doing it longer. I just don’t like to be famous.” Rami cooks because he loves cooking and loves seeing smiles. “I thrive when I am feeding people, their reactions to the food and the happiness I give.”
Good food, like Proust’s madeleine, is the closest to time travel we’ll get. A bite of Rami’s food tunnels us to a childhood that is both ours and not our own: to the Mediterranean truth and dream essence—to uninhibited skies and the bright yellow sun. In a world that seems now full of artifice, Rami’s home cooking is a breath of relief. It’s real, it’s healthy, and it’s good.