There's a version of Middle Eastern food on most Auckland street corners these days, but at Ima you'll find something a little different. This isn't Middle Eastern food according to a franchise. Ima (pronounced "eema") is named after the Hebrew word for "mother" and owner Israeli-born Yael Shochat's aim is to share her love of the cuisine (she's often in store). The site itself maintains the casual, family-friendly vibe - more Tel Aviv deli than restaurant. I perched at the end of a long wooden table, a backpacker surfed the net a few seats up, but on a fine day the outdoor tables (on the recently refurbished Fort Street) are popular. There are salads and truly excellent pies and pastries in the counter cabinet, all available for takeaway. Sure, some of the chairs are mismatched and the books at the back have seen better days. But it's not decor you go to Ima's for.
SUSTENANCE & SWILL
A brunch or weekend lunch? Try the shakshuka - this popular breakfast dish - originally from North Africa - works just as well for lunch. Two eggs poached in a stew of spicy, slow roasted tomatoes with Ima's home-made Moroccan-style merguez sausages served with two slices of Turkish pide ($22) - served in the pan. The best way to eat it is to break the soft egg yolk with the bread and then smother with the sauce and sausages. The falafel ($17.50) is good too. The pitas are made in-house - often in the window to the right of the entrance - and yes, it costs a few dollars more than the regular franchise-approved falafel, but you'll understand the sense of that price differential when you take a bite. Or try the malawach. After all, where else in Auckland are you going to get a Yemenite breakfast? The malawach is a fried puff pastry served with free-range egg, grated tomato, creme fraiche and home-made green chilli sauce ($17.50). The regular coffee is okay, but the Turkish coffee is very good, served in a traditional cezve.
Service is fast, with at least three wait staff on. But it does get busy, especially around Friday lunchtime. Shochat's desire to bring great Middle Eastern food to Auckland is 18 years in now and Ima Cuisine is testament to her skills and passion. Try it next time you're in the city.