Chef Tod Grey uses the heaven-sent food as a “finishing spice.”
Visitors to Washington, D.C.’s Museum of the Bible can get a taste of heaven when they break for lunch at Chef Tod Grey’s Manna restaurant, where the ancient ingredient manna graces the menu.
Sprinkled on kabobs, chicken, and burgers, manna lends a biblical flavor the museum’s Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. “I use it as a finishing spice,” Grey told the Forward.
The cafeteria-style eatery serves up Israeli street food to museumgoers, including dishes seasoned with that most biblical of foods, the mysterious manna (literally translated as “What is this?), which the Old Testament tells us God provided the Israelites during their travels though the desert (Exodus 16:1-36).
The LORD said to Moses: 12 I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them: In the evening twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have your fill of bread, and then you will know that I, the LORD, am your God. 13 In the evening, quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning there was a layer of dew all about the camp, 14 and when the layer of dew evaporated, fine flakes were on the surface of the wilderness, fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. 15 On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this?” for they did not know what it was. But Moses told them, “It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.
While it is impossible to know for certain what manna from the Bible actually was, some historians believe it referred to “plant lice,” a resin harvested from certain shrubs in the Middle East. Insects consume the plant sap, and leave a deposit of the resin made of their secretions.
The resin-like manna that Grey acquired cost him $325 for a one-pound bag, which he uses sparingly as he is not sure whether he will be able to replenish his stock. Harvesting manna is a labor-intensive process, which makes finding a reliable supplier difficult, reported the Washington Post in an article on Grey’s manna-infused menu:
“Harvesters must cut a bush’s branches and wait for the resin to appear overnight and harden in the morning sun. Then they shake or scrape it off the plant by hand and pick out impurities like leaves and stems.”
To serve the ingredient to all his guests, Chef Grey has had to get a bit creative. He’s come up with a formula for two kinds of manna: the first is made of bee pollen, puffed rice, rose petal sugar and smoked Maldon salt, and the second is a more savory blend of fennel pollen, sesame and sumac.
Asked whether these manna-like concoctions are “real” manna, Grey told the Washington Post, that the difference between his home-grown seasoning and biblical manna is similar to the difference between Champagne from France and other sparkling wines.
Whatever it is, the manna-seasoned dishes are a favorite with diners, Gray told the Forward. He hopes to try out manna matzo balls and latkes next.
“We’re just getting our legs, but when Jewish holidays come, we’re going to try to integrate some classics onto menu,” he told the Forward.