Jerusalem: A Culinary Extravaganza
Arjun Puri explores the food and history of Jerusalem.
When I plan my travels, I try and pack in as much of food as I do history! And, when in Jerusalem, the lengthy walks and tours aide in building an extremely healthy appetite. I spent four days in this beautiful old city, rich with heritage, history and culture. One can almost imagine walking through pages of history as you’re patiently waiting at a traffic light. There is so much to see, so much to take in and so much to learn from. As one takes calculated steps into this magical city, take a deep breath and let go.
Here’s the guide to a good food outing in Jerusalem!
Mahane Yehuda Market: The very first stop that I insist you make is at this incredible marketplace. Early in the morning is a great time to get a feel of the locality and to watch bicycles, cars, vans and trucks unload umpteen crates of fresh produce - vegetables, fruits, meats and almost everything one can possibly imagine under the sun! The vibrant colors, the conversations, the exchanges and the atmosphere are second to none. I visited the market multiple times – to watch various activities unfold and to sample with different meals through the day. As I made my way to the local falafel shops deep inside the market, I wasn’t disappointed!
Always follow your instinct and the crowd, of course. I found a small standalone shop in the corner of the 2nd bend and made my way to the counter to order a rather healthy serving! The sauces that accompany the falafel and pita are authentic and are all produced on the day. And, to go with the meal is freshly grounded coffee beans, brewed to perfection. The coffee shops in their dozens are inviting and warm. The high chairs placed outside allow one to sit and people gaze! If you’re a fan of candy or olives or avocados or pastries, there is a place for you at Mahane Yehuda Market. My parents and I ventured into the market at night as well and were surprised to see hundreds of people singing and dancing in the aisles. Live music and fairy lights add such unique character to this market by sundown. The bars come alive with loud chatter and laughter and the food is to die for! We tried local cheese, soups and sandwiches on one evening and on the other we tried the Israeli take on Chinese/Thai cuisine! Both highly recommended. The real take away from this experience is that each person, local or tourist, will have his or her own favorites in the market. There are so many options; it would take weeks, if not months to try them all!
Rachmo: Considered to be a traditional workers eatery, one can expect a delicious range of Kurdish/Iraqi fare! The dumpling soup – Kubeh is a big hit with all those who visit this eatery. On probing further, I found out that this place was opened in the 1930s and has a fair share of fanfare ever since. One has to be patient to eat here, as the service isn’t the quickest! Definitely worth the wait though!
Machneyuda: We were advised before we even reached Jerusalem that if we were to eat one meal in the city, this should be the place. And, right they were! Run by some of Israel’s most well-known chefs (they won the country’s Iron Chef Show) and guided by Chef Yossi Asaf, credited with the ‘slow food’ movement in Israel – this restaurant cannot be missed. The open kitchen allows each guest to witness culinary magic. And, the staff is friendly, funny and approachable. The tasting menu is a must. One cannot just walk into the restaurant, reservations are recommended – sometimes a few days in advance! All the hype is worth it!
Zalatimos: This small eatery is found right next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They are known to serve just one specialty – Murtabak. Goats’ cheese curd fried and then topped with sugar syrup, in a thin pastry that engulfs the filling. Its taste, I admit, is extremely unique and nothing like I’ve tasted before! The locals can be found eating and packing large portions of Murtabak! My advice – get in early!
Adom: First Station is where Adom is located and this rates right up there for me. The entire train station has been converted into a busy location for restaurants, cafes and bars. The night-life is incredible at First Station and though one is spoilt for choice; my recommendation is you eat at Adom. The menu is extremely well thought out and is paired with a fabulous wine list. The bartenders are known for their sorcery, and churn out awesome cocktails. In particular, their version of Old Fashioned – amazing!
The Jerusalem Hotel: Old world, cats, lazy service – definitely worth the visit! Their range of local Jewish specialties is a treat for the taste buds. There’s something called, “Chicken Yalla Yalla” served on a bed of rice. Don’t think twice – go for it!
I definitely want to go back to Jerusalem and spend more time there. As big a history buff as you might be, among the other takeaways are the diverse range of cuisines available, both old and new. The old traditional restaurants and cafes are institutions by themselves. There are of course new places that swim around fusion and new age cooking – both incredible. If you do get the opportunity to visit this magical city, go with an open mind and an empty stomach.