The Flavours of Jerusalem, a City Tasting Tour
Jerusalem evokes images of golden domes and high stone walls. This, however, is just one face of the city, the one that appears in the daylight. In fact, you just have to wait for dusk to see a completely different city emerge. Lunch is late, dinner is late and so is bedtime.
After 7 pm, the noisy market of Mehane Yehuda closes its fruit and vegetable stalls. In the space of one hour, next to the lowered shutters, others go up: venues, bars and breweries share this historical city quarter. In the past ten years they have given it a new lease of life that is practically non-stop, and the lanes of the souk are crowded with pavement cafés, music and people.
So, where to eat in Jerusalem? With a selection of typical dishes and places to eat, here are our tips for discovering the city's gastronomic scene.
You have never been to Israel if you have not eaten at least one plate of hummus, a falafel and a sabich – a speciality few are familiar with outside the national borders. Pita bread with falafel is a popular street food, the most popular in fact but, even though it is part of the national identity, it is also common in other Middle Eastern countries. Introduced by Iraqi Jews, Sabich is a pita filled with fried aubergines, sliced hard boiled eggs, vegetables and pickles – to which tahina and hummus can also be added. To enjoy this speciality, we suggest you go to Aricha Sabich, right in front of the Mahane Yehuda market.
Nothing but hummus and a few salads are available at Hummus Lina, a poky little place in the Christian quarter. Ignore the chips and order the rest, including hummus with pine nuts, tabouleh, the Middle-Eastern salad with labneh and mint – all for a few Shekel in a setting we might define as “spartan” if we wanted to pay it a compliment. Exactly the sort of “live like a local” experience everyone seeks.
Order a beer at the Beer Bazar, a craft brewery with a vast selection of Israeli labels, eat at Crave’s, a trendy venue offering gourmet street food, from American hamburgers to Tex-Mex tacos. After dinner, enjoy a drink at Shuka, a students’ bar in the Shuk, where the passion for cocktails mingles with politics.
Crave Gourmet Street Food
There are more ways of spending the night in Jerusalem than you imagine, far from the night life in the heart of the city’s most orthodox Jewish quarter. On Thursday evening – which is when the weekend starts here – the bakeries along Mea She'arim Street turn out their large, wonderfully fragrant challah loaves until morning.
Step into the Nehama Bakery and watch the men at work, buy some bread and taste some rugelach (small chocolate croissant) or the original version of bagel. The day of rest, Sabbath starts at dusk on Friday, so twice as much bread has to be made and preparations for the festivity will soon be under way in the neighbouring houses.
This is a place where time seems to stand still but which also takes you into another dimension: that of a Polish shtetl in the early twentieth century. Go to Deutsch, one of the first eating places opened in this quarter: a self service venue with a few simple tables serving the dishes granny used to make and which, anywhere else, have been long forgotten. Ancient recipes, cooked slowly and at length until perfectly tender make wonderful comfort food like the filling slices of potato or pasta kuegel, the tender meat of the cholent, the acidic taste of the gefilte fish made with carp.
It is easy to find delicious street food and filling comfort food in town, but Jerusalem’s fine dining scene is flourishing and offers several gourmet experiences, too.
Adom is one of the cult names of the city and in 2013 it moved to the Old Railway Station (now converted into a community space for hosting venues and events) and changed its menu. It is a wine bar, one of the first to open in the city, which has now become a sort of casual bistro (just avoid the dishes of Italian inspiration with an “Israeli-touch”).
At Eucalyptus, chef and patron Moishe Basson cooks dishes that reinterpret the biblical tradition using local and foraged ingredients from the surrounding area, some of which had been forgotten for years. An institution, with a vintage style of plating up, but interesting from a philological viewpoint – and the food is good.
To try something contemporary, the first address worthy of mention is Machaneyehuda. This restaurant is a stone’s throw from the market and offers creative cuisine accompanied by music (loud, incessant and powerful). It is so successful that in the seven years following its opening, the three chefs Assaf Granit, Yossi Elad and Uri Navon now own several venues.
Rina & Alice
Rina & Alice is the name of an all-girl partnership, in life and at work, and the name of the restaurant where they serve delicious focaccia and contemporary Israeli cuisine. The girls and the food are delicious.
To discover that television is not only a “bad teacher”, go to Hamotzi. It was opened in 2011 by a young former winner of Master Chef, Avi Levy. Using the ptiliot, kerosene camp stoves, he cooks his grandmother’s Algerian dishes, the way she would have done, which contemplate a fair amount of offal.