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Jerusalem: bringing people together through food

The ancient city of Jerusalem is a synthesis of many different cultures, traditions and religions. Food is the undercurrent to the city.

Words Joanne Gould

The 2014 Gaza war meant tourism to Israel dropped sharply, but the last 18 months has seen a boom in visitors with 3.6 million last year. And while most food tourists head straight to Tel Aviv thanks to its recent entry onto the global culinary map, those keen to understand the melting pot that is Israeli cuisine should make the hour trip to neighbouring Jerusalem.

Go see the Wailing Wall, be awed by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and take in the wonder of Haram Al-Sharif (or Temple Mount), but stay for the riotous cacophony of food, for this Middle Eastern city has an abundance of colourful gastronomic delights just waiting to be explored. Angelica Malin visits regularly and agrees: ‘Jerusalem has one of the most exciting and eclectic food scenes of anywhere in the world, from Yemeni dishes, Eastern European influences and Arabic ingredients. The result is a city that brims over with inspiration and creativity – each restaurant is its own little island in the city.

‘What brings all the cultures and cuisines together is sharing and socialising over food. Whether breaking challah bread, indulging in a North African stew or a plate of sweet Palestinian dates, the idea of coming together over a meal is something common throughout Jerusalem.

‘Jerusalem has one of the most exciting and eclectic food scenes of anywhere in the world, from Yemeni dishes, Eastern European influences and Arabic ingredients’

‘My favourite place to eat is around the Mahane Yehuda, one of the oldest food markets in the world. Around the market you’ll find an eclectic range of casual eateries and in the market itself they’ve got incredible fresh dates, figs, smoothies, Arabic sweets and homemade halva. For lunch, try Abu Shukri – this authentic shuk restaurant has the best hummus in town.’

Indeed, hummus is prized in these parts, as Israeli chef Oded Oren (currently in residency Wednesday–Sunday at Borough Wines and Beers in London) explains: ‘The hummus here is very different to what you’ll find in Jaffa or Akko (Acre). It’s more traditional and, like Jerusalem itself, has its own charm.’

Oded also believes food is an effective tool for promoting understanding. ‘Walk through little alleys and markets to the food stalls in the Old City to pick up fresh falafel served in a just baked pita and you’ll see how food brings people together,’ he says. ‘Despite Jerusalem being such a political place, Jews sit among Arabs to have a plate of hummus from the Jewish quarter to the Christian, and Muslim quarters.’

Like many, Oded thinks the best hummus is at Hummus Lina in the Christian quarter where hummus silken with Israeli olive oil is topped with a choice of Middle Eastern spices, ‘masabacha’ (whole chickpeas), beans or pickles.

But it’s not all tradition: for something different, try the popular Machneyuda restaurant where all ingredients are sourced from the Mahane Yehuda market and the vibe is…energetic. Visitor Felicity Spector, a London food influencer, hits the nail on the head: ‘It’s sheer madness! Bonkers, crazy expensive, but brilliant.’
Dine on a changing menu of Mediterranean and Middle

Eastern dishes in between dancing on tables, but leave room for pudding: Jerusalem is famed for its exceptional pastries. ‘Head to Marzipan Bakery for ‘rugelach’,’ Felicity says, ‘or stop at a stall in the Old City for a sweet pastry and pomegranate juice.’

We’ll see you there.