Jerusalem is a foodie’s paradise. Its melting pot immigrant-driven culture has given rise to a phenomenal range of restaurants and eateries, offering everything from sushi to more traditional Middle Eastern fair. While tourists and gap-year students have driven the prices up in joints like Moshiko’s and Burgers Bar, there is still an abundance of excellent and reasonably priced food around.
For a great no-frills hummus experience, one should head to the Old City’s Via Dolorosa where they will find Abu Ahmed’s. Inside it’s pretty bare, but no-one comes for the decor. It really is all about the chickpeas there. 20 NIS gets you a bowl of hummus with a topping of chickpeas and ful medames (a spicy broad bean dip), two pitot, felafel and a plate of vegetables and pickles. One bowl of hummus would be perfect for sharing, and the staff are very welcoming.
For those with a sweet tooth craving desert, Ja’afar’s, five minutes away on Souq Khan es-Zeit, is a must. Ja’afar’s is most famous for its kanafeh: a goat’s cheese pastry topped with golden flaked filo and crushed pistachios. Prices are negotiable, and I got a decent-sized slice with cardamom-laced coffee (to eat in) for just 15 NIS. Also worth noting is that whenever I have been to Ja’afar’s, I have never seen other Western tourists in the shop. Whether or not locals frequent any particular food joint is one of the best benchmarks for just how good it is, and here Ja’afar’s excels.
Just outside the Old City and right next to the Iriyah light rail stop is another of my favourite Jerusalem haunts: Turkish Burekas From Haifa. Although they do a few other things like toasted sandwiches and shakshuka (10 NIS), the burekas are what you should really go there for. These aren’t the small, snacky variety; but rather plate-sized meals in their own right. Customers chose one they like the look of (pizza, potato, spinach and cheese are the most popular fillings) and take it to the counter where a waiter will cut it open and stuff it with pizza toppings before grilling under a panini and serving it with tachina and pickled cucumbers. El Classico (a cheese bureka stuffed with a sliced boiled egg, tachina and a sprinkle of za’atar) is highly recommended, but other combinations work well too. A stuffed bureka starts at 20 NIS, and goes up 5 NIS if you want it with sliced egg.
A short walk away towards the top of Shlomzion HaMalkah is Sabich Mamila. As its name suggests, it specialises in the uniquely Iraqi pita sandwich stuffed with fried aubergine, sliced boiled egg, salads, tachina and ambo. Felafel, shnitzel and shakshuka also feature on the menu. Service is quick and efficient. Customers can chose exactly what goes into their sandwich, and staff members are happy to advise on what combinations work well. A sabich sandwich costs 18 NIS.
Another favourite is Azura. Located in the heart of Machaneh Yehudah’s Iraqi Market, it has become a legend in Jerusalem’s culinary scene. Having been run and owned by the same family since it opened over forty years ago, it has been serving outstanding Kurdish food ever since. It is extremely popular, and you may need to queue to secure a table on Friday lunchtimes. I particularly recommend the kubbeh soups. Kubbeh is a large semolina dumpling stuffed with meat cooked in a rich, vegetable soup. Azura serves sweet and sour, spicy, beetroot and sour soups. All the food is slow-cooked over traditional gas-burners from before dawn. Nothing is prepared individually, so service is incredibly fast. Also on the menu are sofrito, goulash, meatballs and aubergines stuffed with minced meat. Although more expensive than the other restaurants featured in this piece costing around 40 NIS per person, Azura is well worth it. The quality of food it offers is outstanding, and far better than more expensive American-style chains that have recently become more popular. Everything comes with unlimited amounts of pita bread and pickles, and eating there is an experience in its own right.