Ellis Shuman

A Taste of Coexistence at the Majda Restaurant

A restaurant in the village of Ein Rafa played host to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. My friends and I dined there on tasty food that was a fusion of cultures.

Celebrity travel chef Anthony Bourdain’s recent broadcast from Jerusalem of ‘Parts Unknown’ on CNN received some flack due to its purported Palestinian bias. Bourdain opened the show by acknowledging that his visit would be seen by many “as a terrorist sympathizer, a Zionist tool, a self-hating Jew, an apologist for American imperialism, an Orientalist, socialist, a fascist, CIA agent, and worse.” But, putting politics aside, the travel chef treated viewers to the tastes and culture of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Highlighted on the show was a visit with a mixed-marriage couple who run a restaurant in the village of Ein Rafa. As he ate outdoors, Bourdain talked with the owners, Michal and Yakub. The food looked so good that it resulted in an intense desire on my part to dine at this unusual restaurant, whose name is Majda.

A word about Ein Rafa – the village is located on the main road to Jerusalem, across from the more well-known Arab Israeli town of Abu Gosh. Abu Gosh is home to many popular Middle Eastern restaurants, which are crowded throughout the year but particularly on Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. Ein Rafa, on the other hand, is very much off-the-beaten track. I remember once riding on a bus through the winding, narrow streets but there was no reason to stop or visit.

The blue house at the top

We were a party of four when we reserved a table at Majda, which is described as the blue house at the top of the village. It was already dark when we arrived, so we didn’t notice any blue house, but we did follow the signs and found the restaurant with no problem. There was a donkey grazing near the parking lot, the muezzin was calling the faithful to prayer, and at one point the night was marked by fireworks announcing some village celebration. Dining was outside, which was a bit cool, but blankets were provided to guests who requested them. In the winter months, there is seating inside for forty.

The first person we met when we arrived was Michal. We learned that she and Yakub met when they both worked at the Kiryat Anavim Guest House. From the CNN show we knew that she was the only Jewish woman living in Ein Rafa. Michal told us that despite local customs, two women from the village worked in the restaurant.

Majda’s menu could hardly be described as Arab cuisine. Everything was unique, a fusion of cultures. Although we knew from the start that the restaurant wasn’t Kosher, we didn’t go as far as trying the shrimp falafel. But, being a party of four, we each made different selections for the courses. My wife and I started with the scrumptious Jerusalem artichoke soup, while one of our companions had the meat cigars. A very good start!

Kubbeh, kebab, and grilled lamb

For the main course, I selected the Kubbeh Sinnia, which was an Arab meat pie laid on a bed of burghul and topped with homemade tehina sauce. My wife had the Lamb Kebab. One of our companions went all out with the Grilled Lamb, while his wife ordered the Bass Filet stuffed with spinach and wrapped in vine leaves.

Kuba Sinnia topped with tehina sauce
Kubbeh Sinnia topped with tehina sauce

The portions were just the right size, and the food was very tasty. The wine and the fresh air and the easy banter with our friendly waitress enhanced our enjoyment of the meal. For dessert, I had the halva ice cream; my wife had the knafeh; while our friends shared a pistachio-almond cake.

halva ice cream
halva ice cream

The total cost for the four of us, with 3 courses and wine was 810 shekels. With a tip that came to 950 shekels, or $67 per person. Not exactly a cheap meal, but a very enjoyable one.

Majda also serves tasty breakfasts, with items on the menu that Anthony Bourdain enjoyed on his visit. We will have to come back to Majda in the daylight hours, so that we can also see if the restaurant is really situated in a blue house.

About the Author
Ellis Shuman made aliya to Jerusalem as a teenager, served in the IDF, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on Moshav Neve Ilan. Ellis is the author of ‘The Burgas Affair’ – a crime thriller set in Israel and Bulgaria; ‘Valley of Thracians’ - a suspense novel set in Bulgaria; and 'The Virtual Kibbutz' - a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Insider, and on a wide range of Internet websites. Ellis lived with his wife for two years in Bulgaria, and blogs regularly about Israel, Bulgaria, books, and writing.