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Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

Jerusalem is so contradictory. For all its deep, tangled historical roots and self-conscious cosmopolitan air,  it’s still a small town. Sometimes, climbing onto a crowded bus during rush hour, squeezing past old folks laden with bulging shopping bags and tired soldiers talking into cellphones, hoping you’ll find at least a standing space with some elbow room, you feel like Jerusalem is just a dinky little Middle Eastern backwater.

Then again, sometimes the overwhelming sense of history rising out of every stone grabs you by the throat and obliges you to acknowledge that Jerusalem is indeed the navel of the world.  Nowhere else do you feel so aware of your place in time. Aware that your personal life story pulses and flows with a million, million other stories – lives played out on this ground even before King David conquered it, up till this moment, as you cross the street.

A mundane errand took me to the navel of the world recently. Once it was done, I met a girlfriend for lunch on Agrippas Street, near Shuk Machaneh Yehudah.

We stopped in at a little place serving an Italian menu. My ravioli looked wonderful, and so did my friend’s -

but the chef must have been in a bad mood that day because the pasta was stodgy and heavy as bricks. Mine, stuffed with artichoke purée and bathed in lemon juice, was too sour for pleasure. I sent it back. The replacement wasn’t much better.  Our stomachs protested and we didn’t order dessert.

On our way out, kvetching under our breaths, my friend remembered something.

“Let’s go to the etrog guy,” she said.

I had read an interview with Uzi-Eli Chezi about his medicinal juices based on etrogim – citron fruit. My curiosity was already piqued, so I was glad to walk up to the shuk and find the small juice stand on (where else?) Etrog Street.

The owner wasn’t there, but all the juices were. The salesman offered a variety of fresh fruit juices and refreshers: a goat’s milk yogurt flavored with passiflora; something called “Rambam’s Drink”; ginger and apple juice;

and citron juice mixed with other fruit and with wheatgrass. Even with Gat.

A sign claimed astonishing cures for every kind of ailment – from ringing of the ears to detoxication of vital organs and from increased virility to (logically) recovery after birth.

Prices are low, but I particularly liked the offer of a subscription for frequent customers.

On sale were also Yemenite Zchug, and Etrog Soap.

The salesman offered us a taste of a cool, sweet, dark green, citrusy juice. One sip wasn’t enough. It was so good, we each ordered a large glass. We felt refreshed and oddly energized almost immediately.  My friend said that her stomach felt lighter. I noticed that too.

“Thank you,” I said as I paid the salesman. “What was in that juice?”

“Citron,” said he,

“and Gat.”

Oh.

Well, I had to laugh. Never thought I’d take Gat in any form, but I did that day.

We stepped out of the shuk and decided to meander around the 19th-century neighborhood of Nachlaot.  Crossing Agrippas street again, a shop window reminded me what it’s all about:

There are some lovely streets and courtyards in Nachlaot.

Here is the place where a well once existed. I imagined  children hauling on a rope to bring up a sloshing bucket for their mother before running off to school-  housewives pausing to exchange a word there in the afternoon – and maybe, towards evening, a 19th-century Rachel shyly accepting help from a dark-eyed youth who just happened to be hanging around there…

Then my eye fell on this little piece of graffitti.

Back to the 21st century, with a thud.

One last glimpse of the old, romantic neighborhood before turning on to King George Street and taking the bus home…

The house next to the well, all possible openings painted blue to avert the Evil Eye.

Jerusalem of Gold…till the next time.

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We took a little trip to Jerusalem on Monday of Passover week. Folks who have visited the Israel Museum will recognize this horseman. Most of the Museum is closed off for renovations, but the Shrine of the Book, the replica of Solomon’s Temple and the Youth Wing, as well as part of the gardens, are available for visiting.

I don’t know who young Josh is, but he sure has style.

We went on to lunch at Tmol Shilshom, a charming restaurant set in a 130-year-old stone building. You take a walk down Nahalat Shiva in downtown Jerusalem…slip through a stone archway and emerge in a sunny courtyard that has an old well in the center. Veer to the left and climb up an outdoor staircase. You’ll arrive at the restaurant a little out of breath, but it’ll be worth the effort. The food is always delicious there, the service fine, and the atmosphere unique to Jerusalem.

Since its opening in 1994, the restaurant is celebrated for its literary gatherings and bookish atmosphere. I love browsing the bookshelves set into stone wall niches, and have ocasionally found a jewel, like a worn Haitian cookbook.

But the truth is, I like the menu and the cooking best. We had gnocchi with pesto

and codfish balls in a spicy tomato sauce, with mashed potatoes.

It looks like the writing on the rim of the plates is quotes from books – but I’m not familiar with them.

The food was just right, with portions not overwhelmingly large but enough to satisfy. And there was room for dessert – a luscious, light cheesecake

And three scoops of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Funny thing I noticed – maybe it was the atmosphere, but even the ice cream seemed special. We had eaten hand-made gelato that wasn’t as rich or flavorful, at a cafe in Yaffo.

I really appreciated was how good the food was, even on Passover. Not a simple thing to accomplish; most eateries aren’t all that good on Passover week. But at Tmol Shilshom, the standard stays high.

Descending the stairs again, I noticed a tiny, old-fashioned synagogue in the courtyard. I’d never noticed it before; maybe it was closed each time I’ve been in the area. The custodian let me wander around and take photos.

A view from the squished-in ladie’s section upstairs:

It must be lovely to sit in one of those window seats and take time for meditation and prayer.

We wound up the day at Kibbutz Tsora. I was hoping their excellent winery would be open so I could take a bottle or two home. I posted an entry mentioning the winery when I went on the Wine Trail. But it wasn’t to be. The winery, alas, was closed.

There was a Jewish Rock concert instead, set on grounds with an extensive view of the Judean Hills.  I’m not a great fan of Jewish rock, but I must say that this time, it rocked. Everybody was on their feet, jumping and pumping to the Moshav Band as the sun went down and all the lights in the Judean Hills popped up behind the stage. I thought I’d be everybody’s grandmother there, but no, there were other middle-aged folk there, some of them boogying right along with the young ‘uns. Did I, also, boogy? Well….at one particularly raucous number I just had to loosen up and let a little steam off.

But don’t tell anybody.

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“I want to show you that food in Israel isn’t all choumous and falafel,” said Chef Sufyan.

My sister and I looked at the table, which was covered with intriguing herbs both fresh and dried, a platter of spices and grains, an old-fashioned mortar and pestle, slim bottles containing -surely – something magical.

“Mallows, kitchen sage, Jerusalem sage gathered on the hillsides around town, za’ater, sumac, smoked green wheat! I grew up eating these wild foods, and more, in my family’s village near Hebron.

“I studied cooking at the MMK – My Mother’s Kitchen. When I run into trouble with a recipe, I call my mother, and she’ll tell me, ‘Don’t worry, call your grandma!’ There has to be something of yourself in the food you cook. I want to give the public the delicious foods so intimately bound with my roots.”

Chef Sufyan is a man on a mission: to preserve the  foodways of the Arab/Jewish Jerusalemite communities.  “To tie past and present together by serving Biblical foods today, ” he adds. He dwells lovingly and with encyclopedic knowledge on food traditions: from the quality of well water to the ancient way of making date honey (filtered through clean sand, then washed), to the medicinal properties  and spiritual resonance of the foods.

And he shares a goal with an eclectic group of chefs: achieving peace between peoples by sharing cuisines. This is Chefs for Peace, a movement that began in 2001 at a food conference in Italy where a number of Israeli chefs – Arab, Christian, and Jewish – found themselves cooking and eating together and becoming friends.

“Of course the restaurant is kosher,” says Sufyan. “This is Jerusalem. If my food isn’t kosher and available to all people in the Holy City, what have I achieved?” Little Eucalyptus has a kashrut certificate from the Jerusalem Rabbinate. During the three hours my sister and I feasted, we saw that the kashrut supervisor was present and active in the facility the whole time. Sufyan says that the supervisor cleans the fresh wild leaves himself.

Yes, we sat down and feasted for three hours. That is, we did give our knives and forks a rest at intervals. The menu we chose, a tasting menu called “King David” was composed of many small portions, beautifully presented and paced so that we could eat, converse, and allow ourselves room for the next course.

A huge, hot pitta, arrived, slightly charred on one side (and all the tastier for it). Next to it were a fragrant dip of fresh, green za’atar, another of spinach strongly flavored with garlic, a purée of black-eyed peas, and a mild potato salad. This came with an unexceptional white wine. We asked for an excellent red wine from the Castel winery to accompany the rest of the meal.

A tray of soups served in espresso cups followed. They were: a lemony, chunky lentil soup, a soup of Jerusalem artichokes with almond milk, and a tomato soup flavored with mint. Extremely delicious, all.

Sis and I already understood the wisdom of those small portions as more and more delicacies were set down in front of us. Following the soups came a salad composed of potatoes, seven different herbs, lemon and sage oil:

and tabouleh.

The huge variety of flavorful dishes reminded me of a festive meal at some medieval nobleman’s castle. And come to think of it, many of the ingredients and recipes brought back to Europe by the Crusaders originated in Jerusalem.

At this point we asked for permission to take kitchen photos, which Sufyan kindly gave.

It was really an excuse to get up and stretch the legs. The small, tidy kitchen was reassuringly homelike, with the chef’s reductions and vegetables simmering away on the very plainest of stoves.

Here a pitta is quickly pushed into shape, seasoned with olive oil and za’atar, and draped over a clay pot containing a pre-cooked chicken stew.

The whole is popped into the oven and presented at table like this:

Chicken stewed in a clay pot covered with pitta, on my plate (pardon the blur).

But while the stew was in the oven, Sufyan showed us how to make the most delicate grilled eggplant salad I’ve ever tasted or can hope to taste. He peeled the charred skin away from an entire eggplant, dipping his fingers into a glass of water as he went. The eggplant lay flat on a plate. When I try peeling a roasted eggplant, I wind up with little eggplant rags; his beautifully whole vegetable filled me with admiration. Sufyan then pressed a fork into the meat of the eggplant to allow the seasonings to permeate it.

Salt, lemon juice, paprika,  and drizzles of techinah followed, the whole drizzled again with threads of pomegranate syrup. It was layered with earthy, savory and sweet flavors, punctuated by the pomegranate syrup. My sister told Sufyan, “Leave me alone now, I’m in love!”

Fortunately Sufyan knows how to take a jest.

“Main course coming up,” he announced. Sis and I winced. How much more could we eat? Much more, it turned out, but in small portions. To help us cope with the onslaught, Sufyan poured a clear yellowish liquid out of one of those magic bottles: liqueur of Jerusalem sage, aromatic and delicate. In addition to our wine, we’d been drinking lemonade and tamarind-rosewater refreshers from heavy clay pitchers.

Were we able for the next course? Bring it on.

Beef stewed with sweet potatoes, accompanied by smoked green wheat…

Prunes stuffed with slivers of chicken breast (exquisite, this)…

Stuffed Jerusalem sage…

By the time the dishes were cleared for dessert, Sis and I were past caring about mundane things like calories. We were so seduced and lulled and becalmed in our carved chairs that it seemed like the outside world had stopped, and we were alone with a great culinary talent in a white buttoned jacket and the smiling, silent waitress. A welcome pitcher of hot mint and sage tea was placed on the table. We sipped and awaited.

No photo of dessert…we were too stupified to react. Two small squares of a moist semolina cake poised on the edge of a rectangular platter looked down on a decorative pattern of pale techinah and brown pomegranate syrup. We just dipped fingers in and licked.

Amazing.

*

The Little Eucalyptus Restaurant is co-owned by chef Moshe Basson and chef Sufyan Awiyech. It’s located at Yannai St. No. 4, City Center, Jerusalem. Tel: 02-6244331.

There is more on Chefs for Peace at Israel21c.org – search for Chefs for Peace.

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I lived in Jerusalem for 14 years once, but I’m almost a stranger there now. New roads, changes in bus routes, old shops closed down, new shops open, and above all, the maddening construction of the light rail, a great useless trench in the middle of Yaffo Road. Buses and cars must travel squeezed to one side of it, and pedestrians cross the street in clouds of white dust. All the same, it’s Jerusalem, and no mixture of dust and shabbiness dims its  glory.

When I lived there, I’d shop in the shuk after work, between two bus rides. Thursday evening was best.  The produce was beautiful and a lot of the Shabbat specialties were already on sale. I would walk from stall to stall, loading up on chicken, vegetables, fruit, pittot. Getting on a crowded bus home wasn’t easy. I’d stagger on with the bag handles cutting into my fingers, hoping to find an empty seat. But I’d do it week after week, because the low prices and fresh produce made the trouble worthwhile. It seems to me now, years later when everything has changed and the children then in my house are now all grown up, that it was always late afternoon, darkening and chilly – that my head was always filled with plans and dreams, and that I carried all of that across the shuk and home in the plastic bags.

So, filled easy nostalgia, I walked up the Ben Yehudah mall and crossed over to Rechov Agrippas, which I followed all the way down to the shuk. Evening was slowly coming on and people were zipping their jackets up against the cold. I hoped that the light would last so I could take good pictures.

Although every shuk sells the same basic food and housewares, each one offers regional specialties, and each one has its own character.  The Carmel market has an open, cosmopolitan air. The Yaffo shuk is mysterious and reeks of ancient history. Mahane Yehudah also has many mysterious corners and alleys, but the character of the shuk comes from the Jerusalemite. Warm-hearted, tough, battered by poverty and terrorism, hard-working, bound fast to tradition, always aware that they’re living at the center of the world. Instead of focusing on the food at Mahaneh Yehudah, I chose to show folks who shop there.

It was the end of the day. The atmosphere was unexpectedly subdued. Some of the vendors seemed tired and pensive, like this young Arab worker

and this pitta vendor.

I wandered past the stand where I used to buy chickens. The vendor I knew wasn’t there anymore.

Some shop owners still had the energy to call a joking greeting to a friend down the street.

Maybe it was the cold, but only a few customers sat outside the “low-calorie falafel” stand. I wonder how falafel can be low calorie…

Myself, I was tempted by these sweet cheese pastries -

But nobly refrained – only to surrender to  Sahlab, a hot pudding made from the root starch of an edible orchid. It’s flavored with rose water and topped with a mixture of ground peanuts and coconut flakes. Dipping my spoon into the creamy white stuff, I thought it was more welcome than coffee in the chilly open air.

Well, I had to put in something about food.

These two friends seemed relaxed, there next to the Kippa Man store.

This bewigged matron was winding up her shopping trip…

While this lady extended an imperious finger at the exact olives  she wanted.

More thoughtful, weary faces…

Chanukah’s in two weeks. Do you have a menorah? You can take your pick of many sizes and shapes, but maybe you prefer to take home these three little Hassidim. Yes, kitsch, but for once, kitsch with a certain poignant appeal.

These Arab kids were waiting around for someone, bored.

While this old lady is still interested in everything.

A young father selects packaged cake for Shabbat at one of the bakeries. I wonder who that cake was for, that he chose so carefully.

Every shekel is important. This older couple stopped to figure out how much cash the husband needed to finish the shopping.

As the light faded, the shuk began to empty out.

Tomorrow, everything will start again.

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