It is said that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” By extrapolation, the way to a nation’s heart is through its food. Anybody who has visited the shuks of Israel can testify to the truth of this statement. Although the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount may inspire awe and spirituality, it is in the markets and kitchens that the country comes to life.
- Rice Kubba
Within markets and side streets there are small workers’ diners that continue to cook as their grandmothers have. It is here that some of the best of Israeli ethnic food can be tasted. It is a simple cuisine yet full of tradition and flavor and no gadgets are required. The food is cooked like it was when the kitchen consisted only of a kerosene stove.
In the early years of Israel’s existence everyone cooked like this, especially those who lived in the ma’abarot, the shantytowns built to house the large influx of Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. The conditions were hard, but shared; cold wet winters, sweltering summers and the uncertainty of where the future lay.
Each day, the mothers and grandmothers would prepare dinners for their families; their origins given away by the aromas wafting from the cooking pots. Food and recipes were exchanged, but every group had its own cuisine and preferences.
Today there are several wonderful family restaurants that have continued the traditional cooking of Israel’s early years. Among them are restaurants serving kubba, a type of Middle Eastern dumpling introduced by the Iraqi and Kurdish immigrants. Kubba are usually made with bulgur, rice, potatoes or semolina and stuffed with spiced meat, although now there are also vegetarian varieties available.
If you don’t have an Iraqi or Kurdish grandmother, and even if you do, these restaurants are well worth a visit.
Nadra was born in Baghdad in 1938 and immigrated to Israel in 1951. She learned to cook from her mother and her older sister, and has been making kubba since she was nine. Today, she continues to work in the family restaurant with her children. Even her grandson, who is home for summer vacation, lends a helping hand. Aside from kubba, the restaurant serves stuffed vegetables, kitchri (rice and red lentils), stuffed derma and fresh salads.
- Nadra’s son, Yehiel and a pot of beet kubba, one of the seven varieties of kubba prepared
- Pumpkin and carrot kubba
Nadra’s Harishonim 2 Or Yehuda Telephone: 03-6344099 Kosher, meat
- Yossi Haviv, 3rd generation working at family restaurant
Haviv’s restaurant, in the heart of Shuk Hatikva, boasts of ten varieties of kubba as well as grilled meats, salads and stuffed delicacies. It is a family business in which David’s brother and nephew also work. Visitors can either sit at the restaurant or buy large fried kubba which are wrapped in waxed paper and eaten on the go.
- David Haviv’s brother at the kubba stand, Shuk Hatikva
- Rice (left), potato (back right) and bulgur kubba
David Haviv and Sons Hamevaser 19 Tel Aviv (Shuk Hatikva) Telephone 03-6870743 Kosher, meat
Mordoch is a Kurdish restaurant located on Agrippas street in Jerusalem. Its specialty is the legendary hamousta kubba, stewed kubba in a sour soup with lots of green vegetables. Fresh vegetable salad, rice with lentils and hummus are also served.
Mordoch Agrippas 70 Jerusalem Telephone: 057-9416425 Kosher, meat
- Fried rice kubba
Ima, meaning Mother in Hebrew, is one of the best known Kurdish restaurants in Israel and famous for its kubba. It was established by Miriam Binyamin in 1981 and became a much-loved family restaurant in Jerusalem. Some of the best kubba in Israel is made in this restaurant, using fresh ingredients and traditional recipes. There is even several vegetarian kubba on the menu.
- Hamousta, sour Kurdish kubba
Now Miriam’s daughter, Ofira Zaken, who has moved to the United States, has opened her own branch in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Ima Restaurant Agrippas 189 Jerusalem Telephone: 02-6255693 Open Sunday-Thursday 11:00-23:00 Friday: 11:00- until one hour before Shabbat Kosher, meat
- Yellow kubba with chickpea sauce, Azzura
Azzura serves typical Jerusalem cuisine, an amalgam of flavors from the Spanish, Iraqi and local kitchens. Kubba feature prominently in their restaurant as well as hummus, sofrito, and stuffed vegetables. It is a workers’ diner and is usually packed during lunch hour. Often tables are shared for a lively and congenial atmosphere.
Azzura Mahane Yehuda 8 (in the shuk, ask – everyone knows this restaurant) Jerusalem Telephone: 02-6235204 Open Sunday-Thursday 8:30-16:00 Friday: 8:30 until an hour before Shabbat Kosher, meat