Zipping through Jerusalem with the food bloggers

by Sarah on July 2, 2012

cucumbers in Mahane Yehuda

“Israel sure does have small cucumbers!”  Pille Petersoo noted without batting an eyelash. They looked pretty normal to me.  I’ve grown accustomed to our diminutive cukes and had forgotten how large they were in other parts of the world. But as everyone knows, it’s not size that matters…..

Although I am familiar with Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s biggest outdoor market, there is nothing like a fresh set of eyes to experience it in an entirely new light. In this case I had five sets of eyes. Accompanying Pille were four other high profile food writers from Europe and the United States who came to eat their way across Israel including David Lebovitz, Erin Zimmer, Cambria Bold and the lovely Kerstin Rodgers.

cherries, mahane yehuda

Their trip was organized by Kinetis, a nonprofit educational organization that brings like-minded individuals together to share Israel’s creative energy.  It’s not only about the food, though there was plenty of that,  but all that revolves around it – chefs, writers, publishers,  tour guides, TV personalities, food startups, technology, agriculture, local bloggers and  finally one DJ-chef-author-fashionista extraordinaire  (that would be Israel Aharoni for those out of the loop).  I’ve seen the itinerary and can say that it’s a jammed packed whirlwind visit featuring the very best of what Israel has to offer (I have no idea how they are going to eat all that).

church jerusalem, monk, israel

The Kinetis team invited me to spend the day with the bloggers on their first dazed zip across Jerusalem, still groggy eyed from travel and jet lag. Tzvi Gassner was our guide through thousands of years of history as we meandered from the Mount of Olives and into alleyways of the old city, the horizon decorated with the omnipresent Dome of the Rock.

On our walk from tomb to church, I pointed out the capers that grew from the stone walls and the straggly bunches of wild fennel that emerged from the rocky soil. Kerstin, a London based writer whose book Supper Club was recently published, told me of her experience curing olives in the south of France. She preserved them in olive oil instead of brine, a method I never tried before.

Jerusalem, old city

Dome of the rock, Jerusalem

Following the Via Dolorosa, we made our way to the temple of hummus, cornerstone of the fourth Abrahamic religion. Even without a sign, any passerby could tell you we had arrived at the original Abu Shuki. Or I should say the original original Abu Shukri since they never trademarked  the name and countless other long lost Shukris have been popping up all over the country, each more original than the other.  Established in 1946, this tiny restaurant is a fixture of the Christian Quarter and has been preparing the same hummus recipe since its inception (this information came from a friendly fellow who was standing nearby). And from the looks of it, on the very same tables as well.

abu shukri hummus, Jerusalem, Abu Shukri restaurant, preparing a falafel sandwich, below right, a photograph from the 1930’s, eating hummus

 

Although this was the first authentic hummus the food bloggers would taste in the Holy Land it was clear they were already true hummus afficionados. Their pita wiping and wrist flicking technique was on par with the locals, an indispensable talent in the land of chickpeas.

We cleared our spots for the next customers and shuffled contentedly to Zalatimo’s, a bakery that specializes in stuffed pastries called mutabak.

mutabak, arab bakery, jerusalem Mutabak, also known as murtabak in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia

 

It is a stark establishment. There are no displays, only a single oven in one corner.

Then the lone baker began his performance and the place came alive.

phyllo dough, handmade

With a few deft movements he transformed a glob of dough into a billowing cape. The phyllo was whirled upwards over his head with the fluidity of a dancer, every movement calculated and exact. With an elegant spin, the sheet was placed on the marble, pulled taut and topped with either nuts or cheese.  The ends were then folded over and placed in the oven until golden. Before serving the baker doused them with syrup and powdered sugar- soft, steaming centers enveloped in crackly phyllo…..It’s really the simplest of desserts, and the most complicated.

I sat down with the rest of the bloggers in the cavernous room to enjoy the nut and cheese stuffed pastries but Kerstin wanted in on the action. Like me, she learnt that stretching a small lump of dough to the size a tablecloth is an incredibly difficult feat and will most likely end in a congealed mess.

halva kingdom Pistachio halva and the King

A tour of Jerusalem would not be complete without a visit to Mahane Yehuda.  We made a perfunctory stop at the Halva Kingdom, a small family business that produces and amazing array of halva flavors, ranging from the traditional to the downright funky. The secret? No secret, with a little prompting, Kerstin discovered that the recipe is simple-just 80% homemade sesame paste and 20% sugar and flavorings.  As we ogled over the display, the King began to mumble under his breath “don’t just photograph! buy!” but by that time the group was already on their way to the Georgian Bakery.

mahane Yehuda, jerusalem

Krestin, who just came back from Tbilisi had other ideas. Instead we hopped into an Ethiopian spice store where she bought a kilo of teff flour for making ingera bread and a big bag of berbere, an Ethiopian spice mix. In the corner, between the long pepper and paprika, I noticed what appeared to be dried chamomile buds. It was aromatic and sharply bitter. Only when I got home did I realize that these were dried rue fruit, an ingredient I have seen only in Ethiopian cuisine.

Sadly, it was time for me to go home. We bid our farewells and I thought that perhaps we do have tiny cucumbers, but everything else, well, you’ll just have to come and see for yourselves.

More about the bloggers:
Cambria Bold, NY, NY-Editor of The Kitchn. Singer and songwriter. Twitter @CambriaBold
David Lebovitz, Paris, France- Pastry chef, cookbook author of numerous books including The Sweet Life in Paris and Ready for Dessert. He blogs at David Lebovitz. Twitter @davidlebovitz
Pille Peteroo, Talinn, Estonia-Research sociologist who has been blogging since 2005 at Nami-Nami. Twitter @PilleNamiNami
Kerstin Rodgers, London, England- Launched the underground restaurant movement in the UK, author of Supper Club: Recipes and notes from the underground restaurant . She blogs at The English can Cook. Twitter @MsMarmitelover
Erin Zimmer NY, NY-National managing editor of Serious Eats. Twitter @erin_zimmer

Kinetis: For those who would like to follow other events organized by Kinetis they have a facebook page. They can also be found on twitter @vibeIsrael. The team at Kinetis are an incredibly motivated and talented group who work seamlessly together. I was honored to meet them and be part of the event. Kol Hakavod!

Link to news segment about the visit.

 

Jerusalem

western wall, jerusalem

oud and hamsa shaped fly swatter Where else can you find hamsa flyswatters and beautiful Ouds?
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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa July 2, 2012 at 7:21 am

What a fantastic tour! The produces look amazing and so do the surroundings.

Cheers,

Rosa

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Natalie July 2, 2012 at 7:33 am

Wow! Loved reading each and every word! I’ve been to Jerusalem ages ago and you made me wanna get there ASAP with your beautiful pictures :)
I enjoyed meeting you this week – it’s been a blast!

Natalie

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Yael the Finn July 2, 2012 at 8:04 am

Lovely pictures,especially of the dough performance and the king;D You were so lucky to be included in that Jerusalem trip with the bloggers.
And about the cucumbers,,,,where Pille comes from and also from the neighbouring country from where I come from,cucumbers are huge and you can for example buy a piece of one cucumber!

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Sarah July 2, 2012 at 8:50 am

Thanks Yael (the Finn), Wow, I really need to visit Estonia and see those cucumbers for myself. I had a great time with the bloggers and must say I never visited the pastry shop or Abu Shukri before so it was new for me too.

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Yael July 2, 2012 at 8:47 am

Cool trip. Wonderful photos as usual. Love the photo of the Halva King.

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Sarah July 2, 2012 at 8:51 am

Thanks Yael, I forgot the ISO at 3000 after entering one of the tombs and so many of my pictures came out grainy, oh well. Was still fun.

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Yael July 2, 2012 at 10:03 am

Aghh, I hate it when it happens! Next time use Iso-Auto function.

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usha July 2, 2012 at 5:52 pm

STUNNING !!

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Suzy July 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

You have done it again…every time I read your posts…I take that trip to Israel.
I cannot say Thank you enough. Your photos are beautiful and so so have that snap that only great photographers have. Then there are your recipes!

Keep it coming….

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Sarah July 2, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Thanks Suzy for your kind comment. One of these days you’ll just have to make a visit!

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Eha July 2, 2012 at 9:00 pm

I love not only how you photograph but what subjects you put together. Somehow this leads to a feeling of ‘being there’ and ‘getting knowledge’. In this particular post you have also unknowingly performed an interesting introduction! I am Estonian born [Tallinn, capital of . . .], but living in Australia for a very long time and Pille Petersoo from Estonia seems to have a very interesting blog :) ! Another match made in heaven, methinks!

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Sarah July 2, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Eha, Thanks! What a small world this is! I have been learning so much from Pille’s blog and hope one day to visit Estonia.

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Yael the Finn July 3, 2012 at 5:15 am

Hopefully Finland too….They are just a short boat trip apart from each other…

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Eha July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Adding to Yael’s words: on a clear night Helsinki sees the lights of Tallinn and vice versa – both cities in Suomi and Eesti have a lot to offer :) ! Meanwhile wwe relish to learn about Israel thru’ your eyes!

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Sally - My Custard Pie July 3, 2012 at 1:05 am

This was a brilliant look at the place where you live. And lucky you to meet some of my food heroes including Kirsten.

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Mark Wiens July 3, 2012 at 8:24 am

Awesome roundup Sarah, this has really stirred up an urge for me to visit Israel, specifically on a eating mission. I think I would just be fascinated by the food and history combination. Even if Israel has small cucumbers, those tomatoes (to the right side of the first pic) look big and beautiful!

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Sarah July 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Mark, I hope you do come, you won’t be disappointed!

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Turkey's For Life July 7, 2012 at 2:42 am

Small cucumbers are sweeter! :) Looks like you had a great day on the tour and in such good company, too. I love to watch the bakers do what they do best and that guy looks pretty handy with a ‘glob of dough.’
Julia

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Shari July 8, 2012 at 1:24 am

…and in the same breath, somebody just sent me this link: http://www.mako.co.il/news-channel2/Friday-Newscast/Article-ad7c4fe6b893831018.htm
:-)

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