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Jerusalem

The lobby of the Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem. Photo © and courtesy Cookie West

Nearly at the mouth of the Old City’s Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem is the stylish Mamilla Hotel, revamped in the early 2000s by the architect/designer team Moshe Safdie and Piero Lissoni. The hotel’s immediate neighborhood is extremely toney—an interesting contrast to a tumultuous history.

A rooftop lounge and restaurant offer guests a sweeping view of the Old City.

The hotel has a very contemporary feel: a massive glass entryway leads into a stunning front lobby, populated with solicitous concierges and well-turned-out guests. The Mamilla’s rooms, modern and angular, are appointed with smart and understated furnishings and subdued lighting, and (fascinatingly) the wall dividing the room from the bath is clear as glass—but at the touch of a button becomes magically opaque. The hotel’s Akasha spa (or “well-being center”) provides a perfect place to soak, swim, and otherwise unwind after a long day of exploring the city. An especially nice touch at the Mamilla is the wall of bookshelves in the glamorous hotel lobby, filled with handsome tomes on the arts and design—in a variety of languages—ranging from the merely tasteful to the downright edgy. The hotel also features several fine eating and drinking spots, including the Mirror Bar, a couple of cafés, and a rooftop lounge and restaurant from which guests can look out over the sweep of the Old City as they enjoy their meal.

Mamilla Hotel >


Mamilla Hotel: A Tony Retreat in Jerusalem

Shoppers wandering Mamilla Mall. Photo by Sharon VanderKaay, courtesy Creative Commons 

Established in the late nineteenth century, the Mamilla area was for many years a mixed Jewish-Arab business district. Its recent urban-renewal has been a resounding success: the fashionable Mamilla pedestrian mall opened in 2007, and the Mamilla Hotel shortly thereafter.

Established in the late nineteenth century, the Mamilla area was for many years a mixed Jewish-Arab business district.

Across the street from the Mamilla Hotel is a sumptuous new branch of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel recently opened, establishing the Mamilla area as the new where-to-stay destination for travelers with a taste for luxury. Adjacent to the two hotels, the stylish Alrov Mamilla Mall)—functions, perhaps somewhat incongruously, as a “bridge” between the Old City and new Jerusalem. The hotel, and this neighborhood in general, is obviously catapulting into the future at an almost dizzying pace.         

For visitors interested in seeing a different, far more ascetic, side of Jerusalem, there is the Austrian Hospice, at the very heart of the Old City on the Via Dolorosa. Established in the mid-nineteenth century by the Austrian government as a lodging place for pilgrims to the Holy Land, the Hospice’s interior was designed in the elegant style of the buildings on Vienna’s Ringstrasse (although its street entrance is so nondescript that it might be missed in the throng of the packed Muslim Quarter). Within easy walking distance of three essential holy sites—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, and the Western Wall—the Hospice offers a charming, very Northern European contrast to its Middle Eastern setting. (Where else can you sit on a sunny rooftop overlooking the Temple Mount and the Church of the Redeemer, then head downstairs for a perfectly crisp and authentic Apfelstrudel?) The Hospice still provides lodgings to Christian pilgrims, but no religious affiliation is required to stay here. The guest rooms are pleasingly spartan (though not monkish), with gleaming tile floors, simple, immaculate linens, and comfortable beds. The vibe at the Austrian Hospice is welcoming yet otherworldly, and somehow this mood seems appropriate for the Old City of Jerusalem—a place thoroughly charged with spiritual fervor—no matter what your beliefs.

Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem >

Alrov Mamilla Mall >

Austrian Hospice >

 

Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall: A Bridge Between Old and New

The approach to the King David Hotel. Photo by Noam Chen for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, courtesy Creative Commons

Jerusalem’s venerable King David Hotel, which opened in 1930, reflects several decades of the city’s complicated past. To stay here is to experience a chunk of history. The hotel played an important role in Israel’s struggle for statehood, through the War of Independence, the division of Jerusalem and the reunification, and onward.

The mot juste for the King David Hotel is grand.

The King David has hosted many a royal guest and head of state, from King Abdullah of Jordan to Barack Obama. (The hotel’s website boasts that past visitors to the hotel include “248 Prime Ministers, 53 Kings, and 102 Presidents”—and that royal head count doesn’t count the Queen of Pop, Madonna, who has stayed here multiple times.) One section of the King David served as military headquarters during the British Mandate, and its south wing was bombed by the Zionist extremist Irgun faction in 1946. The hotel’s TV channel plays a looped documentary about its remarkable history.

The mot juste for the King David Hotel is grand: from the massive lobby spaces with tiled floors, leather and gilt furnishings, and high ceilings painted in colorful Levantine patterns to its lavish sixth-floor rooms overlooking the walls of the Old City, it speaks of opulence and longstanding glories. Any visitor to Jerusalem should at least walk that august red carpet, in the footsteps of fifty-three kings (and one Queen of Pop).

 King David Hotel >

 

Jerusalem’s Magnificent King David Hotel

Photo courtesy Mount Zion Hotel

The Mount Zion Hotel, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Old City, offers sumptuousness in a different flavor and an equally intriguing history. Erected by a British charitable organization in the 1880s, the building, which faces Mount Zion and looks over the sweeping Hinnom Valley, originally served as a hospital for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. It was taken over by the Turkish army during World War I and suffered severe damage in the 1920 earthquake. During Israel’s War of Independence, contact with Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter was possible only by means of a cable car running from a point on Mount Zion to a room in this hospital building. The cable car was used at night, carrying medicine and arms up to Mount Zion and the wounded back down to the hospital; by day, the cable was lowered to the ground so as not to be seen by the enemy. As with so many sites in Israel, the past is embedded deeply in every stone here.

As with so many sites in Israel, the past is embedded deeply in every stone here.

Today, the Mount Zion Hotel retains much of its Turkish flavor: there is a clear Ottoman-Moroccan aesthetic sensibility in the wildly patterned ceramic floors, stone walls and archways, colorful curtains and bedclothes, and the brightly tiled hamam, now a functioning Turkish bath and part of the hotel’s spa. And the Mount Zion serves one of the loveliest breakfasts in Israel: a groaning board of fruits, cheeses, vegetables, olives, baked goods, fish, omelets, breads, fresh juices. On this account alone, many guests wish they had more days here, in order to sample everything.

Mount Zion Hotel >

Photos courtesy Mount Zion Hotel

 

Jerusalem’s Mount Zion Hotel: Ottoman-Style Luxury

Lush, living facade of Eucalyptus Restaurant. Photo by Christina Garofalo, courtesy Creative Commons

Offering a fascinating opportunity to sample truly ancient-style Israeli cuisine, Jerusalem’s Eucalyptus restaurant is housed in a nineteenth-century stone building near the Old City walls. Devised by chef-owner Moshe Basson, the menu here is inspired by the agriculture and foods mentioned in the Bible, and includes only meats and produce from the region. From the “King Solomon couscous” to an extraordinary “mallow cooked with wild spices, reminiscent of the siege” (that is, the siege of Jerusalem, when the starving city residents subsisted on this wild edible), and the “Jacob and Esau special” (red lentil stew), the food at Eucalyptus reminds us of the extraordinary histories that surround us in this city.

A fascinating opportunity to sample truly ancient-style Israeli cuisine.

As celebrated Israeli chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi put it, Jerusalem is “a city with four thousand years of history, that has changed hands endlessly, and that now stands as the center of three massive faiths, and is occupied by residents of such utter diversity it puts the old tower of Babylon to shame.” A city with that kind of jumbled history and demographics—and there is only one—will naturally be a place of inspiring foods.

Eucalyptus > 

Ancient-Style Dining at Eucalyptus Restaurant

Abu-Shukri's delicious Lebnah with olive oil and Za'atar. Photo by Jessica Spengler, courtesy Creative Commons

Jerusalem is home to some of the most ancient culinary traditions in the world. The Old City is a hive of possibilities.

The Old City is a hive of possibilities.

Visitors looking for the perfect hummus might try Abu-Shukri in the Muslim quarter, whose reputation has wafted out of the city and attracts visitors from far and wide. In the Christian quarter there is  Hummus Lina, a sixty-year-old family-owned restaurant that is always packed with happy guests.

Jaffar Sweets makes what may be Israel’s best knafeh: the supersweet and brightly colored pastry—a Levantine specialty—made with creamy cheese and a crisp layer of delicate noodles drizzled with sugar syrup, topped with chopped green pistachios.

Abu-Shukri
El Wad HaGai Street 63, Jerusalem
2-627-1538

Hummus Lina
42 Al Khanka Street, Jerusalem
2-627-7230

Jaffar Sweets
Khan el Zeit Street, Old City, Jerusalem
2-628-3582

Culinary Treasures of Jerusalem’s Old City

Mona Restaurant illustration, courtesy the restaurant

Assaf Granit, Uri Navon, and Yossi Elad, the three culinary warlocks of Machneyuda, run a number of other Jerusalem eating spots (and in 2014 they opened London’s Palomar restaurant, which has taken the city by storm). Among their other Israeli gastro projects is Mona, a restaurant housed in the stately Jerusalem Artists’ House, the historic former home of the Bezalel art school.

Assaf Granit, Uri Navon, and Yossi Elad, three culinary warlocks, run a number of Jerusalem eating spots.

While Mona’s menu is every bit as satisfying as Machneyuda’s, the offerings here lean toward Mediterranean classics (burrata with tomatoes, basil, pickled eggplant, and basil oil; gnocchi with mussels, dried tomatoes, chili, and parsley; oxtail bourguignon with polenta; and more). This restaurant’s atmosphere is very different from Machneyuda’s: it is elegant and quiet, although also busy, with a healthy buzz of creative energy.

A recent addition to the team’s portfolio is Talbiye, tucked into a cozy space behind the Jerusalem Theater. A café by day and wine bar by night, Talbiye offers carefully selected vintages paired with simple but finely executed bistro fare.

Mona >

Talbiye >


The Chefs of Jerusalem’s Machneyuda and More

Inside the kitchen of Machneyuda restaurant. Film still from Machneyuda promotional video 

The Machane Yehuda market has given its name—that is, if you say it quickly, as most Jerusalemites do—to the restaurant Machneyuda, located nearby on Beit Ya’akov Street.

At Machneyuda, it is almost a tradition that customers break into dance, and the chefs often join them—though such fireworks do not detract from the pyrotechnics of the food.

Even with reservations you often have to wait to be seated at Machneyuda—but once inside, all customers are happy, filling every table downstairs as well as the balcony that runs around the upper level. The restaurant space does double duty as a pantry: the walls are lined with shelves holding bottles of wine and baskets of vegetables. The music pulses; the waiters are charming, multilingual, and solicitous; and the restaurant’s three chefs, Assaf Granit, Uri Navon, and Yossi Elad, have taken on near-celebrity status.

At Machneyuda, it is almost a tradition that as the evening wears on the music escalates. Customers may well break into dance, and the chefs often join them—though such fireworks do not detract from the pyrotechnics of the food. The menu is coyly worded, many entries acknowledging their inspirations—“Sweetbreads and malawach like in Yemen,” “Seafood soup Uri Buri style” (named for a famous Akko chef)—or intriguing the reader: “Fish tartar doing synchronized swimming”; “400 grams of entrecôte you just don’t want to miss.” The desserts range from the loopy (but delicious) “Snickers-bar 2.0,” a brownie and peanut-butter mousse, to the most traditional malabi, a delicate, creamy rose-and-orange-inflected Israeli custard that is a mainstay on the the menu. And who could resist the invitation to try their “F***ing amazing Swiss cheese and fig jam”?

At Machneyuda, the dancing is not a distraction; it is simply a celebration of life and wonderful food.

Machneyuda promotional video.

Machane Yehuda market >

Machneyuda >

Machneyuda Restaurant in the Heart of the Market

Socializing at Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda in the evening. Photo by and © Vision Studio

Much of the food scene in Jerusalem revolves around one of the world’s greatest food markets, Machane Yehuda, which bustles with some 250 stalls selling fruits and vegetables, baked goods, fish, meat, cheeses, nuts and spices, wines and liquors, clothing and housewares. Vendors entice, cajole, and sometimes browbeat potential customers in a gamut of languages; and buyers in turn elbow one another in an effort to gain access to the ripest pomegranate, the plumpest chicken, the nicest bit of halvah—quickly filling up bags and wheeled carts to be dragged squeakingly home.

250 stalls selling fruits and vegetables, baked goods, fish, meat, cheeses, nuts and spices, wines and liquors, clothing and housewares.

Just about anything food-related can be obtained here. Two small dining places that have been embedded in the market for decades are Azura and Rachmo, both of which serve delicious Sephardic foods—hummus, kibbeh, stuffed vegetables, and much more—all exquisitely prepared. The busy Teller Bakery offers crusty European-style loaves and sweet, soft challah, and everything in between. Basher Fromagerie brings in the finest cheeses from every corner of the world. The gray-bearded Yemenite Uzi-Eli Hezi makes juices from any fruit you can think of (including the etrog, the citron that plays a central role in the Jewish festival of Sukkot). Cylindrical mountains of chalky white sweetness await at Mamlechet haHalvah, the appropriately dubbed “Halva Kingdom.” Any taste can be satisfied at this thriving market.

Machane Yehuda market > 

Machneyuda >

Azura 4
HaEshkol Street, Jerusalem

Rachmo
5 HaEshkol Street, Jerusalem

Teller Bakery
74 Agripas Street, Jerusalem

Basher’s Fromagerie >

Uzi-Eli Hezi >

Mamlechet HaHalvah (Halva Kingdom) 
12 Etz HaChaim Street, Jerusalem

Highlights of the Bustling Machane Yehuda Market

Cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Yotam Ottolenghi, perhaps Israel’s most famous chef, no longer lives in Israel. Yet from his perch in London—where he runs four hugely successful restaurants—Ottolenghi and his cooking partner, Sami Tamimi, have brought wide attention to the cuisine of this country and this region, and recently in particular to that of Jerusalem, their hometown. Ottolenghi grew up in the Jewish western part of Jerusalem and Tamimi in the Muslim eastern part. They share a deep, visceral connection to the city’s food: “The flavors and smells of this city are our mother tongue. We imagine them and dream in them,” they write in their inspiring 2012 cookbook, Jerusalem.

[Perhaps] hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.
— Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamim

The city is, of course, an intense crux of cultures and belief systems that, to put it mildly, have a difficult time interacting harmoniously. But, as you’ll read again and again here, that very crosscurrent has led to an expansive and variegated food culture that results in unlikely but often delightful combinations on the plate: Eastern Europe mixes with North Africa, Yemen with India, Uzbekistan with France, the United States with Iraq, and so on. Indeed, as Ottolenghi and Tamimi point out, food is one of the valuable unifying forces here: “It takes a giant leap of faith,” they say, “but we are happy to take it—what have we got to lose?—to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.

Chef Yotam Ottolenghi and the Foods of Jerusalem

Shai Seltzer's Har Eitan Farm goat cheeses. Photo by and © Vision Studio

Har Eitan Farm and cheese caves are west of Jerusalem, down the eastern slope of Mount Eitan near the Sataf Springs, at the end of a long and rubbly dirt road, dotted with small placards with images of goats on them.

Like any good alchemist, cheesemaker Shai Seltzer works magic on a regular basis: changing the milk of his Anglo-Nubian crossbred goats into dozens of varieties of pungent cheeses, from the mildest, creamy little crottin disks to big-flavored, crumbly, wizened wheels that are aged for up to five years. Some kinds are wrapped in grape leaves or coated in ash; two are named for his daughters, Michal and Tom; and all are ripened in a natural limestone cave on the farm.

Shai’s goats have space, shelter, and a beautiful view of the Eitan Valley, and they are well fed on healthy grasses and greens that help them generate the elixir that is their milk.

Visit Har Eitan and you will find yourself sitting at a small table under a massive stone overhang: this is the front porch of the cave in which these gastronomic miracles happen. If you are lucky, Shai might let you have a peek into the stone chamber where the affinage takes place: a cool, dark space lined with shelves stocked with patient tommes and the aroma of goat-cheese paradise.

His animals are clearly happy. They have space, shelter, and a beautiful view of the Eitan Valley, and they are well fed on healthy grasses and greens that help them generate the elixir that is their milk. Shai chats with them in Hebrew, which, naturally, they understand. “Yes, they speak Hebrew,” he says. “But the main thing they do is laugh. All the time, they are laughing!”

 Shai’s great talents attract regular visitors, although his enclave is not advertised to the world. There is something quietly thrilling about discovering a hidden gem like this, and Israel is studded with them from top to bottom.

Stills from the film The New Cuisine of Israel, available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel.

 Har Eitan Farm >

 


Cheese-maker Shai Seltzer’s Har Eitan Farm

Shai Seltzer in a still from the film The New Cuisine of Israel

Shai Seltzer has the mien and the aura of a holy man, or perhaps a wizard: he is often swathed in white clothes, his head wrapped in a white turban. He has a long, snowy beard and wears a pair of scholarly wire spectacles. For a man with a snowy beard he is, however, extremely spry with a wild sense of humor that borders on the naughty.

When you are making cheese, you are painting.
— Shai Seltzer

An afternoon with Shai at his Har Eitan Farm, west of Jerusalem, will likely be filled with talk: botany (of which he is a scholar), history, politics, Slow Food (he is of course an activist), cheese-exhilarating enzymes, the life of goats, international cheese conferences (which he regularly attends, and where he is lauded as a superstar), and more. He will expertly pace the sampling of cheeses through your visit, so that the palate will not be overwhelmed—“Slowly, slowly,” he advises. Plainly, these creations still please him greatly, although he must have tasted them hundreds of times.

Botanist, activist, sage, gastronomic magician, Shai is also a teacher who takes in students of cheese making, and who has shared his knowledge with women’s cooperatives in Africa and India, and more locally among the Bedouins, giving them tools and skills to bolster their own microeconomies. Perhaps most importantly, Shai is an artist: “When you are making cheese, you are painting,” he says. “You are painting with milk and with bacteria.”

And indeed, his cheeses are masterpieces. 

Har Eitan Farm > 

These stills are from the film The New Cuisine of Israel, available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel.