Cooking Vacations - East Jerusalem

A Culinary Tour in East Jerusalem

Cooking Vacations to Israel are so wonderful and unique also because of the pieces of ancient history that enrich every experience. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our culinary tour to the Old City of Jerusalem. The Damascus Gate, the northern gateway to the Old City of Jerusalem, was presumably built in Second Temple times. In Hebrew it is called Sha'ar Shechem (meaning Nablus Gate) and in Arabic Bab-Al-Amud (meaning Gate of the Column). It marks the edge of the Arab bazaar and market place and the bustling colorful streets, the people, the smells, the half-built houses and terraces will make us think that we are on a cooking vacation in Cairo, in Istanbul or in the streets of Amman. Whether we stroll along the walls near the Old City or venture inside, to the intricate allies and lanes, the feeling is one – why waist your time with wars when you can spend it shopping?

Our culinary tour will begin with a visit to the El Musrara Bakery owned by Iad Hamid, a second generation to a family of Old City bakers, who decided to open his shop on the borderline between East and West so that everyone can enjoy it. It opened back in the 1980's when it still seemed like the city might be united and still today, young Israelis after a night out on the town make a midnight stop here to bite on a warm pretzel with herbs or to wipe clean a plate of fresh hummus. In addition to 10 different kinds of pretzels and all different types of cheeses of the Palestinian cuisine, which is the focus of this culinary tour, we can also find here the oh-so-thin and soft Ashrak bread and the Arab delicacy Ma'amul, flaky crumbly cookies filled with dates.

A few steps down the street from the bakery, and suddenly there it is, the Damascus Gate in all its glory! Just like the 19th century etching we see printed here on every postcard. The palms on the right help to remind us that this Cooking Vacation is indeed in the Middle East and our culinary tour continues to the small El Natshe butchery, where you can get the finest lamb cut on a student budget, and to Achrammawi, the workers' Hummus place that has been serving its famous paste with warm and crispy falafel balls since 1970. On that same block we will be sure to visit El Iad Restaurant and sample the best selection of dishes from the Palestinian kitchen: the Mas'chan, baked chicken with onion and sumac on freshly baked Pita bread… Mansaaf, pieces of lamb cooked in sauce served on fragrant cinnamon rice… and Ma'alubba, a delicious stew of beef, rice and vegetables.

If we are lucky enough to go on this culinary tour on a Friday afternoon we will have the pleasure of munching on a beef or chicken skewer straight from the grill while gazing at the local women from the nearby villages, in their traditional clothes, offering this season's selection: grape leaves, fresh chamomile, prunes and olives, all for pennies. That's what makes a Cooking Vacation to Israel so fascinating and extraordinary – the richness of the culture, the history and the local customs go hand-in-hand with the delicacies of the local cuisine.

Written by Lilach Rubin.

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