A culinary journey through Jerusalem's street food scene

Want a true taste of the Holy City? Follow your nose through its eclectic neighbourhoods and tuck into its delicious grab-and-go street food.

By Angela Locatelli
Published 20 Nov 2020, 10:02 GMT
Panoramic view of the Old City neighbourhood in Jerusalem

Panoramic view of the Old City neighbourhood in Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine.

Photograph by Getty Images

Jerusalem is a complex place to understand, but there are few better ways to sample its diverse history and multicultural communities than through its flavour-packed food scene. The variety of international influences brought to the ancient city — from the Middle East, North Africa and the wider Mediterranean region — have resulted in an extraordinary culinary melting pot. Some of the best places to experience the Holy City’s most authentic cuisine are the many hole-in-the-wall eateries and pavement kiosks, where menus are handwritten and cutlery is scarce. From Middle Eastern favourites such as falafel and hummus to local specialties like the Jerusalem mixed grill, here’s what to look out for on a walking tour.

Hummus at Abu Shukri 

Far more than a side dip, this chickpea creation is often a meal’s pièce de résistance. Asking which joint serves the tastiest hummus is sure to fuel a fierce discussion among locals, but Abu Shukri, tucked away in the Old City, is a strong contender. So popular is this dimly lit spot, it’s inspired countless imitations. No room? Nearby Lina is another renowned purveyor of the creamy delicacy.

In Israel, hummus is often a meal in its own right.

Photograph by Getty Images

Knafeh at Ja’far Sweets

Squeeze your way past the merchants and hagglers of the Muslim Quarter for a stop at Ja’far Sweets. This unassuming cafe isn’t easy to find, but with a reputation as the best knafeh vendor in the country, it’s worth the extra effort. Best eaten while still hot, this mouth-watering Middle Eastern dessert comprises filo pastry layered with cheese, drenched in syrup and topped with crushed pistachios.

Bourekas at Bourekas Musa

Pass beneath the imposing Damascus Gate, cut through the Old City’s northern wall, and make your way towards the Russian Compound on a hunt for these flaky snacks. Bourekas are baked parcels of pastry made with fillings like salty cheese, mashed potatoes or sautéed mushrooms. Try them at this local haunt, an old-school storefront eatery that’s been plying Jerusalemites with the pastries for over 60 years.

Sabich at Hasabichiya

Based on the breakfast that Iraqi Jews would traditionally eat on the morning of the Sabbath, sabich is made with thin slices of fried aubergine, hard-boiled eggs and crunchy salad stuffed into a pitta. It’s the only option on the menu at this spot in the Downtown Triangle, but that doesn’t stop the locals piling in — be prepared to join the long queues that often snake away from the counter.

Some of the best places to experience Jerusalem's authentic cuisine are the many pavement kiosks.

Photograph by Getty Images

Falafel at Shalom Falafel

Believed to have originated in Egypt, these deep-fried chickpea croquettes have become the quintessential Middle Eastern street food. Falafel vendors dot every other back alley, but for a safe bet head to Shalom Falafel on Bezalel Street. Sitting space isn’t guaranteed, but with the winding lanes, stone houses and quiet courtyards of the quaint Nachlaot neighbourhood all around, that’s hardly a drawback.

Me’orav Yerushalmi at Machane Yehuda Market

Round off your ramble at the Machane Yehuda Market, where an array of culinary options awaits. With everything from street food kiosks and sweet stands to vegetable and spice stalls, this raucous market could warrant a food tour of its own. The Shuk, as it’s known locally, is said to be the birthplace of me’orav yerushalmi (a mixed grill of chicken hearts, spleens and livers with lamb), although its origins are fiercely contested — many, including nearby Steakiyat Hatzot, claim this offal creation as their own.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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