Sitting at the crossroads of three continents, and with a history dating back over 3,000 years, Jerusalem is a city teeming with history. Over the centuries, the city’s identity has evolved to reflect the diverse and ever-changing dynamic of people who call Jerusalem home. With such an overwhelming array of religions and cultures crammed into such a small space, getting to know the city beyond the tourist sites can be a daunting task. Fortunately, where cultures meet, so do cuisines and Jerusalem is no exception. From street-side vendors to back-alley restaurants, Jerusalem’s Old City is teeming with the sights, sounds and smells of some of the region’s most celebrated food. Here’s our guide to eating your way around the Old City in a day:
Who’d have thought that a simple mix of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and salt could be prepared in such dramatically different ways, and stir up such passion amongst its fans? If you asked 100 people where to eat the best hummus in Jerusalem, you’re likely to be sent to 100 different places! While some laud a thick, rich and almost sticky consistency, others celebrate a lighter preparation and looser texture. One thing for sure, however, is that most hummus that you try in Jerusalem will be quite unlike anything you’ve eaten before!
As a starting point for your day, it doesn’t get much better than sitting down to a plate of delicious hummus, a stack of freshly baked bread and some wonderful fresh vegetables. Just a stone’s throw from Damascus Gate, the family-run Hummus Acramawi is held in high regard by many locals and offers a filling meal for as little as $5 per plate. Keep an eye out for their amazing lemon and chilli sauce which goes great with their light and creamy hummus!
Those who can’t do without eggs for breakfast won’t have to look far to find a restaurant selling the middle-eastern classic shakshuka. Generally served in a large cast-iron dish, this hearty meal consists of eggs that have been poached in a rich sauce of tomato, chilli, onion and cumin – a great way to wake up the taste buds ahead of a day of culinary exploration!
Get the most out of your time in Jerusalem by grabbing a bite of lunch on the go from one of the many street vendors that can be found throughout the Old City. The heavy Arabic influence on the city means that there is no shortage of places to grab a cheap and tasty shawarma wrap.
The giant, rotating spits of meat can be seen slowly roasting all over the city, ready to be shaved into a paper-thin flat bread and topped with fresh salads, herbs and sauces! Many vendors offer a selection of meats with beef, lamb and chicken being the most common. Super hungry or simply can’t decide? Ask the chef for a little of each to create your own super-shawarma! The Al-Shuala grill restaurant is a firm favourite locally, known for its juicy and flavourful meats and amazingly fresh bread. With wraps starting at $7, this is a great value option for a filling lunch on the go!
One of the joys of exploring a new city is the chance to browse the shops and market stalls selling an array of exciting new products, and tasting new things along the way! No foodie visit to Jerusalem would be complete without a visit to the vast Mahane Yehuda Market. This sprawling collection of some 250 vendors is packed with local delicacies and delights, making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists. Fresh meats, vegetables and cheeses sit alongside delicious baked goods, nuts, seed and spices. Here are a few classics to keep an eye out for:
- Sweet Arabic Baklava – small crispy pastries packed with nuts and soaked in honey!
- Crispy Falafel balls, served either on their own, with a dip or wrapped in a flatbread with salad and pickled vegetables.
- Sfenj are Israel’s answer to doughnuts, and are best eaten fresh from the fryers!
- Originally from Georgia but now immensely popular across Israel, Khachapuri are delicious breads baked with an egg in the centre.
- Ful – Think hummus made with fava beans rather than chickpeas!
- Babka ¬– A sweet yeast cake flavoured with spices, chocolate and honey syrup.
- Sabich – The forgotten brother of the falafel or shawarma, sabich is a pitta bread wrap stuffed with grilled aubergine, hard-boiled eggs, tahini and salad. A perfect snack at any time of the day!
As the sun sets below the horizon, the streets of the Old City seem to take on a new energy, and the buzz of the crowds can become intoxicating. Let your feet guide you through the narrow, winding lanes of East Jerusalem before searching out the legendary Al Baghdadi kebab restaurant. The secret to this family-owned restaurant’s success is the freshness of their ingredients and the simplicity of their preparation. Lamb is minced by hand every morning, mixed with fresh onion and parsley and simply seasoned with salt and pepper, before being pressed onto long skewers and grilled over glowing charcoals. Served fresh off the grill, with a pile of delightful flatbreads and pickled vegetables, this simple and historic meal captures the very essence of the city. Don’t miss out on the excellent salad, too – an amazing mix of parsley, tomato and cucumber, finely chopped and dressed in fresh tahini!
For a sweet end to the day, the generations-old Zalatimo Sweets restaurant is a Jerusalem institution. The only dish on offer here is the famous Arabic Mutabak, a parcel of thin pastry, stuffed with either a savoury cheese or a sweet walnut filling, fried until crisp and dusted with powdered sugar. The sweet option pairs perfectly with a strong, bitter Turkish coffee, although the Jerusalem’s cheese mutabak is the perfect balance of crispy pastry and gooey cheese – delicious!