February 16th 2015
When tens of thousands of Jews from Middle Eastern countries migrated to Israel in the years following the establishment of the country in 1948, they brought the cuisines of their native lands with them. Yemenite, Tunisian, Syrian, Turkish, Iraqi, Kurdish and Moroccan cooking traditions are now inseparable from the Israeli national palette. Many landmark restaurants in the heart of Jerusalem serve amazing food that originates from these lands, but these three are especially alluring.
Iraqi Grill Adjacent to Machne Yehuda
The real-life Sima left Iraq for Israel over 50 years ago. In 1969, she opened her namesake restaurant at Agrippas St. 82 in order to provide lunch for the hardworking vendors of Machne Yehuda. Still operating at the same location, Sima is considered by many to be the Holy City’s top authentic Middle Eastern cuisine destination. Now run by Sima’s sons, the restaurant still focuses on Sima’s original recipes for grilled meat skewers, flatbreads and meze, as well as fish and soup, all flavored in the original Iraqi style.
Kurdish Soul Food
Further down Agrippas St. at 189 (with a name that rhymes with Sima, no less), the Ima restaurant is also named for an immigrant matron, this one hailing from the region of Kurdistan, where Iraq, Iran and Turkey border one another. Ima’s features arched doorways and the charms of a 100-year-old stone villa. Each niche in the house forms a different dining area. The décor is an excellent match for the emphasis on home-style cooking. Favorites include hamusta (a sour lemon soup), kubbeh (bulgur and meat dumplings), stuffed vegetables and majadra (a combination of rice and lentils) – all served with love.
An Upscale Taste of Casablanca
Located in a 200-year-old building in the Russian Compound at Horkanos St. 3, Darna offers the full Moroccan experience, including decorative windows and floor tiles, gold-trimmed tapestries and servers who wear traditional robes and pour tea with dramatic flourishes. Make sure that at least one person in your party orders a lamb tagine, a Darna specialty. The “secret” wine cellar underneath the main restaurant is worth a brief visit as well.