It doesn’t take much time on the road to learn that one of the best things about travelling is the chance to sample local food from a multitude of cultures.
If you’re looking for where to eat in Jerusalem, look no further.
As much as I like to be adventurous and try new things, I have to admit that food from any country touching the Mediterranean Sea is a cut above the rest. I already knew that I loved generic ‘Middle Eastern’ food, but I couldn’t wait to feast on the culinary delights in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.
The Old City
I arrived at my hostel just as darkness was settling over the Old City. The markets were closed, and there was an eerie silence about the stony streets. The staff at my hostel told me there isn’t very much open in the Old City at night (the walled Armenian Quarter actually locks its gates after dark so that even its own residents have to call a friend or family member to let them back inside), but that I should try the unassuming café down the street. “It’s the best falafel in Jerusalem”, they said. They did not exaggerate.
Michael Restaurant: Don’t bother looking for the name on this café’s humble outdoor façade; I never saw a sign. It’s on Saint Mark Street, just past Jaffa Gate and off one of the main souks of the Old City. Run by two of the nicest women you can imagine, it also appeals to me from a feminist perspective. They were extremely generous, even letting me buy my first (of many) falafel sandwiches on credit! Although concise, the menu is a bargain, at about 10 shekels for a flavorful sandwich that will keep you full for hours of Old City exploration.
The Austrian Hospice: As many travelers to the Middle East will know, alcohol isn’t always as easy to come by as it is in Western countries. Jerusalem’s Old City—pretty religiously conservative—doesn’t offer much in the way of alcohol and, as mentioned, gets very quiet after dark. Although many women do walk around the Old City by themselves at night and feel perfectly safe, it’s always best to take precautions and bring a new friend, especially if you’re going to drink. One place to kick back for a quiet drink in the Old City is the Austrian Hospice on the corner of Via Dolorosa and El Wad HaGai, which boasts a German (and English)-speaking staff, café, and a humble rooftop with fantastic views over the city. You can grab a beer here and enjoy looking out at Temple Mount while listening to the various calls to prayer from the surrounding mosques. Their prices are a little above average, as you might expect with imported beer.
Zad: If you decide to bypass the Austrian Hospice and continue up El Wad HaGai, out Damascus Gate, and into East Jerusalem looking for a meal, you won’t go wrong with Zad, on Salah ad Din. This casual but tasty restaurant serves a variety of quintessential Arab foods. I had a chicken shawarma wrap, which came with some delicious fries on the side…perhaps not entirely orthodox, but definitely tasty! It was also here that I was introduced to an iced mint-lemonade drink that I ended up refreshing myself with almost every day for the rest of my trip. Adding to its appeal, Zad is down the street from an intriguing-looking bookshop, and about a five-minute walk from the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum, which tells Palestinian history from a more Arab perspective.
Mahane Yehuda Market: Locals and tourists alike frequent the rightfully famous market, which boasts scores of stalls selling fruit, vegetables, cookies, fresh juice, wine, and everything in between. Israel’s warm climate means that the country grows fresh produce all year round; be prepared to get distracted by vats of bright green olives, sweet-smelling peaches, and plenty of pistachios. Swing by the popular Azoura for a refreshing juice, or Café Mizrachi for a coffee and snack. Otherwise, you’ll be pretty safe following your nose for hot food in this kosher market. Remember that visiting on a Friday will be very busy, with people coming to do their Shabbat shopping (in a similar vein, it will be extremely quiet on Saturday and many stalls will not be open).
What separates this market from many others is that at night it transforms into an outdoor hotspot with music, food, and even dancing. Markets always provide a taste of local life in their respective cities, and this one has something to offer from every imaginable angle.