Renowned Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi collects the flavors of his homeland in his newly released cookbook Jerusalem, a follow up to his New York Times bestselling title Plenty, one of the most lauded cookbooks of 2011. Ottolenghi, along with business partner and co-author Sami Tamimi run Nopi, one of London’s most popular restaurants, along with four Ottolenghi-branded cafés. Fodor’s caught up with the celebrated chef to talk about what—and where—to eat in Jerusalem.
Bonus: Scroll down to enter for a chance to win Yotam’s newly released cookbook, Jerusalem!
Q: What are some of the "old food haunts and forgotten treats" you and Sami reminisce about from your days in Jerusalem?
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A: Abu Shukri’s hummus in the Old City. They serve a traditional Palestinian hummus that is super sharp and creamy. It’s is a whole meal on a plate and it’s terrific with its variety of toppings such as fava beans, whole chickpeas, olive oil, and parsley.
Drinking sahleb (or salep) outside the old city’s Damascus gate. This warm, milky beverage is thickened, sweetened, and topped with cinnamon, ginger, walnut, and coconut and is a real treat when the weather gets a little cool. It’s sold by street vendors and is terribly popular.
Falafel, of course, whether in a pita on the sidewalk or the larger ones sold alongside sesame crusted bagels and a little pouch of za’atar powder.
Q: What’s one food every visitor to Jerusalem should enjoy?
A: Hummus—there’s nothing like it. We recommend going to Rachmo in Machne Yehuda fruit and vegetable market in West Jerusalem. There you can get a mean hummus with tahini, but also all kinds of stews and stuffed vegetables typical for Sephardi Jews.
Q: What are some of the smells and flavors that can be enjoyed while wandering in Jerusalem, that say "Jerusalem" to you?
A: Wonderfully sweet, black Arab coffee with a cardamom aroma; Eastern European krantz or babka cakes sold in Jewish bakeries; chopped salad of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes; all kinds of eggplant salads—with tahini, with garlic, with mayonnaise, and fried, grilled, or marinated; sesame-based tahini or halva; cheese cakes and cheese-stuffed-pastries, either Jewish or Arab.
Q: If you only had 24 hours in Jerusalem, what would you do?
A: Visit Machne Yehuda market and the neighborhood of Nachla’ot that surrounds it, then wander for hours around the Old City—it is completely magical and really sucks you in. Last, I’d take in the view of the Old City from The Mount of Olives.
Q: What ingredients should visitors looks for in Jerusalem’s many markets?
A: I recommend za’atar, olive oil, olives, local tahini and halva, and local sweets such as ghraybeh (semolina butter cookies) or kenafeh (cheese pastry soaked in syrup).