If food is an indicator of a place’s character then East Jerusalem is vibrant and fresh, varied and generous, comforting and adventurous all at the same time. It’s hard to live here and not get excited about the range of delicious food available. Your jeans may feel tighter, but you will be happy, and your soul will be nourished!
One of the best things about food here (and the biggest contrast with my home country – the UK) is that it is generally locally grown. Each crop has a season and once it’s gone it’s gone. There is a local Arabic phrase ‘bokra fil mish-mish’ which roughly means ‘tomorrow an apricot’ owing to the short season of the apricot and how quickly you have to eat them. It’s used in a ‘manana’ way to describe anything that probably won’t happen tomorrow. This means that when you go shopping each week, it is a surprise as to what will be available. One week it will be colossal watermelons rolling down the aisles, the next you’ll be gobsmacked by pomegranates the size of footballs.
In the UK (and in other countries I suspect), we have become so used to having strawberries all year round and don’t give a damn where they come from. Here prices vary much more with availability, so if you try and eat fruit and veg out of season it comes at a high price and that feels right to me. The best approach for wallet, taste and the environment, is to try and move with the seasons.
Despite being pretty hot a lot of the year round, the land here is fertile and things grow in abundance. It was a real joy last year to watch (for the first time ever!) tiny buds growing into fruits like this ripe young pomegranate. We were also lucky to take part in some olive picking. For us it was a fun day out but for many people living here it is an incredibly laborious yet vital lifeline.
This small experience gave me a renewed respect for people who make their living off the land. Olive trees in particular are revered here: and I can see why. There are some olive trees in East Jerusalem which date back to biblical times. If you get the chance, it is a rare privilege to stroll around the Garden of Gethsemane and the slope behind it, to visit these gnarly and wise old trees and imagine the stories they have to tell.
The trees provide this amazing continuous thread through history, with some people seeing them as a symbol of resilience and attachment to the land. Olive trees are also an important part of the economy here with the olives, oil, soap and wood they produce being world renowned.
I was foolish to think I could cover East Jerusalem food in one post. I’ve not even started on crisp falafel, the fluffy breads, imaginative pastries, delicious deserts, painstakingly stuffed vegetables and rolled vine leaves. Those delights are to be continued….
In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your favourite Jerusalem food is and where you get it from? Do you have a special restaurant, bakery, fish shop or other top place to share? Please share the details by commenting below!
On old gent of a tree in the Garden of Gethsemane