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The top five Jerusalem soup joints

by michael December 10 2008
Best of JerusalemFoodThings to do
Dinner at Mordoch
Makes you want to sing that Sinatra classic: "Three kubbeh in a soup bowl..."

You look a little damp. Come inside or you'll catch a cold. Here, sit down. You know what'll make you feel better? A nice steaming hot bowl of soup, just like mom used to make. You're in the right place for it.

Welcome, readers, to the soup capital of the world. Maybe you think Jewish soup begins and ends with soggy matzah balls bobbing in chicken broth, but that's as much a misconception as thinking Italian food begins and ends with spaghetti. When the Jews flooded back into Israel from the far-flung corners of the Diaspora, each of them came bearing soup, and from the crimson beet-flavored borscht to the...uh...crimson, beet-flavored marak kubbeh adom, every one is uniquely delicious. So strap on your bibs, shine your spoons and prepare for a Biblical deluge of broth as Jerusalemite reveals the top five soup joints in Jerusalem.

The sign says it all: "At Mordoch, we roll kubbeh." What are kubbeh, you ask? Why, they're an entire class of meat-stuffed bulgur and semolina dumplings, often deep-fried and crispy, but in the context of soup, they're big soft globes of pure epicurean pleasure. Coming to Israel courtesy of the Jews of Kurdistan, kubbeh soup is wildly popular all over the country, and if its Mecca is the heavily Kurdish Jerusalem neighborhood around the Machane Yehuda market, its Kaaba is the modest family-run restaurant Mordoch. While every stew, meat dish and mezze Mordoch makes is wonderful, their reputation is built on their kubbeh soup, which comes in three varieties: marak kubbeh adom, "red kubbeh soup," a sweet and savory deep red soup based on beets and other hearty root vegetables; kubbeh hamousta, "sour kubbeh," featuring a sour broth made greenish from an abundance of chard and hinting at its northern Iraqi origins with its Aramaic name; and kubbeh shel pa'am, "old-school kubbeh," similar to hamousta but more garlicky. And the regular old meat soup is pretty rad too. And here's a bit of Jerusalem trivia: Mordoch's kubbeh-rolling motto comes from the time generations ago when legions of Kurdish grandmas from Nachlaot would descend on Mordoch and roll kubbeh in the kitchen all day as a way of hanging out and sharing gossip (with Nachlaot rapidly turning into another glitzy, vacant foreign-absentee-landlord playground, those days are sadly behind us).

There's something about soup that goes hand-in-hand with funky DIY sensibilities, and a city can hardly claim to be home to a thriving underground scene without an indie soup joint. Enter HaMarakiya (more or less, "the Soupery"), a soup haven frequented by both Jerusalem's young and trendy and the city's LGBT community. The cozily eclectic Goa-meets-Little House on the Prairie decor tells you exactly what to expect: a rotating selection of hearty homemade-style vegetarian soups as well as a few fixed favorites, including Jerusalem standby marak batata (sweet potato soup) and shakshuka (not a soup, but still tasty). Space is limited and what few seats there are have a tendancy to fill up fast, so try to arrive right as the place opens at 18:00 sharp.

Competing with heavy-hitters Mordoch and Rachmo for the lofty title of Machane Yehuda's finest Israeli soul food joint, Azura is hidden away at the far end of the grubby Iraqi Shuk (an aisle of Iraqi vegetable sellers within Machane Yehuda), right in front of a mountain of discarded produce boxes and trimmings. Don't let the grungy ambience deter you: this is serious Jerusalem food, and the lunch lines snaking through the Iraqi Shuk bear daily testament. Although mostly known for its hummus, Azura dishes out quite the kubbeh soup - its seasoned sixty-something Iraqi regulars would accept nothing less.


Marvad HaksamimMarvad Haksamim
Someone visiting Jerusalem for the first time might find it hard to believe, but not too terribly long ago, King George Street landmark Marvad Haksamim ("The Magic Carpet") used to be just about the only sit-down restaurant in downtown Jerusalem. Things have changed, and so has Marvad: the restaurant has gone chain, with satellite locations on Emek Refaim and in Malcha. The menu, mostly Yemeni but with a pronounced streak of culinary ecumenism, is famously hit-or-miss: the hummus is terrible, but the lineup of soups is killer. Yemen represents with a don't-miss beef and coriander soup, and the hardcore-but-tasty calf's foot soup; other standouts include red and hamousta kubbeh, Moroccan lentil, hearty bean and a surprisingly competent (considering the Middle Eastern source) chicken noodle. Every order comes with all-you-can-eat tzaluf, a crispy/chewy Yemeni flatbread perfect for soaking up those wonderful soup dregs.

The Village GreenVillage Green
The most vegetarian-oriented of Jerusalem's many soup eateries, the Village Green is also perhaps the least Israeli. One of the city's only cafeteria-style restaurants, the Green's clientele is mostly comprised of English-speaking visitors and residents, people who are attracted to the Western-style vegetarian fare and not put off by the relatively high prices. But Anglo ambience and pricey food aside, the soup is undeniably excellent all-around. Chunky gazpacho is great in the summertime, and in winter you can cozy up around a bowl of butternut squash, cream of broccoli or whatever else is bubbling away in the pots on any given day. As a bonus, soup orders come with the restaurant's excellent bread and butter.

Honorable mentions go out to the family-friendly Ima, the trendy/slightly upscale Kubiya, Heimishe Essen for the Ashkenazi end of things, and Jerusalemite's favorite lunch spot Ta'ami for a fine chicken soup. And if you can't enjoy Jerusalem soup in your current place of residence, check out some simple recipes for authentic kubbeh and marak kubbeh adom.

Photo of a full Mordoch spread (top) courtesy of rbarenblat from Flickr under a Creative Commons license; photo of Mordoch, photo of Marakiya and photo of Marvad Haksamim by Asaf Kliger for Jerusalemite; photo of Azura courtesy of Gad Shoshan from Flickr under a Creative Commons license; photo of soup at the Village Green courtesy of veggiefriendly from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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