An eatery at Israel's most global food bazaar finds good taste in common ground
Author Wendell Steavenson
JERUSALEM—Settled by Jews from places as diverse as Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, Israel is a nation of immigrants. Yet for all the country’s international flavor, what’s long been considered characteristic Israeli food—hummus, falafel, mixed grilled meats, fresh chopped salads—is in fact cuisine borrowed from local Levantines.
But recently an exciting fusion has crept into Jerusalem restaurants, one that can be seen as wholly Israeli in origin. And nowhere is it more evident than at Machneyuda, an eatery close to, and inspired by, the famously cosmopolitan Machane Yehuda food market. Run by a trio of chefs with disparate ethnic backgrounds—Austro-Hungarian Yossi Elad, Kurdish Uri Navon and half-German, half-Polish Asaf Granit—Machneyuda has created a changing daily menu that’s literally all over the map. It’s influenced as much by the cooking of the chefs’ grandmothers as it is by the market itself—which is always suggesting new ideas with its quirky juxtapositions (buffalo yogurt next to green chili paste; date syrup next to parsnips).
Since opening four years ago, Machneyuda has come up with hundreds of different dishes. While offering a glass of the unexpectedly tangy house cocktail—grapefruit juice mixed with arak, a Levantine spirit—Navon describes how he found sweet blue crabs that very afternoon and decided to make them “Jerusalem style.” He took the flavors associated with falafel and shawarma—tahini, preserved lemons and the chili paste known as harissa— and then refined the dish with garlic and shallot confit, brightening the sauce with parsley and coriander.
Another dish evolved after one of the line chefs, an Argentine, bought some beets because they looked good that day in the market; a second chef, originally from Iraq, thought to stuff them with his grandmother’s kibbe, a mix of ground beef and spices. That night, Machneyuda’s menu also included Asian toro tataki with wasabi and ginger, and a soup flavored with mirin and wakame (a kind of seaweed); chicken livers accompanied by mashed potatoes; and a Moroccan stew made with three kinds of paprika and slow-roasted red peppers and tomatoes.
The binding power of that international fusion is apparent even in the melee of Machneyuda’s dinner service: while patrons eat, the music is turned up loud and the cooks in the open kitchen dance at their stoves and drum spoons on pots. Navon himself has been known to dance on tables when the mood hits. “The Jerusalem vibe is still a bit wild, a bit kicking,” he says. “It’s an electric combination of people and one of the craziest places, even in peacetime.”