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Slow Cooking

The old stuff is the good stuff at the family-run Azura

Author Wendell Steavenson

PHOTOGRAPH BY SHIRA RAZ

In a town as full of Jewish grandmothers as Jerusalem, much is understandably made of the “old ways.” Among the strongholds of tradition, one of the most beloved is Azura, an eatery on the lopsided piazza behind Machane Yehuda where old men play dominoes over cups of strong sweet tea.

Founded by Ezra Shrefler, who came to Israel from Turkey in 1949, Azura features food cooked largely over p’tilia, small oil-wick canister stoves that were popular in the first half of the 20th century. Even though p’tilia stopped being manufactured 30 years ago, the restaurant still uses them because they provide an ambient heat that’s somewhere above warm, but below simmer. “It makes the food thicker,” says Chico Shrefler, one of Ezra’s sons who now run the restaurant. “It’s a special taste—a small flame that heats slowly and for a long time. It’s very nostalgic.”

Azura’s dishes, a mix of Kurdish, Iraqi, Syrian and Moroccan cuisine, come off like a kind of Sephardic comfort food. For instance, “Rosh Hashanah,” a dish named for the Jewish New Year, is a leg of lamb with white beans cooked all night “so that they look like mashed potatoes,” Chico says. Kima includes layers of grilled kebab, potatoes, onions, spinach and eggplant. There are also several varieties of kibbe, dumpling-like treats stuffed with meat ragout or swiss chard and zucchini and served in soup or curry-nutmeg sauce. As he continues describing the menu, Chico nods hello to his father, who still comes every day in his wheelchair to eat kibbe in soup for breakfast. “This kind of food can only happen in Jerusalem,” Chico says.

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