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Sweet and on the Down-Low

The hunt for this legendary pastry shop is half the fun

Author Wendell Steavenson

Pastry maker Hani Zalatimo plies his trade (Photo by Shira Raz)

Among the crowded alley markets of Jerusalem’s Old City, at the bottom of a staircase that leads to the Ethiopian Orthodox part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s roof, is an anonymous metal door in an ancient stone wall.

There’s no sign outside, and inside there’s only a plain space with about four tables with plastic chairs—but all Jerusalem foodies know this place well. It’s Zalatimo, a pastry shop famed for crispy square envelopes of phyllo filled with crumbled cheese curds or clods of ground walnut and cinnamon. Called mutabak, this centuries-old delicacy was brought to Jerusalem by Mohammed Zalatimo in the 1860s. Today, great-grandson Hani Zalatimo constructs the pastries on an oiled stone slab, stretching a skein of the thinnest phyllo with a pizzaiolo’s practiced flip. Served whole, drizzled with syrup and sprinkled with powdered sugar, the results are thoroughly worth the trip—at least for those who manage to find the place.

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