When I was a little girl in Jerusalem, my family had a couple of favorite eating-out spots for nights when we wanted to do something special, impress guests from the States, or for when no one felt like cooking (my parents must’ve gotten a little tired of my tuna sailboats and mashed potato-nests on my mom’s nights off from the kitchen). One of them was the Kurdish homestyle restaurant, Ima אמא (mother, in hebrew). Located just a couple blocks from the shuk, Ima had a rustic and casual interior with Ima herself stuffing kubbeh and grape leaves, boiling rice, and mixing up delicious eggplant salads in the kitchen. Amazingly, Ima is often still there (and at their newish take-away location in the shuk), though the decor and atmosphere have changed significantly. Much more upscale (white tablecloths!) with a slightly refined menu (no fried cigars…), Ima’s feels like a place to impress a date or to celebrate an anniversary rather than a place for a family weeknight dinner (though they do have two dining rooms, one slightly more casual than the other). However, the food is still full of flavor and love and I was happy to dress up a bit when we ate there with my parents during their visit here in August.
There has been a LOT happening in the world of fine dining and new cuisine in Israel during the last 20 years. Some of it has been for the better — such as realizing that many of the quality ingredients Israeli chefs were searching for outside the country (olive oil, spices etc) are actually native and best produced locally. While other aspects of the culinary revolution are part of a natural progression of extreme, outside-the-box, overachieving and experimenting that any new country’s food community must go through before returning to a balanced norm.
Of course I am glad that we now have european-style breads, Italian espresso, wonderful goat cheese, and really great ice cream and sorbet in Israel, but I am even more glad that we still have places like Ima, where I can know what to expect, and it’s really, really good.
189 Agripas Street, Jerusalem. 02 624 6860