A Taste of the Muslim Quarter

From cardamom-scented coffee to handmade pastries, one can eat their way through East Jerusalem.

When visiting East Jerusalem's main shopping and restaurant row on Salah a-Din Street, it is worth stopping at Sandouka. The Sandouka brothers, Wahid and Yakoub, import coffee beans from Brazil, and the green beans are roasted on the blazing surface of an imposing ancient machine located on the shop's second floor.

The roasted blend is cooled and transported by pipe directly into baskets on the ground floor, where it is ground and packed into paper sacks. Manager Samer Natshe says that most of Sandouka's blends are laced with hel, or cardamom, to meet the demands of clientele. The intense aroma that lingers in the grinding machine even pervades the unspiced coffees. A 250-gram sack costs about NIS 25.

The same street is also the home of El-Dorado, the best-known espresso bar in East Jerusalem, which opened seven years ago. There are Internet stations on the second floor, and industrial machines on the ground floor which serve up Lavazza and Bristot coffee. The walls are lined with row upon row of sweets and chocolate pralines from Switzerland, Italy and Belgium, and an entire wall is devoted to chocolate pralines from Syria. The disappointing industrial taste of the latter is reminiscent of local chocolate produced 30 years ago. One may console oneself with a bite of old-world, high-quality Lindt chocolate.

Lavender and saffron

Muakat, an orderly, meticulously run spice shop opened on Salah a-Din about a year ago. Every imaginable spice, from lavender to saffron, is displayed on wooden shelves - one will not find sacks of spices resting on the floor in this establishment. Prices range from a few to hundreds of shekels per 100 grams, and the service is excellent.

Red mullet and salty cheese

Inexpensive cuts of meat are on offer on one side of the butcher shop owned by the Al-Natshe family, on Salah a-Din. Dairy products are available in the refrigerator on the opposite side. The refrigerator is stocked with cheeses from the "Hamouda" company that cost about NIS 5 per 100 grams. The hard, delicately salted cheese is very tasty.

The Al-Natshes opened their first butcher shop in East Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter 25 years ago. The newer branch, adjacent to the Old City walls, was established six years ago. "Everything we have is fresh - only the sausages are frozen," reports shop owner Bashir Natshe. Mutton costs NIS 60 per kilogram and chicken costs about half that price. There is also a refrigerator full of fresh barbounia, red mullet, and bouri, striped mullet, with prices that change every day.

Pitchers of yogurt

The Al-Amin bakery near the Damascus Gate offers a variety of delicacies in addition to breads, bagels and packaged toasted rusks. The bakery sells glossy fruit leathers, made from grapes and apricots, and a variety of flavors of superb halvah, sold as whole blocks or leftover fragments. The halvah is produced by the Jordanian Al-Halal and Kasira companies.

It is worth taking note of their dairy products: Al Guneidi cheese, a blend of yogurt and white cheese; a full-fat, tart cheese from the Jordanian Rawa company, which requires no refrigeration; pitchers of yogurt called Butter Milk, and triangles of cheese that resemble La Vache Qui Rit, which are imported from Egypt. Cheeses are sold by weight and cost about NIS 5 per 100 grams.

Personal cheesecake

The Eiffel confectionary, located not far from the bakery on Nablus Road, opened five years ago. It reminds one of a typical 1980s Tel Aviv pastry shop. There are sabrina pastries, individual cheese tarts, birthday and other decorated cakes, and an assortment of cream desserts. Everything is lovingly prepared by hand, in contrast with products offered by the run-of-the-mill bakeries and patisseries that have appeared everywhere in recent years. Seating is available and prices range from NIS 10 for individual tarts to NIS 70 for a large cake. Another branch of this confectionary is located in Shuafat.

Cocoa with a view

There is room for culinary improvement at the Austrian Hospice, but the hostel and cafe nonetheless impress and surprise visitors in every other way. Enter the Old City via the Damascus Gate and proceed to an antiquated building at the corner of Via Dolorosa and Haggai Street, where the hospice and cafe is located. Austrian pilgrims renovated the Spartan rooms that now cost NIS 200 a night.

The hospice is surrounded by a well-groomed garden which adjoins the cafe. Those who order apple cake should not expect European strudel. Though this baked good is utterly mediocre, a ride on the elevator to the impressive lobby upstairs and a rooftop view of the Muslim Quarter, with a cup of hot, cafeteria cocoa in hand, certainly works wonders.