The guide I hired to take Teddy and me on an historical tour of Jerusalem came equipped with a plan for the day — clearly unaware that any itinerary he might provide would have to include the lunch spot of my choice.
Get to know me.
So when the wonderful, multilingual Joe Nakkar, an Iraqi Jew who left his homeland for London at the age of 16 and now holds duel British-Israeli citizenship, said that he was going to pick us up at our hotel, bring us to the Mount of Olives, and then take us through the Jewish and Christian Quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City, I let him know that he had to work in a trip to Abu Shukri restaurant in the Muslim Quarter for lunch.
Look, when you’ve spent a week with some of the most formidable food authorities in Israel and they tell you not to miss the hummus and falafel at a hole-in-the-wall of the Old City, you listen.
So that’s how Joe ended up re-calculating our route, taking us first through the narrow corridor of shops in the Muslim Quarter toward Damascus Gate, to Abu Shukri, which was open, luckily, in spite of Ramadan, and where the choices were basically hummus-falafel and hummus-falafel (one was with tahini; the other with whole chickpeas). Pickles and chopped salad rounded out the menu.
Joe spoke Arabic with the waiter, the language he grew up with. (Toward the end of the trip he and I broke into French — his wife is French — and I got the sense that if I’d broken into Swahili he’d have been able to converse in that language too.)
The hummus and falafel were fine; not my favorite, but I loved the slightly dangerous feeling of walking the streets that he hadn’t planned to show us.
The fact that New York has better hummus and falafel — as do a hundred places in Israel — hardly mattered. The tour was utterly informative and enjoyable and I’d recommend it to anyone.
Our flight is boarding. Goodbye Israel; I’ll miss you.
Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @LifeDeathDinner