It is hard to describe a sharper contrast then the one between the trendy spirit of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the idea of a steaming bowl of authentic kubbeh soup. My first association with Kubbeh soup is of a small Israeli kitchen, presided by a skilled Iraqi or Kurdish Jewish grandmother, or of an equally small kitchen-restaurant in Shuk Machaneh-Yehuda, the famous market of Jerusalem.
Leah Koenig admits yearning for soup all winter long.
I’d usually get the call on Thursday night or Friday morning from my Israeli relatives Ariella and Yehudit. “Come over for Shabbat,” they’d say to me, not asking so much as insisting. With family in Israel, I found, there’s no need for prior notice or formal invitations to a meal. Family, like everything in Israel from dress codes to its approach to higher education, is just more relaxed.
Between 1941 and the 1970s the majority of Iraq’s Jewish population faced institutionalized violence and persecution in their homeland, forcing them to flee. Today, only a handful of Jews remain in Iraq, down from an estimated 150,000 in 1948. For the Iraqi Jews who sought refuge in Israel (some sources say up to 90%), their food is their remaining legacy. Dishes like meat stuffed dumplings called kubbeh are their lifeline to a country they cannot return to, and recipes are carefully passed down through the generations to preserve their heritage.