Did you know Armenia was the first Christian state and that Armenians have lived in Jerusalem for over 2 millenia? To this day, there remains a small community of Armenian Christians residing within the old city, in the quarter named after them.
At the edge of the Armenian quarter is the restaurant aptly named Armenian Tavern. On the evening of Shabbat (Sabbath), it was one of the few restaurants open for dinner in the old city, and thus packed by the time we arrived.
Seated amongst crowds of fellow tourists, the mood was merry and upbeat. The over-the-top decor, with the subterranean cavern decked out from floor to ceiling with random curios and antiques, undoubtedly added to the festive atmosphere.
At first glance, the menu – overrun with grilled meats, pasta and other standard tourist items – did not inspire. But look carefully and there are some regional specialities to be found. The appetizer plate initiated us to the meat-heavy Armenian food culture, consisting of basturma (Armenian cured beef jerky), fried sujuk (spicy sausages), kubbeh (bulgur balls with meat filling), lahmajoun (flatbread with spiced meat topping) and thick fluffy yogurt. All was tasty, especially the paper-thin lahmajoun, very similar to the turkish pizza we ate in Istanbul but with sweeter, less spicy flavors, but for that price (60 NIS) I would’ve expected more food.
Termed Sinyeh (65 NIS) on the menu, our main dish was a Friday special. This hearty stew was exceedingly generous compared to the appetizer plate, an earthernware pot packed with homemade meatballs and potato slices baked in a thick, creamy tahini (sesame) sauce. The lightly spiced meat paired with sweet peppers and the nutty and slightly garlicky sauce was rich, tasty and one of the most unique dishes I’ve had in a while.
A good meal has the ability to connect one with foreign cultures without actually having to visit. I’m sure there are better specimens of Armenian cooking to be had in the world, even in Jerusalem, but that evening, in the Ali Baba-esque Armenian Tavern, I was transported to the old country.
Address: 79 Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Rd, Jerusalem, Israel