A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
Several months ago, AB and I found ourselves in the shuk and decided to lunch at Azura. AB, who is the resident expert at picking the best dishes on the menu, ordered a particular kubeh soup. Since it was approximately 4,000 degrees out, I viewed this decision with skepticism. I was wrong; this soup was amazing, rendering the summer heat irrelevant. I had since been dreaming of this soup, and yesterday I decided the time had come to consume it again.
So at noon yesterday AB and I met up with a friend and made our way towards Azura, located in a plaza behind the Iraqi shuk. The restaurant originally occupied one storefront and has grown to take over the whole plaza, including a room opposite that used to house Iraqi men playing sheshbesh and cards. It does not have a teuda but seems to be one of those places that has somehow earned the trust of the people, and many kippa-clad people regularly dine there. I asked the waiter about the kashrut situation and he said they are closed on Shabbat, only Jews light the fire, they use kosher meat, there’s no dairy, etc. I’m not sure why they don’t have certification.
Azura, which serves ochel beiti (home style food) like various types of hummus, soups, ground meats, and grilled meats, is a very popular lunch destination, and on Fridays the line can be quite long. We ended up waiting about 15 minutes before getting a table (not too shabby, the earlier you arrive the shorter the wait). Like all restaurants of the Middle Eastern type, menus arrive along with a plate of raw onions and a plate of pickles and pickled peppers. I knew of course that I would order the Marak Hamo (Hamo soup) of my dreams. Our friend decided on hummus basar (hummus topped with ground meat), and AB, hardly even glancing at the menu, decided on the “Azura” – eggplant topped with ground meat. The menu as a whole is exactly what you’d expect and want from this kind of place. As we ordered, we informed our friend that we are a sharing kind of family and that we would be eating from her food, just as she was welcome to eat ours.
The food of course showed up super fast, and we each took turns working on each dish. The hummus basar was good. I’d place Azura hummus in the top five of Jerusalem hummuses (along with Pinati, Taami, Ben Sira, and Lina). In addition to the meat, it also came with chickpeas, which not all hummus basar does. My hamo soup did not disappoint. This soup consists of a thin chickpea and onion broth with a kick and a giant, fist-sized kubeh filled with spiced ground meat. (Kubeh, in case you don’t know, are [often fried] semolina dumplings filled with ground meat). And as usual, AB won for best orderer. The Azura turned out to be a giant roasted eggplant split open and topped with ground meat flavored with pine nuts, cinnamon, and cardamom, giving it the flavor of a Moroccan pastilla. The meat was amazing; we all agreed that the roast eggplant was just window dressing, but we scarfed it all down anyway.
This meal was a good antidote to the fancy Middle Eastern food we’ve been paying oodles for (and enjoying immensely) recently. The atmosphere is less refined, but the taste is no less gourmet. Next time you’re in the shuk during daytime hours, check it out.
Vegetarian options; cash only; no kashrut supervision.