The Eastern music informed us that we were getting close to HaGefen in the Machne Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Upon entering the restaurant, the first thing you notice is the giant grill, over which Zion, the owner, presides. Zion greets each guest with a wide smile, and immediately offers seeds and arak until the orders are ready. Like many evenings in the restaurant, a boisterous bar mitzvah celebration was taking place, during which celebrators burst in dance on the table more than once. There was also an eastern singer with a lovely voice, so we were left with only once option – join in on the joyous atmosphere and try to handle the generous shots of arak that were being handed around.
For starters, a number of salads were arranged for us. Among them were a standard hummus with tehina, as well as green olives and a spicy carrot salad which was excellent.
We ordered okra kube soup and rice stuffed onion and cabbage. The okra soup we received gave off an amazing aroma of tomatoes and okra, with the okra done exactly right, and had clearly been in the hands of an expert. The characteristic sourness of the kube soup was also just right, not sour like the yellow hamustafa kube, but possessing only a delicate hint of sourness. The kube itself also won over my partner: the meat was expertly cooked, with the correct mixture of the traditional herbs. In short, if my mother weren't Ashkenazi, I would say that this soup is just like at home. The stuffed veggies didn't disappoint either, especially not the onion stuffed with rice, which was as sticky and tart as expected.
For the main dish we ordered skewers of chicken hearts, which came with a leafy side salad, a tomato salad and fresh aromatic chips which went straight from the fryer to our plates. We also ordered the house specialty – Zion's famous house kebab, which came with grilled onion as well as grilled tomatoes, because at HaGefen they like to spoil their customers. The reputation acquired by Zion's kebab was accurate. An authentic Arab style kebab, and spiced accordingly, a bit pink in the centre and nicely scorched on the outside, and the baharat and the cinnamon flavours are reminiscent of the high class Arab restaurant on the east side of the city. In any case, after a kebab like that I don't think that the Israeli kitchen has anything to be ashamed of. American's have hamburgers, the French have entrecote and we have kebab – and what kebab we have! We didn't hesitate to order a second portion. In between we ate the chicken heart skewers which are the perfect innards to match with the arak they kept pouring.
Arab desserts weren't missing from HaGefen's menu either. Black coffee, tea with fresh mint, nuts and seeds and a number of baklavas arrived at the table. All that was left for us to debate whether move over the section of the restaurant where the eastern singer was performing, or to the section that was focused on the Maccabi Tel Aviv game on TV. Due to Maccabi's performance thus far this season, we decided to go with the singer, and indulged in our dessert while listening to the music. That's just how it is at HaGefen: It's the perfect place for do have yourself eastern feast – or to simply join another.
74 Agripas St. Jerusalem