Behind the restaurant HaAgas 1 lurks a thrilling story connected to Ehud Bannai's famous song HaAgas Street Number 1. The building which houses the restaurant is the very one which belonged to the Bannai family, and which inspired Ehud's song. Today, by the way, the street is called Eliyahu Yaakov Bannai. HaAgas 1 is an organic vegetarian restaurant, and they are quite strict about making sure that everything coming out of the kitchen is strictly organic. For owner Yechzikiel, this philosophy is not just about the ingredients that go into his food, but also the environment of the person cooking it. "When you cook food you put what you feel into the food" says Yechzikiel. "If you're angry, the person eating the dish will feel the anger, which is why I always cook with good feelings, and if I'm not feeling too happy I let someone else do the cooking. The food here is made in an atmosphere of stillness and positivity."
The decision to open an organic vegetarian restaurant in the centre of Machne Yehuda market right next to a fish stand was not a simple one, but it seems that this authentic location encourages a certain affection for the nice little place. The restaurant is open from the morning until the late afternoon and offers a menu of breakfasts and lunches. HaAgas 1 is a working class style restaurant, pretty in a rustic, market-style way and many of the dishes are suited to the market atmosphere, like cabbage rolls, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves served with cooked plums in a sweet sauce, hummus with whole chickpeas, vegetable patties and kube filled, not with meat, but with tofu, as well as a dish that characterize a vegetarian restaurant – a tofu and nut burger.
When we arrived at the restaurant we were warmly welcomed by a friendly waitress. The restaurant has seating up in the gallery, far from the hustle bustle of the market, as well as a lower level where you can feel a part of the market atmosphere. We decided to sit in the gallery and ordered starters of hummus with chickpeas, salads and vegetable patties. The hummus was hot, high quality and special. The chickpeas were cooked just right – not mushy and not too hard. Digging into the hummus with the whole wheat pitas we were served was a truly pleasurable experience. The vegetable patties were tasty and fresh, but not standout. It's relevant to note that the pesto served with the pitas was light and tasty – not a rich Italian style pesto, but a parmesan free version made with lots of fresh basil.
We then went onto our mains – rice stuffed vegetables and lentil patties served on a bed of red tomatoes, onion, and red peppers. Along with the mains we chose some freshly squeezed juices – apple and red grapefruit, both of which were excellent. All dishes are served in deep bowls, which give them a homey but stylish look. Appealing to both the eye and the palate, I have no doubt that any vegetarian will find exactly what they are looking for.
Even for meat eaters like me, HaAgas 1 is worth a visit if you feel like a fresh meat-free meal – and the hummus at HaAgas 1 can compete with any of the famous places around Machne Yehuda. To finish off our meal, we had a pot of tea with sweet and crispy carob and walnut.
There is no doubt that HaAgas 1 is a charming and simply restaurant that reveals itself to offer some impressive dishes like tehina with pumpkin served in splendid style – a snail of white tehina and a trail of orange pumpkin pieces. The service is polite, the space is lovely and the food is tasty – I look forward to my next visit.
11 Eliyahu Yaakov Bannai (formerly 1 HaAgas Street), Machne Yehuda Market, Jerusalem