Now and then while riding the Jerusalem Light Rail, someone will hop aboard the train carrying a small list of stops. There are twenty-three on the “Red Line” and most West Jerusalem passengers are familiar with at least thirteen. The train clearly announces each stop along its route in Hebrew, Arabic and English but rookie riders seem to derive a heightened sense of security by checking their list as they go. I did the same when Marcia and I first began riding; unlike most Jerusalem bus routes, if not alert, one can easily ride the Red Line beyond the Green Line into unfamiliar territory.
Yesterday, on the train into town from Mount Herzl. I noticed a couple seated across from me consulting their station list. They would murmur to one another after each stop so, after I volunteered to assist them with “native insight,” we struck up a short conversation. They were visiting Canadians, recently returned to Jerusalem from Petra, in Jordan, intent that day to tour the perhaps more popular tourist spot, Jerusalem’s famous Machane Yehuda Market, better known as “the shuk.”
Among other things, my new Canadian friends were wondering, “Might we find a good place to eat?” I explained in duller language that looking for food at the shuk is like hunting for sand at the sea shore then advised them not to stop at the first place they found.
We left it at that but, being the sort to reminisce at length about large portions, edgy settings and entertaining circumstances, I thought back to my last restaurant meal in the Machane Yehuda area; the Burger Market on HaArmonim Street. It’s a little off the beaten path and worthy of a blog post, in my opinion, not just for good food but because the experience was so Israeli.
After Marcia provided a glowing report of a “great burger and fries meal” she and a friend had recently shared at a place called Burger Market, she and I tried it together the next chance we got. Exactly as advertised, the meal was terrific—beef can be “iffy” in the Middle East, or fictional—but excellent food alone will not earn an eating establishment a coveted mention in Standing by the Gate! Eccentricity will do the trick, though, so a summary of the things we enjoyed during our outing follows.
Check out the Google street shot above for a hint of the “flavor” of the spot although the photo does not do it justice. (I almost always regret not carrying a decent camera when we go to town and this day was no exception.) The street view from the Burger Market entry is an inspiring collage of exposed sanitation pipes, plumbing and wiring, illegally parked vehicles, canted merpesets (balconies), graffiti, flapping laundry, faded Israeli flags and a continual passing stream of delivery trucks, cabs, motorcycles and pedestrian traffic—not honking one’s horn is optional—like an “Ethnic Dysfunction” Pavilion at a counter-culture Epcot Center.
On a beautiful day, we sat outside after ordering and soaked it all in.
The ordering “experience”
I have never before enjoyed having to shout to order food, although I have always been willing to do so. Our host spoke some English. I speak less Hebrew. Marcia ordered admirably but I kept leaning closer to the poor guy at the register asking him to repeat himself, the added challenge being two wall-mounted speakers the size of bathtubs pointed directly at me, blaring Mizrahi “music.”
I finally yelled that I couldn’t hear his questions because of the pounding music. The server, unable to hear me, answered, “Mah?”
Marcia and I ended up laughing. We had little choice.
Simply great. Beef that tasted like beef, prepared as ordered, nice portions, great fries, sauces, etc.
Although I cannot cite the number, there is apparently a city ordinance requiring that, in every Jerusalem restaurant, at least two times each hour, a restaurant employee must mount a ladder near where people are eating and, while feigning to repair something, reveal not less than a specified portion of his nether anatomy.
Burger Market complied (as do almost all Israeli establishments).
I am not complaining, but I am sure that the young man with the semiautomatic weapon slung over his shoulder (top picture, left) was served first.
Ties that bind
Last mentioned but most important were the collection of fascinating characters dining alongside us that day; Orthodox and secular Jews, sabras and recent immigrants. A French Jew, dining with his large and attractive family after making Aliyah the year before, very politely (he’ll learn) borrowed napkins from us at our table but, although we offered to give him ours, he insisted on waiting for his own condiment tray to be delivered by the management. (He was told it would come, בכמה דקות, in a few minutes, but this is a fictional Israel interval often substituted for more accurate Hebrew phrases meaning never, or, Are you kidding?) Strangers in a strange land briefly colliding to enjoy good food while ignoring the man on the ladder with low-slung jeans, shouting to be heard over pounding music…
It’s been said many times but, truly, there is no place on earth like Jerusalem.