Hungry and thirsty after a long day touring the Old City of Jerusalem? There’s no better place to grab a snack than the world-famous, two-hundred-year-old Zalatimo’s café near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In a small room with just an oven, a refrigerator, and a few tables, Mr. Zalatimo and his relatives serve up the greatest pastry that the Old City has to offer, an Arab treat known as a mutabak (from the Arabic for “folded”).
The flaky phyllo dough type creation is the only food served at Zalatimo’s, and ordering is simple: “with nuts” or “with cheese.” Customers can also choose Turkish coffee, bitter and with plentiful cardamom, or sweetened tea with mint.
Watching the Zalatimos (both father and son work in the shop) in action is entertainment itself. The pastry dough is expertly twirled with the flick of a wrist and rolled out on a stainless steel table to the point of translucency. Then there’s an intricate folding process, with a dollop of nuts or goat cheese and butter combination carefully placed in the middle of the dough, and the neatly-packaged pastry goes into the oven.
When it comes out about ten minutes later, it looks like a cross between baklava and a crepe, multi-layered, crunchy, and delicious! Each heavenly bite contains sweet, salt, and crunch, and the buttery layers melt away in your mouth. The pastry has one more flavor that makes it truly memorable: pure heart and soul, handed down through the Zalatimo family since the 19th century.
Although the inside of the shop is sparse, the rich flavors of the pastries more than fill the space. It’s no wonder that visitors flock from all over the world to taste the old family recipe–some Zalatimo relatives have established their own versions of the stores, but nothing beats the original. Besides filling your stomach with pastry, the café has a neat historical nugget: one of its walls dates to Herodian times.
The Zalatimos refuse to advertise their shop at all, so it is truly a “hidden gem.”
Here’s how to get there: from the inside of the Holy Sepulchre, exit and turn left down the street in the corner. Take the first street on the left. The shop is down a short distance, tucked in behind a small staircase on the left. Another way of getting there is to ask any shopkeeper where Zalatimo’s is and they’ll be sure to set you on the right path.
The hours are not advertised, so it might take a few tries before you catch the shop on an open day. But it’s worth the adventure, since there’s no better place for a simple treat, baked traditionally and with warmth. Good luck!
This article was written by new olah Caroline Hughes, you can find her on Twitter.