Lately I’ve been doing a lot of research on Israeli food traditions and the dishes that make up the cultural fabric of the country today. Many of you are already familiar for my fondness of Middle Eastern cuisine (my post on the country’s beloved hummus here), but this dish is perhaps my most favorite of all.
Kubbeh (kibbeh, kebbah, koubeiba or kubbi) comes from the Mizrahi food tradition. Those hailing from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Israel and other Middle Eastern nations each have there own personal way of making kubbeh. Essentially, however, the dish is pretty much the same: a torpedo shaped bulgur wheat croquette is stuffed with a mixture of minced meat, onion and pine nuts and then fried to a crunchy golden perfection. Some use beef, others use lamb, the bulgur balls can be spherical or in patty form, baked or broiled in broth, but all are authentic versions of the traditional dish. Today, kubbeh can even be found in far off corners of the earth like Argentina and Cuba, areas which have been on the receiving end of the Middle Eastern (and especially Syrian and Lebanese) diaspora.
When trying to determine where to get the best kubbeh in Israel, the locals will often tell you at your grandma’s. In my case, it was my grandpa. Saba (grandfather in Hebrew) Yehezkel came to Israel from Damascus, Syria in the 1930′s and brought with him the tradition of kubbeh. My grandparents died when I was young, my memories of which unfortunately, are not many. Of the memories I do have, the image of Saba Yehezkel making kubbeh is one of the strongest. Every time I would come to visit, he’d be sitting in his chair, stuffing the freshly made croquettes and tossing them into a pot of sizzling oil. Notoriously difficult to make (as my mother and now I can attest), Saba Yehezkel made kubbeh almost daily and with inexplicable ease.
Many great foods are tied to personal memory and a collective cultural heritage. Traditional dishes serve as a physical embodiment of a link to our past, passed down through generations who keep a culture alive. For me, that dish is kubbeh. The process of spicing the meat to stuffing the bulgur is one my family has down for generations. Kubbeh is a physical manifestation of my Middle Eastern roots which I can enjoy thousands of miles away in New York.
The kubbeh here in no way compares to my grandfathers, and I would probably be hard pressed to find one that does. Many Israeli’s would agree with me that the best kubbeh is one had at home, but if forced to sample the dish outside, the area surrounding Jerusalem’s Machene Yehuda market has the best around. Of the numerous stalls and shops selling kubbeh in the area, Morduch is considered the best.
Opened in 1982, Morduch has been serving its Mizrahi food to locals for 30 years. The specialty here is undoubtedly kubbeh which comes fried or cooked into three various soups (kubbeh hamousta: featuring a sour broth resulting from an abundance of chard; marak kubbeh adom: literally “red kubbeh soup” getting its’ name from a sweet and savory beet based broth; and kubbeh shel pa’am which is similar to hamousta but with the addition of copious amounts of garlic). An array of salads, and Morduch’s are great, are the perfect accompaniment to any kubbeh dish.
My favorite of the bunch is fried, just the way my grandfather used to make, and that was exactly how I was going to sample Morduch’s renowned dish. Crisp and light, the flavors of the minced meat, onion and pine nut melded together in a perfectly balanced harmony.
The savory treat managed to transport me back to my grandfather’s porch and back to my roots. The flavors of Morduch’s kubbeh are the same as those of generations beforehand and generations to follow. Was Morduch’s version of the Mizrahi treat as good as Saba’s? No. But then again, no one’s will ever be. Morduch’s, however, is pretty damn close.
Morduch, Agripas Street 70 (Machane Yehuda), Jerusalem, Israel, +972 2 624 5169, Sun- Thurs 10 AM- 11 PM, Fri 9 AM- afternoon