When it comes to just about anything in life, sometimes we want to update and refresh and sometimes we want nothing more than to sit back and enjoy an old, familiar classic. So it goes with cars and movies and so it is with restaurants. “Classic” is a word that applies to Marvad Haksamim more than to any other Jerusalem eatery, along with adjectives like immortal and timeless. I remember eating at Marvad Haksamim’s landmark location on King George over 30 years ago when I was a post-high school student in Jerusalem; three decades later, they live on and I’m happy to report that they’ve only improved with age.
Grilled meat and salads are the ultimate Israeli comfort food; they are to the locals what macaroni and cheese is to Americans. No matter what food fads come and go, “al ha’esh” will remain forever. Carpaccio, foccacia, and biscotti may be having their 10 minutes of fame, but, regardless of current trends, no Israeli will ever turn his or her back on a perfectly grilled skewer of meat or a freshly prepared plate of chumous. But although Israelis are loyal to their favorite food, they aren’t indiscriminate when it comes to choosing a place to enjoy it; in fact, they are downright zealous about their choices. Only the best restaurants survive in this ultra-competitive culinary area and only the truly legendary lead the field. Marvad Haksamim is just such a legend.
One of the rules of thumb when choosing a neighborhood eatery is Look for the Locals. When we were at Marvad Haksamim’s Emek Refaim venue, it was teaming with Israelis who knew what they wanted and knew where to find it. Marvad Haksamim has been gracing the Israeli restaurant scene for over 45 years and that says it all in terms of the quality and standard that they bring to the table.
About the Marvad Haksamim Grill Menu
Every good grilled-meat meal starts with an assortment of salads and all of Marvad Haksamim’s “salatim” are home-made and freshly prepared, from the unique and tasty celery salad to the traditional and outstanding chumous with chickpeas. Their techina (and I am a big techina fan) was stellar; it had nothing in common with the packaged stuff we buy in the store or, as a matter of fact, with any other techina I’ve ever eaten. All the salads come with freshly baked flat bread (Yemenite salouf like lafa). The salouf with zaatar was an extra special treat (don’t forget to ask for it if they fail to bring it to the table).There is also Lahouch bread which is like a pancake, also in the Yemenite tradition.
The main event is, of course, the meat. Since we were in Jerusalem I went with the Jerusalem mix, a traditional artery-threatening platter of chicken pieces, liver and other small chunks of organ meat… delicious. When food is this good, you want big portions, and Marvad Haksamim doesn’t disappoint (there’s nothing nouvelle-cuisine skimpy about this place). The main dish comes with two sides (a bigger choice was offered than in most restaurants of this type); my French fries were great and the fresh Israeli salad was a nice non-carb addition. My companion went with a steak and it came prepared as he had requested, which is not always a given. Loads of fried onions embellished this all-important dish, the staple of every decent grilled-meat restaurant.
Marvad Haksamim is an oasis of tradition on the trendy and hip Emek Refaim main drag (it is one of three Marvad Haksamim addresses in Jerusalem). When you’ve had enough of beautifully decorated but paltry, over-priced portions and you’re desperately searching for unpretentious, satisfying food and a great value for your money, this is where you should head. Nobody does it better than Marvad Haksamim; they’ll charm you into becoming a regular customer.