There’s a popular misconception that cholent can only taste good at lunchtime on Saturday. Precooked on the stove to the extent that it was no longer raw and could therefore conform with halachic requirements, it was placed in the oven just before candle lighting on Friday evening and slowly simmered for some 18 hours. In a small apartment, its aroma wafted from the kitchen into the living room and sometimes got as far as the bedroom.
For the record, a good cholent tastes good any day of the week, but particularly on Thursday night when it’s made for late studying yeshiva boys, who can eat a plateful as late as midnight and then buy a take-away helping to warm on the Shabbat platter.
That’s what happens every Thursday night at Jerusalem’s Min Hamuchan or, as it prefers to call itself by its Yiddish name, Gishmaka Ehsin, which means “tasty food.”
To those who are fluent in Yiddish, the very sound of “Gishmakha Ehsin” evokes a shtetl ambience which, in Jerusalem, one might expect to find in Mea She’arim, Geula, Givat Shaul, Har Nof, Kiryat Belz and several other haredi neighborhoods, but not in Rehavia. Wrong. It does exist in Rehavia and, what’s more, it attracts a steady clientele.
It is not only the mural of yeshiva students or another piece of artwork on the opposite wall depicting the crossing of the Red Sea that give the small restaurant its aura. It’s also the clientele. On the night that I went, there were married women with covered heads, men wearing kippot, some girls from a religious seminary and a bunch of yeshiva students seated at the tables, as well as other yeshiva students who had come in for take-away products.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Baruch Eisenberg, who invited his friend Motti Kreuser, a lawyer.
to join him in managing the establishment. For the time being, Kreuser is focusing more on food than on law.
The cholent was delicious. It was nicely browned with sufficient beef to give it flavor and enough gravy to make it succulent. The potatoes were not too starchy, and the small quantity of kishke was so tasty that even though I was already full, I ordered a helping of kishke. It was nothing like the frozen kishke available in supermarkets. This was the real McCoy, with the kind of stuffing that comes under the category of authentic Jewish comfort food.
Chicken soup is, of course, a staple and can be ordered with noodles, matza balls or kreplach.
Most of the main course items on the menu other than cholent and kishke come with two side dishes – traditional Eastern European fare such as sweet and sour cabbage, tzimmes with prunes, potato kugel, potato latkes and farfel.
Appetizers include stuffed helzel (poultry neck); pickled and other kinds of herring; p’tcha, or galleh, a traditional Jewish aspic that people either love or hate; chopped liver; liver slices fried with onions; sweet kugel; and egg salad with grivelech, which are the crisp pieces of chicken or goose fat that are left in the pan after the fat is rendered. They add special flavor to the eggs.
The dessert offerings are sparse and are topped by the traditional apple and plum compote.
Prices are reasonable. The most expensive main course items, such as tongue or baked salmon, are NIS 65; but the cholent, which is much more filling, costs NIS 45.
The kishke, which is equally filling, is NIS 30.
The take-away menu is much more extensive, very light on the pocket and available in small, medium and large helpings. Four matza balls cost NIS 9, and five kreplach with meat filling cost NIS 18, which is a pretty good deal.
Chopped liver is somewhat more expensive; a kilo costs NIS 89. The gefilte fish is the old fashioned kind: genuine stuffed carp in which the interior of the fish has been filleted, stuffed with the minced fish filling, cooked and sliced.
In a pinch, the restaurant can seat around 30 people. The tables are covered with two cloths – a white one as the base and a dark one as an overlay. The service is friendly, though a little slow.
Anyone who wants to speed it up can go into the take-away section and get something akin to selfservice in that they can ask for what they see on the display counter. Some of the customers actually did this, preferring to choose from what they could see rather than what was listed on the menu, and came back to their tables holding laden plates.
The premises, which for many years served as a grocery store with a very limited clientele because there wasn’t much in the way of products, later became a Chinese restaurant that did not last very long. Gishmaka Ehsin may be more successful, despite the trendy nearby competition, because nearly every other eatery within a five-minute walk is more expensive and sometimes too expensive for the large university and yeshiva student population living in the area. There are many take-away items that are not specifically Eastern European and have universal appeal, and students living on a tight budget are likely to be attracted to them.
Those of us who grew up in an Eastern European kitchen will go back not just because of the price but also because of the nostalgia of the palate.
Min Hamuchan – Gishmaka Ehsin Kosher Badatz Mehadrin 10 Aza Road, Jerusalem Tel: (02) 500-2500 email@example.com