Rehov Agrippas changes its name near the bottom to Rehov Shmuel Baruch. On the corner at No. 55 and extending around the block to the entrance is an imposing 100-year-old building. Inside are five rooms with the original thick stone walls and arched doorways. Since October 1981 it has housed Ima, a restaurant of Iraqi and Kurdish food owned by the Binyamin family.

Each of the rooms has a niche with a beautiful flower arrangement in a large vase. In the evening, the wooden tables are covered with white tablecloths and napkins and sparkling wine glasses, and the 100-person capacity is often filled.

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In the kitchen, kubbeh and stuffed vegetables are cooking. In another pan are stuffed baby chickens, while eggplants are roasting on a stove. All are handled by a staff of six. One of the Binyamin sons, 50-year-old Yoram, supervises the operations.

Up the street in the Mahaneh Yehuda Mall, on the second floor, is a spotless, air-conditioned kitchen supervised by “Ima” herself. Sprightly 71-year-old Miriam was born in Iraq and came to Israel with her parents when she was 12. At around the same age, she started to cook.

At 17 she married Iraqi-born Amram Binyamin. They lived in the Kurdish neighborhood near the shuk, and she had three children within four years. Later, she had three more.

“For many years, I told my husband that I wanted to open a restaurant or a family bakery. My husband didn’t want to because he said it was hard work, and he wanted me to stay home.”

Nevertheless, for 12 years Miriam worked in a meat store in the shuk.

Finally, Amram agreed and started to look for a place of business. “One day he heard there was a place opposite the Foreign Ministry, a very small restaurant,” says Miriam.

The family bought it and enlarged it. “It was a lot of work,” says Miriam. “My mother helped me, and one of my daughters came to help us to make kubbeh and vegetables.”

Kubbeh is a native Iraqi Jewish dish, torpedo shaped and fried or shaped into balls or patties and baked or cooked in broth. Usually it is made with bulgur and chopped meat. The kubbeh matfuniya is like a stuffed matza ball. Kubbeh hamusta is also like a dumpling in soup, made sour with sorrel leaves. Kubbeh adom is stuffed dumpling in a tomato broth.

“After I finished the army [in October 1981], I came to work to help,” says Yoram. “I was a waiter.”

Miriam worked full time until three years ago. Now on the second floor of the Mahaneh Yehuda Mall in a big suite of rooms, she supervises eight people. A group of women do the preparations for the kubbeh, vine leaves and stuffed vegetables, which are kept in one of two walk-in refrigerators.

Every morning at five or six, Amram goes to the Givat Shaul market to buy all the vegetables. “All the ingredients we use are natural and fresh,” says Miriam.

In another room, meat is freshly ground and then stored in the second walk-in refrigerator. The food is then transported in containers to the main restaurant for cooking.

On the menu at Ima are appetizers, soups, stuffed vegetables, fried kubbeh, main courses, side dishes, desserts and beverages. Stuffed vegetables are another favorite of the restaurant. These include stuffed squash, stuffed red peppers, stuffed onions and stuffed vine leaves.

Ima is building a Kubbeh bar on Rehov Etz Haim, which is planned to open within a few weeks.
Soon Miriam plans to travel to New Jersey for a month, where her daughter has opened a restaurant – called Ima.

Ima is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; Friday 11 to 4. It is located at 55 Shmuel Baruch (at the foot of Agrippas). The phone number is 625-5693, and reservations are requested.
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