MENUS not to pass over

A selection of Jerusalem’s kosher restaurants keep their doors open for the holiday.

Café Rimon in Mamilla Mall (photo credit: ARIEL DOMINIQUE HENDELMAN)
Café Rimon in Mamilla Mall
Passover is one of Judaism’s three pilgrimage festivals, along with Shavuot and Succot. During the time of the Temple, that meant that Jews from all over the surrounding areas would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
In present-day Jerusalem, there is still a pilgrimage of sorts happening, with thousands of Jews from the Diaspora coming to spend Passover in the Holy Land, thus freeing themselves from having to clean and kasher their kitchens for the holiday, an arduous task.
While many Jerusalem restaurants close their doors for the week, a minority choose to stay open.
“It takes three nights to clean our kitchen and turn it over for Passover,” says Greg Cafe Mamilla manager Aviad Pelach. “It’s very hard work, but it’s fun. We do it with a smile. We put on music and clean together, five workers at a time. The music that’s played depends on who is in charge of the stereo, because we have cooks from London who like to play world music. We also play Israeli and Arab music. It’s mixed, but whatever is playing always makes cleaning a lot more fun.”
While Greg’s location in Mamilla makes it a prime tourist destination, Pelach explains that, depending on Israel’s security situation, some years are better than others.
“To be honest, it depends on the situation, how many people we will get during Hol Hamoed,” Pelach states. “If people are being stabbed in the street, it will be silent here, with no customers. But if it’s quiet and there’s no violence, we will be full, with a long line out the door.”
Greg will offer a short but select Passover menu.
There will be two types of toast, both made from potato flour. Diners can then add fillings like cheese, onions, olives or tomato sauce.
Greg’s Passover dessert menu is more extensive, with caramel mousse, chocolate mousse, triple chocolate cake, chocolate soufflé and panna cotta all available for the savoring.
Cafe Rimon, just a little further down in the Mamilla Mall, offers a more ample menu that is essentially a Passover version of the regular menu.
“We turn our kitchen over in 24 hours. We will begin right after Shabbat, and by Sunday, late morning, it’s kosher for Passover,” assistant manager Annaelle Sharvit, explains. “It’s really fast! It’s crazy. We clean and change everything in the kitchen. It takes a lot of time and work. Then we basically keep the same menu, just that everything that has hametz, we replace with potato or corn. It’s very good. People love it. The pasta and the pizza are both with potato flour. We really do a Passover version of our menu. Passover and Succot are the best times for our business. The place is packed.”
For Caffit owner Arnon Zavdazky, it’s easier to buy new kitchen utensils, dishware and silverware each year. “I need it throughout the year because things break or something happens,” Zavdazky adds. “If I have double of something, I keep it closed and then I have for the following year.”
At Caffit the menu looks almost the same, but, again, everything normally made with regular flour is done with potato. The Shlomzion Hamalka Street location does not have any kitniyot (legumes) on the Passover menu, while the Emek Refaim location does. Thus, different preparations are made accordingly.
Zavdazky emphasizes that, regardless of location, the Passover food is delicious. “The focaccia is smaller than usual, but people love it. The Passover pasta I keep for after and sell it as gluten free, because a lot of people want that. Every year, we don’t really change the Passover menu, but we might add to it. The most popular items are the pasta and the sandwiches. People love the potato bread. They tend to order about 40% more than usual. They are hungry all the time during Hol Hamoed.”
For Caffit, the trouble of kashering the kitchen and buying all-new Passover kitchenware and dining-ware is well worth it because of the incredible business during this time of year. With Shlomzion Hamalka Street located near the Waldorf Astoria, in addition to many other hotels and tourist destinations in Mamilla and the Old City, business during Passover doubles.
The only other time of year that compares is Succot.
“I think this year is going to be really busy, the busiest for many years, because it’s been quiet, with no violence,” Zavdazky says. “It may even be too busy! But whatever it is, it will be good.”
Kobi Sabag, the manager of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Jaffa Road, adds, “Someone from the rabbinate comes here, watches us and tells us what to do while we’re cleaning. It takes about eight hours total to clean the kitchen.”
Coffee Bean keeps its Passover menu essentially the same as the one during the rest of the year, with potato flour replacing regular flour. Because it doesn’t serve kitniyot, it relies on palm oil as a substitute for oil that contains kitniyot.
The other point of contention for Coffee Bean that most other establishments don’t need to worry about is the powders it uses in its blended drinks. Many contain some form of hametz. It uses a chocolate Passover substitute.
“Business during Passover increases by about 30%,” Sabag says. “Every year we stay open because it’s a great time to make money. In the last decade, the number of Jewish Americans in Israel has grown so much, and you see that when you work in a restaurant, especially one that is so popular with Americans. Seventy percent of our customers are American. Passover is really an extreme example of this.”