Quntessential 'Ima'

Miriam Binyamin has been rolling kubbeh and stuffing vine leaves at her beloved restaurant since 1981.

Ima chef miriam binyamin 311 (photo credit: Benny A. Kaplan)
Ima chef miriam binyamin 311
(photo credit: Benny A. Kaplan)
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.
In the kitchen, kubbeh and stuffed vegetables are cooking. In anotherpan 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 aspotless, air-conditioned kitchen supervised by “Ima” herself.Sprightly 71-year-old Miriam was born in Iraq and came to Israel withher parents when she was 12. At around the same age, she started tocook.
At 17 she married Iraqi-born Amram Binyamin. They lived in the Kurdishneighborhood near the shuk, and she had three children within fouryears. Later, she had three more.
“For many years, I told my husband that I wanted to open a restaurantor a family bakery. My husband didn’t want to because he said it washard 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. “Oneday he heard there was a place opposite the Foreign Ministry, a verysmall restaurant,” says Miriam.
The family bought it and enlarged it. “It was a lot of work,” saysMiriam. “My mother helped me, and one of my daughters came to help usto make kubbeh and vegetables.”
Kubbeh is a native Iraqi Jewish dish, torpedo shaped and fried orshaped into balls or patties and baked or cooked in broth. Usually itis made with bulgur and chopped meat. The kubbehmatfuniya is like a stuffed matza ball. Kubbehhamusta is also like a dumpling in soup, made sour withsorrel leaves. Kubbeh adom is stuffed dumpling in atomato 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 floorof the Mahaneh Yehuda Mall in a big suite of rooms, she superviseseight people. A group of women do the preparations for the kubbeh, vineleaves and stuffed vegetables, which are kept in one of two walk-inrefrigerators.
Every morning at five or six, Amram goes to the Givat Shaul market tobuy all the vegetables. “All the ingredients we use are natural andfresh,” says Miriam.
In another room, meat is freshly ground and then stored in the secondwalk-in refrigerator. The food is then transported in containers to themain restaurant for cooking.
On the menu at Ima are appetizers, soups, stuffed vegetables, friedkubbeh, main courses, side dishes, desserts and beverages. Stuffedvegetables are another favorite of the restaurant. These includestuffed squash, stuffed red peppers, stuffed onions and stuffed vineleaves.
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 ofAgrippas). The phone number is 625-5693, and reservations arerequested.