City Bites: For better of wurst

Hess, Jerusalem’s sausage king, has a love affair with sausages that goes back to the 18th century.

Hess sausage iTravel Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: iTravel Jerusalem)
Hess sausage iTravel Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: iTravel Jerusalem)
Hess goes way back. In fact, the Jerusalem restaurant started out as a meat business just outside Frankfurt in 1795. It has since gone through several phases, always staying in the family. In 1929, the business moved to Switzerland and in 1974 was taken over by its current owner, Marcel Hess. More recently, the Hesses packed up their culinary secrets and came to Israel, opening restaurants in Jerusalem and Ra’anana that today are run by Marcel’s children, seventh-generation scions of the original Sausage King.
In a recent interview with iTravelJerusalem, Marcel Hess made sure to emphasize (after noting that “we are the oldest kosher restaurant in the world”) that although sausages were a specialty, the restaurant had a lot to offer other than wursts. “Our menu doesn't consist only of sausages and salami,” he said, “but especially in the wintertime includes delicious soups, goulash for instance, and traditional chicken soup with matza balls.
“In terms of main courses,” Hess continued, “we are very famous for our baked lamb shoulders and steaks. We have huge, two-pound T-bone steaks from the Golan Heights that are aged for about three weeks before they’re prepared. Those are for the real connoisseurs.”
Devoted gastronomes will also appreciate the broad range of strictly kosher takes on traditional European dishes. Faux bacon and ham, for example, are made with kosher meat and taste uncannily similar to the pork. These dishes have won over 30 silver and gold medals at international competitions over the years, and Hess proudly stated that it was only after the competitions that he would tell the judges his food was strictly kosher. Needless to say, they were always very surprised.
In fact, Hess said even when the store was still in Europe, there were many non-Jews among his customers, even though there was a premium to pay for the kashrut and his products didn’t contain the “real thing.” To this day, many non-religious people come to Hess, even though real pork sausages, bacon and ham have become readily available throughout Israel.
“People say it tastes exactly the same,” Hess said, recalling one episode with a newly-religious Russian oleh. “When he came into the restaurant I immediately knew that he had eaten the other stuff before becoming religious. I asked him if he wanted to try the bacon. He tasted it, and he was afraid to swallow. ‘It tastes exactly the same as the real stuff,’ he said. It was lamb bacon, by the way.”
The restaurant also operates a takeout counter where customers can buy sausage, pate, steak and cold meats by the kilo, as well as a selection of authentic European salads. Hess emphasized that even if something isn’t on the menu, the restaurant will still fill the order, delivering special cuts of meat and other items. And when it came to parties, he added, “we can produce sausages for the group (it can be a bat-mitzvah) inside the restaurant itself while they watch they entire process. In the meantime, they can have an appetizer and then they get the sausages served with original french sauerkraut.”