Kubbeh Dumplings Make Their Village Debut
The Iraqi delicacy, which is popular in Israel, draws in crowds
When I arrived at The Kubbeh Project at 8:30 on Monday night the queue was ten deep, and the stinging sleet which had been falling all afternoon had finally settled into a flurry of lovely spring snow. Morale was high, if a little impatient. Through the foggy window (lined with jars of pickled vegetables), we watched the lucky seated ones spooning soup into their mouths. They avoided looking at us. It was like being in a Dickens novel, but Jewish, and with waterproof boots.
We were all there for one thing: kubbeh, a classic Iraqi-Israeli dumpling soup which food-writer Naama Shefi and chef Itamar Lewensohn are bringing to New York for the first three weeks of March. For the uninitiated, kubbeh refers to both the dumpling—made from a mix of bulgur and semolina, and stuffed with ground meat—and the soup, usually beet or hamusta (a sour broth). Every Middle-Eastern country has some iteration of the dish, but Shefi’s focus is on the Iraqi version she remembers eating in Israel as a child. “These recipes are about to leave the world if no one will document them,” she explained in the New York Times.
At 9:15 I was in, my wait expedited by virtue of being a solo diner (I sat next to a party of three who had waited for two hours). Inside, Zucker bakery had been transformed from a hip daytime hangout to a cozy nighttime restaurant. Customers crowded around a long, communal table set with paper menu place mats, and a black banner hanging from the ceiling advertised the three types of kubbeh available: beet, pumpkin, and, for the “advanced” kubbeh eater, hamusta. I ordered the beet kubbeh and the sambusak, a delicate feta and swiss chard pastry. (The meat is kosher, so if you eat the dairy before the soup you’re practically dining in Boro Park!)
The soup itself was delicious, unleashing Proustian memories of my first kubbeh experience at Machaneh Yehudah in Jerusalem seven years ago. The broth was a surprising, muted orange; pleasingly fatty, with just a hint of sourness. The dumplings—garnished with slivered coconut chips—were firm and perfectly round, with a good ratio of baharat-spiced beef to semolina. The rice served with the soup was the best I’ve had in a long time—salty, perfectly sticky, and infused with excellent, fragrant olive oil. Seriously, it was enough to make Jiro weep. Another highlight was the honey and mint tahini, served as an appetizer with pickled vegetables and challah. Shefi told me it was El Erez tahini, “the best in Israel.”
Irin Carmon, who wrote about kubbeh for Tablet last year and visited The Kubbeh Project this week, agreed. “It is a quite difficult dish to pull off because you want the dumplings to be absorptive but not mushy, and you want the broth to be savory but sour-sweet. And they did it.”
So, is The Kubbeh Project worth the long wait? I’m going to do the Jewish thing and answer my question with another question: Is any meal ever worth waiting two hours for? I think so—as with many of life’s pleasures, the delight of kubbeh lies as much in the anticipation as the experience. Also, the Pesach seders are nigh upon us. Consider it a training run.
The Kubbeh Project runs until tonight at Zucker Bakery, 433 East 9th St.
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.