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2018-04-11 / Featured / Taste

Two roads lead to Jerusalem Market

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER


Above: Jerusalem Market & Deli owner Bilal Khatab stands inside his store near Turner and Hull Street roads. The eatery features Middle Eastern groceries, deli counter and a halal butcher counter. 
PHOTOS BY JENNY McQUEEN Above: Jerusalem Market & Deli owner Bilal Khatab stands inside his store near Turner and Hull Street roads. The eatery features Middle Eastern groceries, deli counter and a halal butcher counter. PHOTOS BY JENNY McQUEEN At the crossroads of Hull Street and Turner roads, a trip around the world takes just a few blocks.

Just east of this intersection stands La Milpa, a 24-hour Mexican restaurant/market/hangout spot known for its Aztec dancing and artwork in the style of Central America’s indigenous peoples. To the south is Tako Nako, a little shack serving up tacos, pupusas, tortas and other delicious items.

At the 360 West Shopping Center, located at the northwest corner of this juncture, you can find Colombian dishes and desserts at Café and Sabor, Indian foodstuffs at Rangoli Indo-Pak Groceries and a taste of the Middle East at Jerusalem Market & Deli.


Below, left: A lamb gyro and onion platter, served with fresh pita bread, tabbouleh, rice and labne, a Middle Eastern yogurt spread. Below, left: A lamb gyro and onion platter, served with fresh pita bread, tabbouleh, rice and labne, a Middle Eastern yogurt spread. The latter is a deep storefront jam-packed with giant jars of olives and dates, shelves devoted to tahini and honey, canisters of olive oil sold by the liter and refrigerated display cases stocked with Middle Eastern cheeses and yogurts. In back is a hot deli offering kababs, gyros and cheesesteaks. And next to the deli is a butcher counter filled with lamb, beef, veal and goat from a halal supplier in Northern Virginia.

Presiding over this shrine to Levantine cuisine is a large banner featuring a photograph of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque, both holy sites for Muslims. If the store’s name and trappings fail to transport you to another place, the words “YOU ARE IN JERUSALEM” stretch across the banner in big yellow letters.

Most of Jerusalem’s deli offerings are made on premises, including lamb gyros, chicken kababs and kofta, a mixture of meat, parsley and mint grilled on a skewer. The deli also has fresh tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern side of bulgur wheat, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil.


Right: A shaft of spiralized potato chips, made on premises. Right: A shaft of spiralized potato chips, made on premises. Near the front of the store, the market operates a coffee and dessert cart, peddling Turkish coffee alongside homemade baklava, Turkish delight, the semolina cake namora and kanafeh, a cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup.

But get into a conversation with owner Bilal Khatab, and you’re likely to hear just as much about his prices as the quality of his food. Sitting at a table near the deli counter, Khatab spouts his many deals from memory. “Tahina jar, two-pounds for $5.99,” he says of the condiment made of toasted, ground hulled sesame seeds. “Halva with pistachios” – a sweet sesame confection – “$8.99. We have homemade baklava, eight-piece for $8.99.”

Born in Bethlehem, Khatab is a native of Al Jib, a Palestinian village six miles northwest of Jerusalem. He first came to the United States in 1998, and attended Bryant and Stratton College in Chesterfield. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in information technology, Khatab worked as an instructor at Bryant and Stratton before pursuing his master’s in computer science at Virginia Commonwealth University.

In 2006, the year before he completed his master’s, Khatab opened Jerusalem Market. While starting a business, attending grad school and raising two small boys at the time was a challenge, Khatab says it was worth it. By his account, business has been good.

“Today was packed for lunch,” says Khatab, whose favorite dish is the falafel: deep-fried morsels of ground chickpeas. “Our food is more fresh than other Mediterranean restaurants because we cook fresh.”

All meats served at the butcher counter are halal, meaning they are permissible to eat by Islamic law.

“Before we slaughter it, we say the name of God on it,” explains Khatab, who lives in Collington with his wife and four sons.

The store’s groceries come from Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Germany. More than 20 kinds of cheese line the store’s fridges and nine varieties of olives occupy its shelves. The store’s spices are homemade and come direct from Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Market also dabbles in non-edible wares, including teapots and framed scripts bearing the name of Allah, Muhammad and surahs (chapters) from the Quran in Arabic. Two patrons wooed by Jerusalem’s goods are Leon Smith and his mother, Sheranda, who live near the intersection of Courthouse and Hull Street roads. The two have frequented Jerusalem nearly since it opened and love the organic whole chickens it sells.

“He’s like your family, and he’s honest,” says Leon, standing near the doorway with his mother on a Thursday afternoon. “He has great food, and he has stuff you won’t find in other stores.”

As much as Jerusalem Market feels like a world apart, Khatab hopes people from other cultures know they are welcome in his store.

“Americans come here, Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian, Pakistanis, you name it, we have it,” he says. “You don’t have to be Middle Eastern to come here.

“Anyone can come here. Obama can come here.” ¦

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