The cacophony and barrage of shoppers on a Friday afternoon in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market is astounding. Aromatic spices, fresh produce, and just-baked bread and pastries fill the air of the crowded, semi-covered marketplace. The Shuk, as it’s affectionately known to Jerusalemites, is somewhat of a microcosm of Israeli society; a blend of culinary influences from Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East, introduced to the city by Jews, Muslims, and Christians from around the world.
As you fight your way through the crowded market, between the grandmothers anxiously collecting their Shabbat groceries and gaggles of tourists, you’ll find there’s not one, but multiple vendors for anything you could need to fill a multi-course meal. Fresh produce, meat, and fish stalls abound. Mounds of spices and herbs seem to rise miraculously to the sky and fill the air. How do you find the best produce stalls? Grandma always knows best, so see where they accumulate, and that’s your best bet.
You can’t miss the cakes of halva, a chalky mixture of tahini and sugar that melts in the mouth, believed to have originated in Turkey. Look for Yemeni jachnun, a rolled pastry that slow-bakes overnight and is usually consumed for breakfast. Happen upon a bakery with a long, disorderly line and a chocolate perfume? That’s the famous Marzipan bakery, serving up piping hot chocolate rugelach – but not the kind you’ll find in New York. No, these are heavenly bites of gooey goodness, rich with chocolate and a sweet, sticky coating, inspired by old Polish pastry.
If you tire from all that sensorial stimulation, take a seat at one of the many small restaurants within the Shuk and have lunch, offering everything from pasta and fish and chips to Iraqi slow-cooked dishes that simmer for hours and sell out in minutes.
But we’re still not done here. Journey back to the Shuk in the evening after Shabbat, and you’ll find that its narrow streets have been converted into a sprawling bar scene with live music, craft beer from local and distant breweries, cocktails from skilled bartenders, and lots of Israeli wine. There’s even a bottomless wine bar, and yes, Israeli wine is served by the glass.