June 9, 2023

Israel’s outdoor markets are colorful places for shoppers to stock up on Middle Eastern edibles, souvenirs, and culture at bargain prices

In Jerusalem, sweet-toothers should visit the Marzipan Bakery for its chocolate rugelach, Moroccan cookies, and Syrian pastries.
No trip to Israel is complete without a stroll through its shuks, or outdoor markets, which are not only teeming with everything from Middle Eastern pantry staples to Judaica, but also with a vibrant, multicultural community that defines the modern side of this ancient country.

Foodies on the prowl will have the most to choose from at Shuk Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem and Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv. The first, located in West Jerusalem, is well worth the short journey outside the Old City, while the second is an enjoyable bicycle ride away from the beaches in Tel Aviv. Both are open everyday except Saturdays in honor of the Sabbath. Visit on Friday, in fact, to watch the crowds of locals gathering their challah, za’atar (the ubiquitous Middle Eastern spice mixture which combines dried herbs with sumac, salt, and sesame seeds), and other ingredients for Saturday’s religious feast. Take notes on their negotiation skills – vendors list inflated prices expecting customers to haggle.

Hunger would overcome you as you weave your way through the rows and alleys of the shuks if there weren’t so many opportunities to sample the myriad stands’ wares. But before you fill up on nibbles of halvah – the cake-like dessert that combines savory tahini with golden honey – set your sights on a vendor selling more substantial provisions. Street food staples like falafel (a mixture of ground chickpeas, herbs, and spices), or shawarma (juicy meat shaved from a spit), get tucked into a warm pita and topped with chopped cucumber and tomato plus a drizzle of tahini – the ideal handheld lunch. Freshly-pressed carrot, orange, and pomegranate juices wet the whistle and pack a punch of vitamins and antioxidants.

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