Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is famous for its 3,000 years of history and its diverse cultural profile. The city is a melting pot of people from all over the world. Like the city, Jerusalem’s culinary scene is a creative conglomerate of cuisines from countless immigrants who migrated to the city, bringing their cherished family recipes from North Africa, the Mediterranean and from all over the world. Jerusalem’s unique narrative can easily be told through its culinary scene. Although small in size, the city packs a punch of flavor, making Jerusalem an ideal location for any travel blogger looking to explore and taste their way through a city.
Interestingly, while Israel is a country that is primarily desert, somehow it manages to produce some of the most succulent fruits and veggies (often organic) ever made. Just a few not-to-be-missed mainstays you’ll find throughout the city are falafel, hummus, olives, halvah, chopped veggie salads, local fish from the Jordan River, fresh-squeezed fruit juices, fabulous breads, and a variety of honey filo-dough desserts.
Tasting your way through Jerusalem starts in the heart of the city, the Machne Yehudah market, or shuk. The world famous market has been around since the 19th century and has since evolved into one of the trendiest food scenes in Israel.
Like any open market in the Middle East, the shuk is overflowing with merchants selling and screaming while shoppers haggle for a better price. It’s part of the vibe and soul of the shuk. Walking through the fresh food farmers market is always an experience. While at first the market may cause anyone to suffer from a sensory overload, the intoxicating smells and vibrant colors are certain to calm and reduce any tension. Within this two block radius a traveler can taste their way through Jerusalem’s history, while meeting merchants meet whose family have worked here for over 100 years. The spice shops are reminiscent of the Kasbah in Morocco while the smells may transport a traveler to the streets of Ethiopia. Among the shops is the sweet treat known as halva (a sweet treat made from sesame seeds), next to the fish monger who is cleaning the daily catch. The scent of freshly baked baklava is mixed with the aromas of a classic European dessert called rugelach.
Clearly, the constant motion and hustling and bustling of the daytime shuk is impressive. The same dynamic feel is felt when you come back at night. Here, the same shuk is transformed into one of the city’s hubs for nightlife and urban entertainment. The stalls of the day become restaurant tables for the evening bar goers. Walk through the alleyways of the market, to find Azura, a slow-cooked food restaurant that has been around since 1952, using the same recipes, and the original burners, till today. Then you have a place like the Beer Bazaar, which is a full-fledged bar that offers only boutique beers from Israel and a menu that screams North America; chili dogs, corned beef sandwiches and beef jerky. From Lebanese food at Manu Bashuk to a Mexican fiesta at Burrito Chai, to Venezuelan street food at Pepitos to the British fish n’ chips to Yemen’s Jachnun bar, and of course we can’t forget the most popular street food in Israel; Shwarma and falafel.
Looking for organic or vegan? The shuk has it. In fact, there are several stalls and restaurants in the shuk that make delicious products designed for specialty diets.
In short, the Jerusalem shuk is an experience. It’s a foodies heaven but it’s also a microcosm of Jerusalem’s culture. It’s diverse. It’s unique. It’s bold. At the same time, the shuk, like Jerusalem, is friendly.
Author Bio: Yehuda Jacobs is a chef, food fanatic and Founder of Israel Foodies, the largest English speaking community for foodies in Israel.