Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s large outdoor market, or shuk, is the main culinary artery of the city. Amongst the densely packed produce vendors and fishmongers, you’ll find some of the best eats around and taste the city’s diverse cultural heritage.
Jerusalem’s frenetic Mahane Yehuda (which literally translates to ‘Camp of Judah’) market started in the 1800s and is now home to more than 250 (some figures say 600!) vendors hawking everything from meat and olives to spices and grains. Stalls that have been in business for generations now mingle with the new wave of boutiques, restaurants, and cafes that are popping up and breathing new life into the bustling, gritty shuk (the Hebrew word for marketplace).
You can taste the history of immigration in Jerusalem in the wide array of culinary offerings available at the market. Bulgarian, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Jordanese, Libyan, Moroccan, and Turkish are just some of the countries represented in the patchwork quilt that is Mahane Yehuda, with many restaurants offering their own mix of flavors.
Until recently, Minimalist “Israeli workingman” style eateries dominated the shuk, with inexpensive, homey Central European/Middle Eastern/Mediterreanean dishes like hummus, schnitzel, and goulash. Many of these places have been around for decades and are still popular with locals. You’ll also find street food in abundance with excellent versions of Israeli standbys such as falafel and burekas (savory, stuffed phyllo pastires). Walk through the market, and you can fill up without ever sitting down.
Within the last five years there’s been an influx of hip, modern restaurants and cafes that take advantage of the proximity of the market to switch their menus often and focus on the seasonal, local ethic that has become so popular worldwide. Many offer updated takes on Israeli cuisine, using the flavors of the market in their own way.
For a quintessential Jerusalem experience, visit Mahane Yehuda on a Friday morning, when it’s at its busiest. Vendors yell out competing prices, and the winding alleys are packed to the gills with Jerusalemites stocking up before Shabbat. Claim a coveted seat at one of the cafes or restaurants and enjoy the show.
With over 60 restaurants to choose from in a tiny radius (about 400 square meters), there’s something here for everyone. On this tour, you’ll experience five of my tried and true favorites that represent the range of flavors available here. You’ll get a taste of Iraqi-Jewish heritage with hearty kubbeh soup, experience the Turkish influence on the city’s food via flaky savory pastries and spiced egpplant, sample an amazing example of Middle Eastern halva in a range of flavors, and people watch at a hip café that has helped to revitalize the market.
All five eateries on this tour are within close proximity to one another and located within the pedestrian-only Mahane Yehuda market. They are near the Mahane Yehuda stop on the new light rail, and on the route of many major bus lines, including the #4.
Currency Used on Tour: NIS.
It’s possible to visit all five eateries on this tour in one go since they are all located within the market itself and a mere minutes apart, but you’ll want to space it out and have at least one companion to share dishes with. Even better, split this tour into two days of delicious, cheap eating.
NIS 154 (Assuming you order one of each recommended dish on this tour). Prices are current as of fall, 2011 and don’t include tip, which is usually 10-15% in Israel at sit-down restaurants. Note that even when restaurants accept credit cards (American and other foreign credit cards typically work without issue), tip must be left in cash. Tipping is not necessary when taking food to go or ordering from stands.
Mahane Yehuda is nestled between the major thoroughfares of Jaffo Road and Agrippas Street. The two main streets of the market are Mahane Yehuda, which is the uncovered part of the market, and Eitz Chaim, which runs parallel the long way through the covered part. A number of other small alleys run between these two paths and are named after fruits and nuts. Walking down Mahane Yehuda from Jaffo Road towards Agrippas, your first right will take you into the Iraqi section of the shuk, while the first left will lead you into a small enclave known as the Georgian section.
Note for people keeping kosher: all five stops on this tour are kosher, specifically:
• Azura - kosher meat
• Chomat HaBurekas - kosher dairy
• Halva Kingdom - parve
• Ima Kubbeh Bar - kosher meat
• Mizrachi Cafe - kosher dairy
English is heavily spoken in Jerusalem and most restaurants have English menus available. Ask for it in English, or say: Yesh tafrit ba englit? (Pronounced: yesh tafREET bah angLEET.)
Restrictions: Note for Vegetarians: There are wonderful vegetarian options at each stop on this tour. As a general note, “kosher dairy” restaurants are always ensured to be vegetarian by default and are plentiful in Jerusalem. There are 5 dishes on this tour, of which
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Katherine Martinelli is a freelance food and travel writer and photographer. A native New Yorker, she has called Israel home since 2010. She's currently eating and drinking her way through the coun...