While many people come to Jerusalem to see ancient sites and centuries old churches, you have not really seen this historic city until you have seen and taken a tasting tour of Mahane Yehuda market in the city center.
Getting To Mahane Yehuda:
The market is located in the city center conveniently near light rail on Jaffa Street or you can enter from Agrippas Street on the South side if you are walking or arriving by taxi. It is a walkable distance from the Old City if you prefer to travel on foot.
The market itself is comprised of several alleyways and pedestrian only streets. There is a map with store listings at the Machane Yehuda Website
According to the official website Machane Yehuda market is open every weekday except during the Sabbath. Sunday through Thursday the market is open from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm. On Fridays, the market is open from 8:00 am to approximately 3:00 pm.
The market is closed on Saturday, but there are several cafes and restaurants that are open.
What you’ll see at Mahane Yehuda:
Machane Yehuda is more than a food market. It is a scene. A vibrant slice of life. There are street performers and cafes. Secular and religious people of multiple faiths cross paths and mingle as they run errands or meet friends for lunch. You will see soldiers shopping for snacks, and bearded hipsters enjoying a craft beer an a cigarette. Little old ladies, doling out spices. Sticky fingered toddlers clutching a prized bag of sweets. Butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. It’s all here.
But the first and possibly most colorful thing that will catch your eye in this market is the fresh produce. There is such an abundance of pretty much everything you can imagine to eat and cook with. The colors are almost psychedelic. Bright purple eggplants, yellow melons. Crunchy green cucumbers and red red tomatoes. The produce is piled up high and fragrant, each stall boasting bigger and more perfect looking plums and and juicier nectarines.
And not just edible produce. You can also find fresh flowers here too.
To put the freshness and vibrance of this produce in context for Americans, I will share that I visited a California farmer’s market a week or two after coming home from Israel. Normally I would glory in the citrus and fresh veggies that my farm-rich state has to offer. But not after being in Israel.
“Meh,” I thought. The watermelon looked fresher in Israel.
Moving on past the produce, you’ll see a dazzling variety of olives. Black, brown and red. Salt cured, marinated in herbs and spicy olives.
Bread and pastries will stop you in your tracks next, particularly if you visit on a Friday morning prior to Shabbat when the yeasty smell of rich brioche-like Challah bread wafts through the air like an intoxicating appetite stimulant. Keep moving if you can. Pastries lie in wait.
If you can make it past the piles of cheerfully rolled up date, poppy and chocolate filled ruggelah pastries, you are made of strong stuff.
Ruggelach are one of the few bakery items that make me weep for my pre gluten free days.
Further along you will see spice shops. Simple fresh ground spices but also elaborately specific spice mixes. Every kind of middle eastern rice blend, schwarma and koobideh spice, can be found in these shops. Don’t forget to get some custom blended zatar for topping off your hummous.
There’s also buckets and buckets of specialty teas that include a mixture of tea leaves, dried fruits and flower petals. Or, if you prefer, just make your tea completely from dried rose petals.
Next up are the candy shops. Turkish delight lives next door to 30 kinds of gummy sweets and there is an entire factory outlet store of Elite candy to bring home to your Israeli friends in the US. Israelis love their candy and my friends who live in the US always ask for certain nostalgic treats from home.
Halvah is a specialty here, and one of the things this market is famous for. It’s a candy made from sesame paste and even if you think you have tried it elsewhere, it’s nothing like the halvah you will buy here.
Try the whiskey and coffee flavors from Halvah Kingdom if you are offered a sample. Also make sure to stop into their shop where you can see how sesame is ground into tahini. It’s a sight to behold the massive stones grinding the seeds.
No visit to the market is complete without a visit to Dr Health. Here at this fresh juice bar you can get a custom concoction that is calibrated to heal whatever ails you. Exotic ingredients in these fresh pressed juices include qat leaves (and you thought qat was just a convenient Words with Friends word!) and etrog (a cousin of the lemon) extracts.
The doctor also believes in the power of laughter. I had my 15 seconds of laugh therapy with him on my last visit and was instantly hooked. Must. Laugh. More.
You can also buy fresh meats, seafood and cheese, as well as a variety of prepared salads in this market. Basically you can get everything here, from housewares to food to pottery to a new outlook on life.
A few years ago when our family was staying in an apartment in Jerusalem for an extended vacation, we loved our daily market runs to stock our fridge. We ate so well, that we all miss shopping there to this day. It is one of the things I look forward to the most, when I think of future visits!
Kids in the Machane Yehuda Market:
Kids are welcome in the market and there is so much to see and taste that they can’t help but love shopping here with parents. There’s so many opportunities to learn about other foods, cultures and people, and there’s trinket shopping ops as well. Several of the stores sell toys and small souvenirs that are a perfect “manage your funds” opportunity for young tourists.
But do be prepared for a gauntlet of candy shops selling colorful, delicious gummy candy. These will be hard for your kids to resist. Possibly for you as well. My advice, of course, is to buy them a little candy.
After Dark at Machane Yehuda:
At night when the market vendors roll down their corrugated metal doors and close up shop, the market takes on a whole other character. Hip foodie restaurants stay open after hours and set up tables and chairs in the alleyways.
We haven’t been yet but it’s always great to have something to look forward to!
Best Times to Go to Machane Yehuda:
Friday am to see the crowds shopping for Shabbat – this is when the market is in full swing. Any other morning for a quieter shopping experience, but not too early. You don’t want to get there while shopkeepers are still setting up. Aim for around 10am. Pop into Aroma for some delicious coffee before you start to shop.
What to Bring to Machane Yehuda:
- A large tote for your purchases or if you are really planning to shop and stock up, a small rolling cart (these can be purchased in the market itself)
- Comfortable walking shoes are a MUST
- Hand sanitizer and wipes (for cleaning your hands and fruit you cannot wait to taste)
- A camera to capture the vibrant colors and scenes of this market
- Enough cash to pay for your purchases. There are some ATMs in the market but they charge fees and may not be close to where you want to shop. Make sure to have smaller bills on hand as making change for large bills slows everyone down.
Bonus Machane Yehuda Points if You See:
The Shuk Schleppers in green shirts. These helpful volunteers carry groceries home for the elderly and overburdened moms. They are the sweetest!
Join Me in Jerusalem:
I’m so thrilled to be speaking at TBEX International in Jerusalem next month.
Machane Yehuda Market is just one of many things that attendees will have a chance to see and experience during this wonderful conference. This is the first time the conference is happening in a city that I am somewhat familiar with and I could not be more excited for the excuse to go back.
If you have ever considered attending a TBEX event, I highly recommend this one! There’s a link to register for TBEX in my side bar. Use the discount code SPK20 to sign up for 20% off!
Machane Yehuda is one of the worlds great market wonders. You have not really seen Jerusalem until you have plunged in, tasted and toured here.