In the late 1800’s Jerusalem broke out of the walls of the Old City and began a rapid expansion. Jewish neighborhoods began springing up, especially westwards toward the port city of Jaffa. One of the westernmost of these was called Nahlaot – Hebrew for “communities” or “neighborhoods.” This name came from the fact that Nahlaot was not really a neighborhood but rather a collection of smaller neighborhoods each one founded to house members of a particular ethnic or religious group. As these neighborhoods grew local farmers began selling their produce in an empty field outside these neighborhoods. This market eventually became Mahane Yehuda – Jerusalem’s main fruit and vegetable market.
In recent years the market has undergone something of a transformation with a large number of bars and high-quality restaurants taking over a number of stalls. This change is especially noticeable at night when the corridors of the market turn into a sea of tables and chairs where customers do their part to bolster the country’s growing microbrewery revolution.
For a tour of this area, I recommend starting out in Nahlaot where we’ll get a glimpse at what Israelis call the Yishuv HaYashan – the Old (pre-Zionist) Community. These Jews came to Israel before most could even conceive of a Jewish state. During the tour we’ll see the neighborhood through the eyes of Rav Aryeh Levine famous for his piety and loving-kindness towards all Jews. If you want to enter some areas modest attire is required but these areas can also be skipped.
Next we’ll hit the market itself (be forewarned on Fridays it is extremely crowded but also a lot of fun). For a start we can grab a quick snack at Bashar’s Cheese Market, then cross the street for burekas, a savory pastry. The next stop we’ll be at Melech HaHalvah (the Halvah King) for a taste of this sesame based candy (although good halvah like this has a minimum of added sugar). Here you’ll also be able to pick up stone ground tehina (sesame paste). Wandering the market you’ll be able to pick up a wide variety of olives, pickles or spices to take home. Next we’ll pop by the Iraqi shuk where members of the older generation often sit around drinking coffee and playing backgammon. Because you won’t have eaten for minutes it’s time for lunch. Choose between the gourmet street food in Crave (including a kosher bacon cheeseburger), home-made pasta at Pasta Basta, Fish and Chips, traditional Turkish food at Azura, the upscale Machneyuda restaurant (reservations required), Felafel at Mula or a simple hummus and Hummus Shel Tehina (where you get free refills!!).
For drinks we can stop at Beer Bazaar for some local brews or Tap and Tail for cocktails and tapas. And if you need dessert afterwards we can stop by Mousseline for their famous variety of French ice creams and sorbets.
Other options for this tour include a cooking lesson where you can learn how to make amazing meals with the ingredients you picked up in the market or a night-time tour for a more intensive “investigation” into Mahane Yehuda’s night life.