All You Want to Know About Machane Yehuda – Part 1: Background

The shuk from above

Machane Yehuda Shuk on a sunny, not very busy afternoon

One of my absolute favorite places in Jerusalem — and not just as a tour guide but also as a city resident — is Machane Yehuda, the outdoor market at the heart of the city. I’m a real foodie, and this market (commonly just referred to as “the shuk” — the Hebrew and Arabic word for market) is a gourmand’s playground. I’ve given many a tour there, and love bringing people to what I consider my second home.

And yet, I realized that there is so much more to the shuk than just the delicious food. So much history and complexity. To me, Shuk Machane Yehuda is actually the city of Jerusalem in microcosm. The people who shop and visit there reflect the diverse populace of the city. And the changes that have taken place in the shuk over time mimic the changes that have transformed the city itself.

So I decided to create a series of blog posts that will try to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Machane Yehuda market. I first thought about all the things I wanted to tell you about the shuk, and then I also asked friends if they had any questions they wanted answered. This will be the first of at least five different posts, and will deal with background information — some of the what, why, where and when. So if you have questions of your own, please send them to me so I can try to include answers in future posts!

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Spring is Springing in Israel

Fresh produce in mahane yehuda market, Jerusalem

These mangold leaves were fresh in the shuk this past week

One of my favorite things about food in Israel is that almost all of our produce is grown locally and is only available when it is in season. While I sometimes miss being able to make any dish at any time of year, like I could in the States, I know this is more environmentally friendly and that the produce is better too. Plus, you get really excited when a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t seen all year comes back into season!

With that in mind, I wanted to start keeping track of the various things as they come into season at the shuk (outdoor market) here in Jerusalem. I’m not going to be doing this in a truly formal fashion, but I do want to do my best to at least increase the available information about what is in season when in Israel. And while I did find this series of posts from the author of the Israeli Kitchen blog up at the Green Prophet website, I figured I’d take it a drop further. Just another part of my exploration of culinary Israel!

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A Tour of Wineries in Eretz Binyamin / Samaria

Tanya Winery vinyeards. Ofra. Fun Joel Israel Tour Guide.

The vineyards of Tanya Winery in Ofra

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting five different wineries with some other tour guides and friends. The wineries were all located in the region of Eretz Binyamin — the area that was designated in the Bible for the tribe of Benjamin. Today it is part of the region known as Samaria, and there are at least 7 or 8 wineries in this small part of the hill country, a mere 25 miles or so apart. But before I get into the wineries themselves, I want to talk briefly about Israeli wines overall.

I love the story of the wine industry in Israel. Clearly one of the oldest and most famous industries in the land, winemaking was always an important identifying feature of Israel. Images, for example, of the spies sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan, and their reports of giant grape clusters spring to mind. In fact, that very image is the logo of both Israel’s Ministry of Tourism and the largest wine producer in the country — Carmel Wineries.

However, with the arrival of Muslim rule, which lasted for about 1100 of the 1300 years prior to the 20th Century, Israeli wines virtually disappeared. Since Muslims are prohibited from drinking wine, virtually all Israeli wine production ceased, with perhaps a minor resurgence during the 200-year period of Crusader rule in the land (1099-1291, with periods of Muslim rule inside that time frame as well).

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What Is… Shawarma?

Turkey Shawarma Roasting on a vertical spit. Fun Joel. Israel Tour Guide.

Look at that succulent roasting meat on a spit. Yummmm...

I love food. I love eating it and I love cooking it. Most people would consider me a “foodie.” And Israel has so much amazing food that it is a foodie’s dream country.

That’s one of the reasons why Israeli culinary tourism is one of the niche areas I’ve been developing for myself, in addition to the general tourism that most people want. Winery and brewery tours, visits to other boutique food production facilities, guided tours of shuks (outdoor markets), trips to agricultural installations (both current and historic) and of course meals in some top-notch restaurants. Any of these options can contribute to a specially designed culinary tour, or worked into a general itinerary for a little spice.

But my approach to food and the foodie mentality is not snobbish. To appreciate the culinary offerings of a country, one must often look at the meals of the common man. Working-class restaurants and street foods are among the truest culinary delights that most cuisines have to offer. And this is no more true than here in Israel. Which brings me to this specific post.

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