Jerusalem, Mahaneh Yehuda Market.
(photo credit: GOISRAEL)
There’s nothing quite like it: the mounds of fresh, bountiful produce; the aisles of bright, colorful candy; the aromas of fresh spices, coffee, fish and cheese.
Israel’s open-air markets are unforgettable places to visit, and as the country continues to grow as a culinary destination, locals and tourists alike are discovering all they have to offer.
But wandering around the often-crowded alleys without a guide might not get you the most fulfilling experience. Enter Yalla Basta, whose “shuk bites” tasting cards send you off to sample the best that each market has to offer, with a built-in audio guide to complete the experience.
The company offers the cards at eight markets across the country: Mahaneh Yehuda and the Old City in Jerusalem; Carmel, Levinsky and the Flea Market in Tel Aviv; and the central markets of Nazareth, Acre and Ramle.
The audio guides are available in English at Mahaneh Yehuda and the three Tel Aviv spots. The guides operate by scanning a bar code with your smartphone to reach a site where the tracks play. Unfortunately, in English – at least at Mahaneh Yehuda – the numbers of the tracks and the locations marked on the map do not correspond, providing a somewhat disjointed experience. Nevertheless, the guide itself is enjoyable to listen to (despite some jarring anglicized pronunciations) and provides a peek into the history of the shuk and some of its more famous spots and personalities, such as Cafe Mizrahi, Rahmo and Uzi Eli, the Etrog Man.
But really it’s all about the food, and in that regard the card does not disappoint.
Each card entitles one to a tasting of six items, ranging from ice cream and pipinghot pastry to hummus, kubbe soup and a hamburger.
You simply arrive at the spots marked on the map and hand over one of the tear-off tabs from the card. The portions at each location are sizable enough that you’d better be hungry if you want to finish everything in one trip (but you don’t have to). Those who keep kosher will have to plan to complete all the dairy stops before moving on to the meat ones.
Workers at all the marked stops are familiar with the card and are ready to serve the cardholders. The choices certainly give newcomers a taste of some of the best offerings in the markets, though there are, of course, many more to choose from.
Every market has its own specially tailored menu. At Levinsky, you can have marzipan, souvlaki and artisan cured meat.
In Acre, you get freshly squeezed juice, fish tapas and baklava.
And a stop in Ramle mixes culture and food, providing the cardholder with entrance to a museum and historical sites, along with burekas, coffee and a Tunisian sandwich.
The price of the cards varies, depending on location. In Mahaneh Yehuda, Acre and the three Tel Aviv markets, each card costs NIS 99. In Nazareth and Jerusalem’s Old City, they cost NIS 79.
And in Ramle, a card costs NIS 69.
If you’re looking for an indoor activity with a bit less history involved, you can get a NIS 69 tasting card for Jerusalem’s Malha Mall.
The self-guided nature of each tour is perfect for adventurous tourists who like to operate at their own pace, with no prodding to move on to the next stop or listen up for an explanation.
The Mahaneh Yehuda experience is fairly comprehensive, covering some of the shuk’s more hidden sections in addition to its main drags. So while you begin with the stops marked on the map, you never know what else you may discover along the way.