Culinary folklore in the shuk

The Mahaneh Yehuda market, established at the end of the 19th century, is the heart of Jerusalem and an important site in modern Jerusalem history.

March 22, 2015 15:20
3 minute read.
Shem Tov Restaurant

The ingredients table at Shem Tov Restaurant.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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One of my favorite parts of being involved in the tourism industry is seeing a landmark in Jerusalem come alive – alive with tourists and locals enjoying the present and learning about its past.

The Mahaneh Yehuda market, established at the end of the 19th century, is the heart of Jerusalem and an important site in modern Jerusalem history. Many of the market stalls, referred to as a “bastas,” have been in the shuk for generations, and that is why it’s such a great place to learn about Jerusalem’s history. In fact, even politicians think of the shuk as the best place to go to meet “the people.”

I wanted to check out the latest interactive activity in the shuk – a Mahaneh Yehuda tasting tour and cooking workshop with a famous Jerusalem chef. I arranged my tour through Zuzu Tourism and met up with our guide, chef Iris Sharaf. The tour began with the best sahlab I have ever tasted at Shem Tov Restaurant, a bar/café on Eshkol Street. We started our tasting tour there and continued to taste the history at some of the more well-known spots in the shuk, such as Uzi Eli (the etrog man), Pereg Factory Store and one of the many halva stands.

We visited the main bazaar (the covered area of the shuk), the Iraqi shuk, the Gruzini shuk and ended the tour on Eshkol Street in front of the Shem Tov Restaurant.

Each section of the market has its own flavor, history and feel, and the chef found a way to share each one’s culinary folklore with us. She took what could be seen as a wild market (yes, there was a lot of yelling) and made the shuk feel accessible to the tourists by creating a dialogue between the group and the vendors.

The tour ended with an incredible cooking workshop at the Shem Tov Restaurant. The ingredients were all laid out for us, obviously fresh from the shuk. Our mixed group of tourists and local Israelis sat at a large table, with each setting laid out with a cutting board and the kitchen utensils we needed for the workshop. The chef stood “on stage” at the head of the table.

I could tell we were working with the freshest ingredients, which included herbs, vegetables, fish and fruits. In fact, in the middle of the workshop the chef sent a waitress out to buy another box of strawberries. We were included in every part of the recipe: prepping the vegetables, cooking, frying and decoratively plating the food. The entire activity took just over four hours, but the time flew by.

The menu: carpaccio; maqluba; pepper and garlic tart; stuffed cherry tomatoes; green salad; red wine leeks; balsamic strawberries; chocolate fondue.

It was much more than a regular cooking workshop. We learned about the history of the dishes and the different cultures that made them popular. Sharaf entertained us with her story of being a chef in Israel. She told us how a trip to London had inspired her to use food as a way to meet tourists in Israel and share Israeli culture with them.

I knew that I had been truly inspired when I went home that evening and recreated the red pepper tart for my family.

The Shem Tov Restaurant gave a talented chef a place to perform and a mixed group of locals and tourists a place to meet and bond through food. I am looking forward to my next opportunity to take a cooking workshop with other Israeli master chefs, such as Shmil Holland (who catered my engagement party 14 years ago) and Noam Koren. This was such a unique opportunity to mix tourism, culinary folklore and my love of cooking. 

The writer was a guest of the Shuk Tour and Workshop and the Shem Tov Restaurant.

Zuzu Tourism
Tel: 561-1441

Shem Tov Restaurant
Eshkol Street (off Mahaneh Yehuda Street)
Tel: 050-979-1035

Joanna Shebson is the founder of Fun In Jerusalem ( She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and three children and loves to inspire family fun.

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