A walk through Mahaneh Yehuda

The Yalla Basta visitors card offers an innovative way of experiencing the tantalizing tastes of the shuk’s many eateries.

Yalla Basta market bites offers an audio smartphone, and directs users to a variety of recommended stands and stalls (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Yalla Basta market bites offers an audio smartphone, and directs users to a variety of recommended stands and stalls
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
One of my favorite pastimes is visiting open-air markets, and the most classic one I’ve been to is Mahaneh Yehuda (aka “the shuk”) in Jerusalem.
Its strong aromas and intense energy can be detected the moment you enter its crowded walkways. The coffee, spices, and fresh fruits and vegetables of every sort burst forth from their containers.
My mouth watered and my eyes opened wide as I made my way through the throngs of people, loaded down with carts and plastic bags.
In addition to the medley of produce stalls, Mahaneh Yehuda has also recently become home to a mushrooming number of cute little eateries and drinkeries.
It would be a shame not to try out one or two of them the next time you’re there.
But the question is, how to decide which ones to try? Well, it turns out someone has already thought this through.
A venture called Yalla Basta Market Bites, which operates out of a number of open-air markets in Israel, offers visitors a card that lets them sample six different shuk restaurants; in addition, they may listen to a collection of prerecorded stories about the market.
The audio tour, which can be downloaded to smartphones, also directs users to a variety of recommended stands and stalls they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed, and offers tips on parking and ideal visiting hours.
First stop: Espresso for the soul
We picked up our tickets at one of the dried fruit and nut stands, and set out on our tour. Our first stop was the charming little Café Patisserie at the shuk entrance; the aroma wafting out of the shop made us swoon with desire.
Drinking our espresso, we learned that the owners were ex-hi-techies who had tired of sitting in front of a computer all day.
The café is situated at a busy corner of the market, so for a few minutes we just stood there and watched people hurry past while we drank our coffee – the proverbial quiet before the storm.
Second stop: A taste of kubbeh
No visit to Mahaneh Yehuda would be complete without eating something fried, so next we hurried off to Murdoch, located on Agrippas Street, a popular Jerusalem institution best known for its fried kubbeh and tart grape leaves.
Amateur chefs will be happy to know that Murdoch offers kubbeh-rolling workshops, preparing you to compete with all of Israel’s Kurdish grandmothers.
Third stop: Khachapuri
At the corner of Hashikma and Ha’eshkol streets lies Tango Shavit’s Khachapuri. As I learned during my tour, many people who run businesses in the shuk previously worked in completely different fields; Shavit, for example, used to work as an electrician.
After a number of years, he decided to change direction and opened a stand selling khachapuri – a traditional Georgian cheese and egg bread dish. Shavit’s mother helped him with the baking until he got the business off the ground, and now he even owns a second successful branch. Khachapuri offers fantastic authentic Georgian cuisine and luckily, the restaurant happens to be located at one of the more interesting intersections of the shuk.
Just across the street from Khachapuri sits one of Jerusalem’s classics: the Kurdish restaurant Rahmo.
Founded by the late Rahamim Ben-Yosef and now run by his family members, Rahmo attracts young and old patrons alike. Ben-Yosef, a retired taxi driver, opened the home-style restaurant with his wife. In the beginning, everything was cooked on a kerosene stove and they catered to the neighborhood’s working crowd.
Ben-Yosef was such a renowned figure in the area that all the shops on the block closed the day of his funeral.
Fourth stop: The etrog man
When people talk about Mahaneh Yehuda, the discussion always finds its way to Uzi Eli, the colorful and friendly etrog man.
Eli offers fresh-squeezed juice and natural cosmetics, but also attracts loads of curious passersby who come to listen to his “talks” and test out new creams. Eli believes that ailments should be treated with natural ingredients and, above all, with love.
Before we left, we tasted some of Eli’s sweet passion fruit juice and mysterious lemonade, as well as some addicting strawberry juice.
Fifth stop: Humous
We’ve heard so much about Jerusalem’s famous humous, so as sworn Abu Hassan fans from Tel Aviv, we were eager to see what all the fuss what about.
We stopped at Arbess (chick peas in Yiddish), a hip joint where lots of young people hang out, which offers what I call “New Age humous.” The subtle flavor and aesthetic presentation of Arbess’s humous made for a pretty cool experience.
Sixth stop: For dessert – more meat
The last stop on our tour was Hatzot (Midnight), another veteran Israeli food establishment, which specializes in the traditional Jerusalem mixed-meat dish known locally as me’urav yerushalmi. Hatzot started out as a lunch restaurant for neighborhood workers but has been turned into a bistro that also offers amazing desserts. With the Yalla Basta card, one is eligible to taste Hatzot’s amazing meatball sandwich.
Whether you buy the taste card or not, there are an endless number of places to explore in Mahaneh Yehuda. A few more spots you should definitely not skip include Rozmarin, a spice shop that has been in the family for generations but manages to keep up with trends. Also visit the Iraqi Middle Eastern Culture Club and peek in at the men sitting around tables playing backgammon. And if you love all the salads served with meals at Israeli meat restaurants, then you should definitely not skip the Market Parliament, where local shop owners and residents come to relax.
Taste the most unique date arak you’ve ever had and, while you’re at it, catch up on municipal politics and gossip.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
Location: Jerusalem
Type of outing:
Walking through a market, appropriate for the whole family
3-4 hours
All year long
For more information:
NIS 99 for 6 tastings