Markets feature heavily throughout our travels, so it was no surprise to my husband when I suggested visiting Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s sprawling open-air market district, in search of dinner.
At Mahane Yehuda, much is for sale, from piping hot bread that was still in the oven 3 minutes ago to designer olive oil to pickled herring favored by the Jewish community. And though we spotted a handful of fellow tourists, the patrons of this market were largely locals shopping seriously. Twice we arrived during the evenings, just as the afterwork crowds were buying ingredients for their dinners and the vendors had just started marking down fresh produce to urge quicker sales. The pace was understandably frenetic as the day came to an end, and the whir of business that surrounded us, layered with the scents, sounds and colors, was intoxicating.
All that food on display intensified our hunger that we sought to quell at eateries both within the market and along the side streets bordering it.
Hatzot (123 Agrippas St) is a restaurant famous for meorav yerushalmi (aka Jerusalem mixed grill), a mélange of onions, chicken meat and organs. One could either order it in a pita to go or sit down in the simply decorated dining room for a dinner that begins with a generous spread of Israeli salads,
proceeds to Middle Eastern appetizers like an absolutely lovely grilled eggplant, its smokiness accentuated by the nuttiness of the thick sesame sauce and the crisp freshness of torn parsley,
and ends with the pièce de résistance, a big plate of meat and organs (heart and spleen in particular), served sizzling hot and fragrant from the spices and the sweetness of the soft caramelized onions. Portions are filling especially with the carb-heavy rice and potato sides and the savory flavors are anything but subtle. Don’t believe me? The lingering scent from the grill that sticks to one’s clothes may convince you otherwise.
As much as the market is about tradition, it is also the breeding ground for many new businesses, food-related or otherwise. Besides their fruit or spice selling neighbors are cafes that would not look out of place in the West Village or the Marais, pasta shops, tapas bars and even a fish and chips stand called somewhat uncreatively Fishenchips (12 HaEgoz St).
I guess the owners rationed their creative juices to come up with the colorful menu-book and the various seafood fishes that went beyond the basic fish, chips and beer formula (which incidentally all tables except ours were eating). We were a little apprehensive about eating salad at a fish and chips shop (don’t ask), but luckily the greens were fresh and sweet, tossed with a vaguely Thai sweet and spicy dressing. The fat panko-crust batons of cod were fantastic too.
An even more out-of-the-box order was the shakshuka, or what I called eggs in purgatory. The tomato and pepper stew, redolent with the sweetness of the fresh vegetables and the spiciness of cumin, made for a light but satisfying supper, though the eggs would have been better barely poached than fully broiled.
Traveling with my husband meant that dessert was more likely to be fresh fruit than something buttery and sugary. But for those not policing their calorie intakes, a trip to the market is not complete without buying a few sweet tidbits, be it fat Israeli dates or crescents of chocolatey rugelach and other pastries.
Hatzot: 123 Agrippas St, Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem
Fishenchips: 12 Haegoz St, Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem