professional water polo Glimpses of local culture at Israel markets
JERUSALEM Israel had been on my bucket list for some time, so when the Air Transat folks invited me to tour that country with a group of Canadian journalists, I didn’t hesitate. Israel is a new destination for Air Transat, and seasonal direct flights from Montreal to Tel Aviv (with connections from Toronto) will begin June 18.
I fully expected to be wowed by Israel’s iconic religious sites and ancient architecture, but somehow I had missed the memo that Israel has become a major foodie destination.
Food writing is not my forte. I leave that to Rita DeMontis, the Sun’s guru of all things food related. I do, however, love food markets not only for the edibles but also for the glimpse of local culture they provide. I try to check out a couple on every trip.
On my recent visit to Israel, two very different markets made big impressions: Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem and Sarona market in Tel Aviv.
MARKET BY DAY, HIPSTER HANGOUT BY NIGHT
On weekdays, Mahane Yehuda market aka “the shuk” bustles with buyers and sellers.
Dating to the late 1800s, today it’s Jerusalem’s largest market and a “go to” spot for locals and visitors. More than 250 stalls overflow with grocery staples and prepared foods fresh vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, olives, spices, nuts, teas, halva in every flavour imaginable, just caught fish, meat, cheeses, bread, pastries, sweets, wine, liquor, and more.
In addition, market restaurants and cafes serve up tasty bites and sips everything from savouries such as kebabs, falafel, shawarma, even dim sum, to sweets like baklava, artisan ice cream, freshly squeezed juices, espresso, mint tea, wine and craft beers. There are also places to buy household goods, gifts, clothing and shoes,
as well as cooking workshops.
But unlike other traditional markets, which typically wind down after dark, this central Jerusalem institution gears up when the sun goes down.
A growing number of recently opened restaurants and bars several with live music stay open late and attract a young crowd for a night out, says Dado Shalom, our guide for a late day market tour.
“This market is the hottest bar scene in Jerusalem,” Shalom tells us over a cappuccino at Roasters a cafe by day and a bar at night.
“It’s like one big bar every night. Every week, new places open,” he adds.
Sure enough, as the food stalls start to close and the grocery shoppers thin out, the after work crowd begins to arrive.
And when the vendors shutter their stalls for the night, a funky gallery of street art emerges. More than 100 metal shutters along the market’s narrow covered alleyways have been spray painted with murals many of famous figures such as former Israeli prime ministers David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, or celebrities such as filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
But this is not graffiti. The colourful murals are the work of Banksy inspired artist Solomon Souza, whose partner in the project, Berel Hahn, obtains permission to paint from shop owners, Shalom says.
The entire “Shuk Gallery” is most visible on Saturdays, when except for a few restaurants and cafes the market stalls are closed for Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, when most businesses close from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday. If you plan to taste while you tour, the market’s “Bite Card” allows you to try six different dishes.
Located in the city’s business district, Sarona is not a typical “market.”
There are no winding alleys or stall keepers shouting out prices to shoppers. Instead, Sarona is a sleek glass enclosed epicurean food hall with 91 shops, stalls and restaurants.
While visitors will find some of the usual market staples organic local produce, and high quality meat and seafood among its well curated collection are: A fromagerie selling Israeli and imported cheeses, specialty beer and wine boutiques, including one specializing in French champagne, an outpost of Fauchon, the famous Paris gourmet emporium, several delicatessens, spices from around the globe, and specialty kitchenware boutiques.
Sarona Market is the place to go for everything from delicate macarons, delectable French pastries, Italian coffee, handmade chocolate and gelato to prepared foods from pizza, pasta and curries to Bavarian sausages, sushi and ramen noodles.
During our visit on a warm day, one of the ice cream shops was doing a brisk business creating towers of mini waffles with ice cream and sundae sauce.
Unlike many places in Israel, it’s open seven days per week so weekends are particularly busy.
In addition to the new flights, Transat has a number of guided tours focused on ancient history and religion,
and one week vacation packages.