Israel Food Trip: Machane Yehuda – Old Market of Jerusalem


Ashtanur Bakery, 125 Agripas St

It’s a shame that many Church groups that travel all the way to Israel to visit the Holy sites should miss the opportunity to visit the other attractions that Israel has to offer. I find that you often discover the pulse of a nation when you visit their markets and Jerusalem is no exception. In our tour of Israel we visited a total of five markets, but the one that was most interesting for me was the Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem. If you do get a few hours of “free and easy” time, this is the one place that I would highly recommend! You can even buy a prepaid ticket for around $30 gets you a map and a punchcard and you can work your way around the market to sample the foodstuff including cheeses, drinks, nuts and breads!


Speaking of breads, I should alert you to an old bread “shack” that is located along Agripas street just a short way from the entrance of Machane Yehuda market which I think is worth a short detour before you tour the market proper. Here you will find a very unique Iraqi style Ashtanur bread which is made in a fashion that is very similar to tandoori naan except that instead of being soft and chewy, it is crisp and light.


Bread is never thrown away

If you walk around the vicinity of Machane Yehuda, you might notice something very peculiar. There seems to be half eaten loaves of bread just left around everywhere. This is not because they don’t have a $500 fine for littering like what we have here in Singapore, but that bread is a food that is essential to life and so it is never thrown away in the garbage but left out in the open so that it will feed the birds and other animals. No wonder Jesus prayed: “….. give us this day our daily bread!” and later on told his disciples: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 It’s importance in Jewish society cannot be underestimated.

Right after our bread excursion, our guide led us to Machane Yehuda market proper. As I alluded to earlier, this place is bustling with energy! If you come on a Friday just before the Shabbat (Sabbath) which starts at 6pm, it will be full of people stocking up for Shabbat.

If you intend to visit Israel, make sure that you arrange your itinerary so that you don’t have anything you really want to do on a Saturday cos on Saturday, the whole of Israel literally stops. Well, at least in Jerusalem it does, more than Tel Aviv. There are no public buses and most attractions are closed including Machane Yehuda market.

On Friday evening, most children (adults) would make it a point to go visit their parents to light the candles say their prayers and break bread. They will do this even if they have arranged dinner somewhere else which seldom happens. This tradition really keeps the Jews connected to their cultural roots and is something that I am very impressed with.


Etrog the medicine man

Near the Agripas Street entrance to Machane Yehuda is a very interesting shop where you can Etrog the medicine man. He is what you might call a naturopath and he is quite a character.

He started the tour of his little shop by telling us the very sad story of his pet goat. When he was a toddler, he was a pretty scrawny and so his mother made him drink milk directly from the teat of the family goat like her other kids (goat kids). So he literally grew up drinking milk from that goat. In 1948, when Israel became a nation, the family who were part of the Jewish diaspora in Yeman decided to migrate to Israel. So they killed the goat and ate it! But they managed to keep its horns in memory of her!

The medicine man bellowed out a long sustained laugh, stopped abruptly and then proceeded to ask my fellow blogger Joelene to close her eyes while he waved the goat’s horns over her head all the while chanting something in Hebrew.

“Ah, now you feel peaceful right? RIGHT? WHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHA!”

It was entertaining to say the least as over the next 15 mins or so, the medicine man introduce us to all manner of herbs and sprays that can cure anything from migranes to menstrual cramps.

After the performance, lots of laughter and a few fresh fruit drinks, the show ended and we all left for our next destination, our minds rejuvenated, our complexions smoother and our breaths smelling of citrus from the mist he sprayed into our mouths.

No one bought anything.


Kugel

As we continued our way through the market, we are constantly reminded that Jewish cuisine really is a mixture of the different types of cuisines which the Jewish diaspora brought back from the countries they were living in. So for instance the Kugel is a dish of baked noodles, eggs and caramel made by Ashkenazi Jews who adapted it from a German recipe for the Shabbat. Since no cooking can be done during the Shabbat, they would bake these before the start of the Shabbat and eat it together with pickles.


Halva Kingdom

One of the very popular stalls at the market is Halva Kingdom which as been selling the sweet sesame dessert since 1947. They make all the halva themselves using quality Egyptian sesame seeds and in a variety of flavours including coffee, chocolate, pistachios, almond etc etc. It tastes a bit like those crumbly peanut biscuits that we served during Chinese New Year. Very tasty but very sweet. Good for those with a sweet tooth.


Basher’s Fromagerie

Cheese is a very important part of the Jewish diet as it is a form of protein that is kosher. Because Jewish laws do not permit the mixing of meat with dairy, they would often eat cheese instead of meat. So it is not surprising that Basher’s Fromagerie has one of the largest selection of cheeses in the world. Here you can find 800 different cheese from all around the world! And, you can walk into the shop and do a sampling for a small fee! We got to try the pesto infused gouda which was very interesting. My favourite was the Gruyere which was sweet and nutty. They also showed us a 12 year old Gouda which was packed with umami! Basher’s Fromagerie is one of the stops included in the prepaid ticket, so it make sense to go online and buy these before you visit!

Read Part I, Part 2 and Part 4 of my Israel Food Trip!

This trip was sponsored by Taste of Israel

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