by: Sarah Yoder, BFP Staff Writer
One of the most delightful pillars of Israeli society is the concept of the shuk (marketplace). These vibrant outdoor markets thrive under Israel’s sunny skies, offering everything from the freshest local goods to handmade souvenirs and eateries that delight foodies from all over the world. Vendors call on passersby to sample their goods and haggle for the best price. And just as in Bible times, the shuk functions as both the food market and the gathering place for locals and visitors alike. A stroll through the shuk is as much a cultural experience as it is a shopping trip, because herein lies an ongoing celebration of the fruit of the land and a fresh lifestyle that influences everything else.
Israel’s Most Popular Markets
While you can find a shuk in cities all across Israel, there are a few that stand out in popularity. Arguably the most beloved shuk in all of Israel, the Machane Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. Known simply as the shuk by Jerusalemites, Machane Yehuda offers an overwhelming plethora of aromas and colors within its crowded maze of shops. With more than 250 vendors to choose from, you will find everything from seasonal produce to locally sourced meat, cheese, nuts, baked goods and spices. And with the ever-increasing variety of top-chef restaurants, coffee shops, homegrown breweries and farm-to-table establishments, there is something here for everyone’s taste buds.
Less than a 10-minute walk from the beach, Shuk Hacarmel (Carmel Market) is the largest and busiest market in Tel Aviv. In recent years, this shuk has evolved from its roots as a produce hub to one of the trendiest spots in Tel Aviv. The Carmel Market offers everything from local goods to electronics and is also a popular spot for clothing shopping. With its growing number of boutique stalls, this market feels much more contemporary than the shuk in Jerusalem, but nevertheless it offers the same stimulating blend of traditional marketplace and urban hub.
Perhaps the most antiquated of Israel’s markets is the old city shuk in the city of Akko. This stunning port city is known for its ancient Crusader sites, and the architecture around its main marketplace tells of a rich history in the Middle East. Nestled right along the Mediterranean coast, the shuk in Akko is bursting with exotic smells such as rosewater and zaatar spices. In addition to offering the freshest produce and specialty herbs, it’s also famous for its hummus eatery—Hummus Said—hotly debated by some as the best hummus in all of Israel.
Every Day Fresh
The concept of a fresh air market is intrinsic to Israel because of the value it places on nurturing the fruit of the land. Thanks to greenhouses, advanced refrigeration techniques and the cultivation of different varieties, an incredible selection of fresh produce is available year-round in Israel. Staple produce such as lettuce, carrots, peppers, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons and apples can always be found freshly stocked in every corner market throughout Israel. And because Israel imports a very small portion of produce, you can be sure that the majority of produce is grown locally. Consequently, each month brings a new variety of seasonal produce, making trips to a local shuk all the more exciting as the selection changes. Here is a quick (non-exhaustive) overview of the produce that is in season in Israel from month to month.
Mangold, Pomelo, Citrus fruits
Asparagus, Kumquat, Passion fruit, Rhubarb
Blood Orange, Chickpea, Fresh Garlic
Papaya, Cherry, Nectarine, Peach, Watermelon, Winter Squash
Apricot, Okra, Pineapple, Plum
Blackberry, Mango, Raspberry
Avocado, Dragon Fruit, Fresh Date, Sabra
Pomegranate, Banana, Lime, Pear
Star Fruit, Guava, Kiwi, Persimmon
Strawberry, Baby Artichoke
In 2020, Israel ranked 10th on the Bloomberg Global Health Index of the healthiest countries in the world. This comes as no surprise when you factor in the abundance of fresh foods available and the infusion of the Mediterranean diet, which consistently ranks as the healthiest diet, according to the U.S. News & World Report. Nutritionists around the world rave about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and research shows that people living in Mediterranean regions are far less susceptible to heart disease, obesity and diabetes. This is primarily due to the plant-based nature of the Mediterranean diet, which puts precedence on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This plant-based focus also makes the Mediterranean diet one of the most sustainable eating lifestyles that naturally cultivates a culture of fresh.
Taste and See
I am continually inspired by the way that Israel stewards the fruit of its land and upholds a commitment to eating fresh and local. Every time I take a stroll through one of Israel’s markets or enjoy a freshly chopped Israeli salad I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (34:8a).
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