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Tastes of Jerusalem

July 7, 2015

by: Ilse Posselt, BFP News Correspondent

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There are many sights in the Promised Land that capture your heart like nowhere else on earth. The flag of Israel unfurling against the white stones of the Western Wall, the silhouette of ancient fishing boats, bobbing hazily on the Sea of Galilee and the tiny cobbled streets weaving through Jerusalem’s Old City have all left many a spectator—including me—breathless in sheer delight.

Yet there is another, often surprising, entry that tops my favorite-spots-in-the-Holy-Land list: the Mahane Yehuda Market. Known to locals simply as the shuk, Israel’s largest open air market is tucked into the heart of downtown Jerusalem. Bustling with vendors, teeming with life and bursting with the brilliant colors of the fresh fruit and vegetables that spring forth from Israeli soil, the shuk has become almost synonymous with the City of Gold’s unique charm.

Stepping into the crisscross maze of lanes and alleyways that house the stalls of the shuk is like crossing a threshold—from the predictable everyday life into a wonderland of the best and brightest tastes, sounds and smells that Israel has to offer. The variety can be dazzling. No matter what you are looking for, chances are you will find it from one of the 300 odd vendors.

Say the word “market” and the picture of row upon row of crunchy, farm-fresh produce immediately springs to mind. At Mahane Yehuda, you are guaranteed to find just that— mounds of luscious grapes, cherries, plums and all kinds of fruity deliciousness struggle for shelf space with giant cabbages, iridescent eggplants and cheeky cherry tomatoes. Plump olives flavored with lashings of chili, lemon and garlic glisten next to barrels of almonds, pistachios and succulent dates. Nowhere is Israel’s status as agricultural marvel of the world more clearly on display.

Yet fruits and vegetables are but the mere beginnings of the gastronomic delights you can expect to encounter at the shuk. The maddeningly enticing smell of sweet and savory pastries—hot from the oven—is your constant companion as you browse from vendor to vendor. It follows you around the nooks and crannies until you finally succumb and sink your teeth into the flaky pastry wrapped around warm chocolate or salty cheese.

Tiny mountains of herbs and spices spill proudly from the doors of specialty stores—a promise of the merchandise to be found within. Stall owners linger close by, quick with a hearty invitation to step inside, to have a taste of the exotic spice mixtures that turn an ordinary pot of rice, a monotonous meat dish or a standard roast chicken into a Middle Eastern taste sensation.

Mahane Yehuda is famous for its local delicacies like halva and hummus, for cheeses to satisfy even the most discerning pallet, for homemade pesto, olive oil, fresh fish and choice cuts of meat. If it is eatable and delicious, this is the place where you will find it. Yet the shuk is not simply a foodie’s delight. Over the years a number of boutiques, jewelers, leather merchants and the like have found a home amongst the stores and stalls of Mahane Yehuda.

It is this impressive array of product offerings that draws a weekly crowd of some 200,000 visitors. For some, this is where their daily shopping is done. Others simply come to look, to taste and to experience. It is, after all, at the shuk where you will find the best of local Israeli produce—and where you will encounter a slice of life as a Jerusalemite.

An eclectic mix of restaurants and tiny three-table coffee shops offer the perfect vantage point from which to settle in for an afternoon of people watching. The food and drink offerings found on the menu are often as diverse as the life you see bustling around you.

The shuk is a place of untold tasty treats, unforgettable memories and enchanting encounters simply waiting to be unwrapped. Yet none of these delights are the reason for the Mahane Yehuda Market topping my favorite-spots-in-the-Holy-Land list.

The shuk is the place where God’s fulfilled promise is clearly on display. Through the ancient prophet Isaiah, He vowed that when He returned the Jewish people to the land of their promise, the desolate earth would “blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6).

God kept His promise. From the four corners of the earth, the Jewish people are coming home to Israel. And the land that had lain barren for generations is filling the world— and the stalls of Mahane Yehuda—with a dazzling array of fruit, vegetables and flowers. The desert is blooming. At the shuk you see the undeniable (and tasty) proof of a faithful God keeping His promise—lavishly, abundantly and in full.

Photo Credit: Photos by Daniel Johnson/Jeannette van der Merwe/Precious Fleming/bridgesforpeace.com

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