A first glance, Machane Yehuda market – or simply the “Shuk” to locals – looks shabby, a sort of a slapdash jumble of stalls selling bright vegetables, fresh fish, dried fruits, spices and a few shops selling kippas, plastic housewares, conservative clothes, Ethiopian baskets. But don’t let the junky exterior fool you: The Shuk is home to the most delicious foods in all of Jerusalem. Here’s a guide to show you where to eat to your heart’s content, everything from Georgian hatchipuri to the most creative flavors of ice cream in the city.
But first a little history: The market dates back to the end of the Ottoman period. In the late 19th Century, vendors starting selling vegetables on the land where the Shuk is in order to serve the folks who were increasingly moving the surrounding area, as it was just becoming a thing to live outside of the protective walls of the Old City. (The Old City is a few miles from the Shuk). During the British Mandate period, a mayor of Jerusalem apparently hated the site of the shacks and shoddy stalls that defined the popular Shuk, and so he hired an architect to create a more formal design which included architectural upgrades like walls and gates and archways. But because of a lack of funds, none of this happened, and thus the Shuk’s ramshackle charm has endured.
Okay, here are my favorites. Eat and drink all of these things if you get a chance.
This is my favorite thing to eat in all of Jerusalem. Hatchipuri is a Georgian-style cheese-filled bread bowl topped with a runny egg and a pat of butter. Don’t even think about getting the hatchipuri without the egg. (There’s another option too, where a little spinach is mixed in with the cheese, and it’s yum). The hatchipuri is baked fresh on the spot, so you’ll need to wait about ten minutes for your piping hot bread bowl of heaven. To eat, you break off a piece of fresh hot crust, which will burn your fingers, dip that hunk in egg and butter, swirl it around a bit, get some cheese on there, and voila, a perfect bite of crunchy, creamy, salty delight. The egg continues to cook and by the end, you have an amazing cheesy scrambled egg pizza. 5 HaShikma St.
Rachmo is one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in the Shuk. Its hummus is one of my favorites in the city – it’s heavy on the tahini and smooth as can be. I liked it topped with their tumeric-spiked mushrooms. This is classic Middle Eastern comfort food – kubbeh, grape leaves, meat balls – all served out of big pots in this homey and old-fashioned feeling Iraqi cafeteria-style restaurant. 5 Haeshkol Street.
This Lebanese joint on a busy street in the Shuk offers a great perch for people-watching and the softest most luxurious eggplant you’ll ever have. It’s been roasting for six hours in an oven called a taboon. It’s then covered in creamy tahini and a squeeze of lemon. This is a full-service restaurant so there are lots of things on the menu, and I’ve heard the mujadra here is quite good. Etz Hayyim St.
Get a sampler wheel of six Israeli beers, park on a bar stool facing out into the Shuk and watch West Jerusalem shop for bread and produce. An hour here sipping a wheat beer such as the Wheatney and watching people sneeze on the fruit stand stand next door convinced me to only ever buy covered fruits and nuts. Germaphobes beware, but still it’s a super perch for people watching and always a fun scene. And the selection of Israeli craft beers is great. Sit on the back patio for a more chilled-out vibe. Etz Hayyim St 3.
This Yemenite sandwich place might be named after one of its sandwiches, the jahnun, but get the malawich, which features amazing flaky flat bread cooked fresh on a hot skillet and then spread with delicious sauces, a hard boiled egg and veggies. It’s a saucy, flaky, greasy marvel and exactly what you’d want if you were nursing a hangover. Etz Hayyim St 3. There’s also another location in City Center.
I love this Kurdish savory pastry restaurant. You pick which type of pastry filling you want – like brisket or veal cheek, or for vegetarians/vegans: The black lentil, sweet potato, and green onion option – and the dough is filled, folded, and fired in a huge old oven. The pastry is perfectly crunchy, the filling chocked full of flavor, and it’s served with dips and salads. You also probably want to get the fries, because they’re very good. HaShikma 1.
I promised Mr. Em in Jerusalem that I’d include Morris in here, because it’s his favorite Shuk eatery but he usually goes there without me because this alleyway dive is a a meat-lover’s dream (especially if you’re into turkey testicles and chicken livers). For the more mainstream, get the goose, beef, or salmon kababs, which are all served with with loads of dips and fresh salads. Corner of HaCharuv and HuTut Streets.
While you won’t get a ton of locally produced cheeses here, the (rather flirtatious) folks at this shop will ply you with endless samples of rich European delicacies like crème caramel and gorgonzola dulce cheese. You can sip a glass of wine while you sample the wide selection of cheeses. Then, you’ll be kind of tipsy so you’ll hardly even mind that you dropped $86 on fine take-home cheeses. 53 Etz HaChaim St.
I usually get a coffee at Roasters each time I’m in the Shuk, and a bag of beans to go. If they’re not too busy, you can get a robust pour-over coffee, and that’s a rarity in Jerusalem. Also, Roaster’s cold brew is really good and hits the spot on a hot day.
This ice cream shop specializes in creative flavors like masala, basil, black sesame, wasabi, and they often use fresh and seasonal fruit from the market for sorbets. Their passionfruit sorbet tastes exactly like summer. 6 HaEshkol.
Marzipan Bakery and Pastry
I’m sure everything at this bakery is tasty, but want you really want is a to-go box of the freshly baked, ooey gooey, insanely delicious chocolate rugalach and you want to bring them home to your couch, put your sweatpants on, pour a glass of milk and have an I don’t want to say “life changing” moment of decadent consumption, but yeah, it is sort of life-changing. Maybe go to the gym before. Agripas 44.
Day and night in the Shuk are, well, as different as night and day. Every night except Shabbat, the Shuk turns into an open air bar, essentially, where very young people sit atop empty vegetable tables and sip beers bought from a handful of open places. Thursday nights are a scene. But alas, it’s been a minute since I was 19, and so I prefer to do my drinking in the Shuk in a chair in a proper bar, like Casino de Paris or Yudale.
To Jerusalem’s delicious Shuk,
Em in Jerusalem
*Note: The featured photo on this post is from The Touch of Sound, which is a cool site featuring sound recordings from places around the world.