Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Touring Middle East 9: Walking Around the Local Market

It's unfortunate that we didn't spend quite enough time to explore the modern side of Jerusalem, as one can never see the full picture of this town so steep in history just by looking at century-old buildings and artifacts in the Old City and other religious sites in the proximity. We tried to spend as much free time as we could exploring on our own, but we probably hardly scratched the surface in such a short period of time.

Whether you are a foodie or not, I reckon a visit to the Mahane Yeduda market is a must just to get a feel of the cultural diversity of this city. The two long, parallel streets (Etz Chaim and Mahane Yehuda) formed the majority of the marketplace, filled with stores selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to meats and seafood, from dried food to clothes to jewelry, interlacing with scores of bakeries, cafes and bars in between and within a few blocks next to the market.

We went on one late afternoon when the market was still busy with shoppers doing last-minute grocery shopping before dinner. The sight of the colorful fresh produce always delight us with plenty opportunities for pictures, and we were curious at all the nuts and herbs piled like little pyramids at the stalls with shopkeepers yelling and screaming to attract people's attention. The scene was chaotic, but not to the point of out-of-control which very much reminded me of our "wet markets" back home.

I only had a couple items that I need to buy so I went straight to them as we wandered around. First stall we stopped by was Halva Kingdom with a few branches inside the market specializing in Tahini, the sesame paste widely used in local cuisine, and Halva, the dense, heavenly sweets made with Tahini and sugar, available in many flavors. I was just planning to fetch some Tahini and go but I ended up sampling some of the Halva and picked up a couple. They were unbelievably delicious, especially the whisky flavor which I picked up a big slab, and nothing like the generic halva we tried before. 

Then I walked into a shop selling all kinds of herbs. I want to get my hand into some Middle-eastern cooking when I got home so I need some spices and herbs. There were way too many varieties to choose from but I figure a bottle of za'atar - the most typical blend - is a good place to start for dishes like hummus or stew or as topping on bread.

After some time I am sure the sights of many Jerusalem landmark will become vague in my memory, but I will probably still have the scene of the busy streets at Mahane Yehuda Market firmly in my mind.

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