If you’ve ever had a fantasy of visiting an ancient marketplace, but loathe time travel, this is the place for you.
Mahane Yehuda is an ancient market in a modern world. It is a place where you can buy everything from candy (in bulk) to underwear, socks and rubber chickens. There are alleyways packed with trinkets, food and spices of every kind. But that is not what you need to see. What you need to see is something that can’t be seen. It’s something that you feel. Culture, history and time converging in a bizarre mix of multicolored, multishaped people, from every corner of the globe. Young and old, fat and thin, rich and poor.
The routine of daily shopping here is unchanged by history. Centuries of people have gone to the market daily to shop, to open their shops. The creaking metal folding handcarts pushed by old men today, may as well be the wooden carts pushed down the Roman Cardo two centuries ago.
We all have to eat. Here you can eat well. Fresh exotic fruits, baked goods, imported cheeses, and oh my god the olives. They have dozens and dozens of olives. Lemon olives. Garlic greens. My personal favorite are the dry cured ones. They are less oily, less vinegary, compressed and flavor packed.
If you do not wish to cook, there are vendors who will sell you a complete home cooked meal – ladling soup to rival your grandmother’s out of steaming cauldrons and into to-go containers until the soup’s all gone. Or have a seat at one of the tiny in-market tiny outposts of established restaurants. They offer a selection of their best dishes. For me, the stuffed vegetables at Ima were worth a second trip back.
What I remembered most from my decades ago trip to the market are these rugelach-like pastries. They are yeasty, not too sweet. The filling is a chocolate and date honey combination that tastes of caramel. The bees swarm to them, along with the humans. They are just one of many choices in pastries. You could spend a year in Jerusalem tasting pastries.
What else? Halvah wheels. Granola. Rows and rows of fresh eggs. Massive bones for soup and stew. Mountains of juicy necatarines. Fresh fish. Hardware. Ferocious feral cats that hide under crates and sunbathe on stoops.
And a piece of my heart, of course. It’s all there.