Machane Yehuda

Anthony Bourdain, noted chef and world travel show host, opines that in order to really get to know a culture, you must visit the markets of the cities. There you can find the building blocks of a culture; it’s people, ingredients, and cuisine. One morning through the streets of Machane Yehuda, and you’ll see a glimpse into the cultures and histories of Israel barely contained by two main thoroughfares and a warren of connecting side streets.

Welcome to Machane Yehuda, the pulse of Jerusalem.

Machane Yehuda is old, new, yuppie, yishuv, gentrified, fossilized, fresh, preserved, pickled, smoked, polished, and tarnished. Every sense is assaulted and your brain tries desperately to sort out the firehose of sensory information that has been turned on it (“I see halavah, but I smell fish…”). For some people it’s overwhelming, but for me, I thrive on it. It recharges my creative batteries.

I move slowly through the streets, absorbing the information coming at me from all sides.  If I’m looking for something specific, I’ll note prices for comparison. I’ll always notice the newest produce in the market. Sometimes, I’ll spot an ingredient that I’ve never seen in Israel before (daikon, heirloom tomatoes), or notice two things randomly sitting adjacent to one another and start imagining how they might taste together.

I’ll always wander down specific side streets, such as the butcher’s street, to see what interesting things I can find there. I’ll test myself with the different items on display.

The vendor I go to for spices is B’Shekvitz. He earned my patronage by being patient with my questions and having things that other stores didn’t, like my wife’s favorite coffee. They also own the large spice shop on Yaffo, the one with the coffee bar inside. Sure there are other spice stores, but one is too pushy, the other too expensive, the other too dirty…

Buying cheese in Machane Yehuda is a bit of a religious/political issue. Bashir is not kosher. It does not have a teudah. Emmental (the shop, not the cheese)  is not kosher, it also does not have a teudah. I say all this knowing full well that there are people who are going to flip out and argue with me. Don’t bother. If not having a teudat kashrut isn’t enough of a reason, with respect to Bashir, I’ve seen actual non-kosher items in the shop. I read an article where he admits to not having certification pridefully. I’m all in favor of him wanting to expand people’s cheese palettes, but not at the expense of causing people to eat non-kosher. I will gladly defend this in the comments.

Ma’adanei Tzidkiyahu (79 Etz HaChaim St.) is kosher. So, I patronize that shop. I get a varied assortment of cheeses from the major cuisines and I’m happy with his prices. What I don’t understand is why they don’t have a slicing machine.

Fish shopping in Machane Yehuda is fun. Well, it is now that I can recognize everything and know the names of the varieties, so it’s less intimidating, anyway. There is rarely a fishy smell as I wander past stalls brimming with the bounty of the sea displayed on ice, and I don’t have to look at a single crustacean. As I mentioned in my post on striped red mullet, I like A.R. Dagim. There’s a much larger and more popular fish shop with a wider variety, but I got into an argument with the guy working behind the counter about what a denis was (Gilt Head Sea Bream, pictured below, far right), so I don’t shop there. On the other hand, they have sushi-quality fish in the back. There’s another fish shop that was trying to sell me “white tuna,” and I was too flustered and confused to realize that he meant albacore.

Bread and baked goods in Machane Yehuda are one of the most eye-catching offerings in the market. Fresh pita bread, lafa, injera, rolls and sweet baked goods are sometimes so close together, you can float from one shop’s cloud of ethereal perfume to another without your toes touching the ground. The first right you can make on the uncovered street from the Yafo side will lead you to the Iraqi shuk. On the left is a bread shop that is an absolute must to stop at and smell.



18 thoughts on “Machane Yehuda”

  1. usually get there 2 or 3 times a week. Bashkevitz is my spice store as well – they've been there since 1937 or so! David Dagim for sushi quality fish, fresh herbs a couple of stores further down, eggs in the covered market (1/3 of the way up on the left from Aggripas end), pittot straight from the oven 20 for NIS 10 – again in the covered market but closer to Yafo. Do you buy meat in the market and if so where?

    1. I've only bought ground beef there a couple of times, nowhere in particular. I've been tempted to buy intestines for my own sausages. My wife does most of the meat shopping.

    2. ok – I usually go to Magzimov – coming from Yafo in the open shuk they're one of the alleys on the left. Very decent people. I learned an interesting trick there – ground beef, with a small amount of lamb fat ground into it tastes just like lamb but considerably cheaper!!

  2. Great article. Enjoyed reading it very much and I especially loved the " I see halvah, but smell fish" Comment! Does the cheese store Tzidkiyahu have cheddar cheese which is Mehadrin- I've never found aany in Israel?

  3. From anonymous:

    You say that Bashir is not kosher. They do not have a hechsher as they have many different kashrut hechshers on their cheese that can not be on one hechsher. every cheese has it's own hechsher from the country that it comes from he is able to show you the hechsher. this does not make the shop not kosher.

    1) I have asked on a particular cheese (1000 days; it's an aged Basque gouda) and gotten an evasive response.
    2) I have seen products in his store (not cheese) that contain actual treif.
    3) Between "lifnei iver" and "tinok shenishbar" his practice of not being up front is detrimental to shoppers who are unaware.

    If anyone has actually been presented with a teudah of a cheese in Bashir, please comment. Otherwise, I've heard that a few times without corroboration.

    To be dan l'kav zechut, I'm going later today, and I'm going to check again.

    1. yes. I was sold cheese their by both the owner and one of the kippah-wearing employees after being presented with a paper teuda for the cheese – but no hechsher on the cheese itself. I felt suspicious afterwords and got in touch with the cheese company in France and then the Mashgiach from the Bet Din of Paris who oversees certain runs there. The cheese they sold me was definitely treif, and they knew that. They will say whatever they want to say to get people to shop there…if not only for kashrut concerns, consider patronizing more honest and ethical people…

    2. I was told in Basher that a certain English Cheddar is kosher and certified by the London Beit Din, after following up with the London Beit Din, I was informed that it is in fact not kosher, and they subsequently informed the Kashrut authorities in Israel who released an update. At the time it was on the shelves at both Tzidkiyahu and Basher. Tzidkiyahu have since removed it, Basher have not. As much as i would love to shop at Basher, it is impossible to know for sure what is kosher and what is not, without doing your own research. When it comes to cheese, I stick to Tzidkiyahu.

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