Jerusalem's open-air market, Mahane Yehuda, has in recent years grown to be a bona fide mainstream tourist destination among Israelis and international arrivals alike.
Known to Jerusalemites as simply the shuk (market) or "Machne" (an amorous slurring and truncating of the proper title), Mahane Yehuda is Israel's most sprawling and buzzing network of alleys and vending stalls.
The allure here is the intoxicating mix of Jerusalem colors and flavors, where 80-year-old Kurdish immigrants peddle Kenyan coffee beans by the kilo to South American Hasidim, and tank-top-clad Colorado-bred hippies squeeze almond juice to order for Armenian monks.
Only at Mahane Yehuda do espresso bars, photography galleries and fashion boutiques vie for space with butchers, percolator repairmen and okra vendors, and it's this buzz-inducing brew that draws camera-toting crowds.
Today, Mahane Yehuda is more accessible and more thoroughly documented than ever before, as the recently launched comprehensive Machne.co.il website's interactive maps, interviews with vendors and bookable themed tours attest. Last week marked the launch of Machne's English-language launch, increasing the market's reach many times over.
It’s easy to match tastes and budgets with an unforgettable few hours in the shuk. Whether you fancy trying imported cheeses, marbled halva, folk tonics, boutique olive oils, handcrafted breads, sweets, organic wines and spirits, or want to combine a guided shopping trip in the shuk with a chef-led cooking workshop, Machne’s website allows users to arrange it.
One of the most compelling Machne offerings is Shuk Bites, a self-guided tour of some of the best tastes of the market. Online customers can already buy the Shuk Bites punch-card with an easy-to-follow map and a list of ten stalls which offer tantalizing morsels of food or drink plus colorful stories. Purchasers of the Shuk Bites tour mosey through the market at their own pace and in any order they wish, enjoying several hundred shekels' worth of merchandise, and entertainment, for a highly affordable price tag of NIS 99.
Machne co-founder Reuven Pilo, who also serves as director of boutique travel firm More Tourism & Gastronomy, says that the site’s aim is to promote both the market a whole and its individual personalities. “If you bring people to the market, they see that it’s the most beautiful market in Israel,” he promises.
Gastronomic tourism through the market has seen a great increase in the past three years which Pilo attributes to increased media focus on epicurean subjects.
Pilo himself visits the shuk two to three times per week on business, in addition to a Friday trip for some shopping and eating. Some of his favorite stops in Mahane Yehuda have long-standing reputations. Basher, he noted, "is one of the 10 best fromageries in the world."
He loves the sofrito and kubeh at Azoura, a family-managed establishment that’s been around for generations, as well as the eponymous chapuria (a cheese pastry) from the Hachapuria Georgian bakery.
Of course, the current Mahane Yehuda renaissance, already documented exhaustively elsewhere, also helps to make the market all the more hospitable and hype-worthy.
The changes have largely occurred in the past five years, as the market “changed its face from fruits, vegetables and meats to boutiques selling clothes, fashion and jewelry,” as Pilo puts it. Pilo credits a two-decade-long facelift to the market’s infrastructure, including improvements to street surface and awnings, to helping bring people in — both new vendors and new buyers.
But he asserts that Mahane Yehuda's new lease on life is also in a sense a backlash to how younger people shop. "Big supermarkets became more available, and attractive to people 40 and under. Supermarkets have everything in one place — and lots of parking," says Pilo. To compete, the shuk had to diversify, and the rising property rates in the surrounding trendy neighborhood of Nachlaot prove that the reinvention has taken hold.
Many point to the opening of coffee chain Aroma in the market in the summer of 2008 as a watershed event in this trajectory, and today, Mahane Yehuda is almost as well-known for its jazz jam sessions, chef-guided tours and summer fruit-carving workshops as its avocados and lamb shanks. Indeed, the market has clearly responded to the influences of outside tastemakers; now cheese shops, bakeries, restaurants and stores selling clothing, accessories and decorative crafts tout items that are artisan, gourmet, organic and handmade.
At once swanky and gritty, highbrow and blue-collar, today's Mahane Yehuda beckons to the curious from all backgrounds, and the Machne website's diverse audience is proof. “It’s a little bit of everybody,” says Pilo. “People like food.”
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