Mahane Yehuda - The Jerusalem Shuk (Outdoor Market)

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info

The Serial Tourist's Guide to Living in Jerusalem

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Mahane Yehuda is also known as The Shuk, because it's the largest shuk in Jerusalem. It takes up a whole small neighborhood, between Yafo and Aggripas, and is at the heart of a much large shopping complex which stretches up Yafo towards the Old City or up Aggripas, over King George and into the Ben Yehuda triangle.Mahane Yehuda (pronounced Machne) is as much a place to be as a place to shop. While the prices are about as reasonable as you can find in Jerusalem, it depends on the time of day and week, not to mention the season for produce. Prices are marked with chalk on blackboards stuck in amongst the produce, and what sells for 6 IS (Israeli Shekels) a kilo on Monday morning may be down to 2 IS before the trumpet sounds Friday afternoon for Shabbat. The traditional merchants in Mahane Yehuda yell out their prices and other enticements, like "You can't believe it" or "Only a friar (sucker) wouldn't buy." The frenetic atmosphere probably leads to a lot of tourists buying stuff they don't have a clue how or where to cook, just for the fun of it.
The picture above is from the uncovered stretch of the shuk, which is the street, Mahane Yehuda. The longer stretch of the shuk the covered alley of Etz Chaim, with nearly a hundred individual vendors. The half dozen side streets that run between Etz Chaim and Mahane Yehuda are covered as well, and they get progressively shorter as you move from the Agrippas side to the Yafo side. There are also a couple vertical alleys in the section but only one of which actual has an exit from the Shuk. With well over 250 vendors in the shuk as a whole, the best way to comparison shop is to simply take a stroll through and look at the prices of the items you're interested in. You're not likely to find one guy selling good tomatoes for 6 IS a kilo and another guy selling them for 3 IS a kilo, but it's good fun, and it beats seeing a lower price for the same item as you're looking for something else. I spent a couple afternoons mapping the location of every vendor in the shuk and their primary business, but I haven't figured out a good way to present it yet. In short, there's an awful lot of repetition, the butchers and fish mongers are concentrated towards the interior where the cold lockers are, as are the small restaurants and cafes.
I don't know if there's some kind of guild for Mahane Yehuda that determines what a vendor can sell, but you'd think most of the stands were turned out with a cookie cutter. OK, if somebody sells fresh fish, it makes sense that they specialize, the same as with a butcher, but the produce sellers are mainly specialized into a few items as well. Fruit for one, root vegetables for another, salad vegetables, prepared foods, etc. Sometimes the shops of neighboring vendors will be practically identical, other times you may find an alley with a one of a kind. It might make sense to map the shuk in accordance with the least common shops, which would save a lot of space. For example, there a watch repair shop right near the entrance on Aggripas, there are fewer Judaica shops than you would expect, not too many tobacco sellers (cigars and loose leaf) , and I only noticed one ice cream specialist in this winter. On the other hand, there a a half dozen or more juice bars spread round, at least that many coffee shops and meat restaurants, and a sundry collection of higher end clothing and jewelry/gift stores.
When it comes to eggs, you get two choices. fresh and ultra-fresh. The existence of the ultra-fresh option does make me a little suspicious of more modest claimant. One of the most popular store combinations is nuts plus dried fruit, sometimes they include spices as well, though there are quite a few stand-alone spice shops. Flower shops or sellers are spread around pretty well before Shabbat, and you can buy anything you need in terms of household goods as well. Some stores specialize in plastic kitchen stuff, other in metal cookware, there are linen shops, cloth sellers all manners of footwear. There's even a pharmacy on Mahane Yehuda street, near the Yafo end, for in case you eat too much of the stuff you buy. If you're looking for one-stop shopping, there are a number of makolets, but I never really got the point of going to the shuk to shop in a store. the deli's in the shuk are good, but not cheap, and the cheese shops are both good and cheap. While a lot of the stuff in the shuk, like olives, pickled fish, etc, is just getting decanted from very large cans, it still feels fresher than buying it in small cans direct from the supermarket, and you do get to see it first:-)

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