To understand a place you have to go to the local market. That’s where you can find faces, bits of history, traditions and ways of doing, products and knick-knacks. Aromas and flavors, strengths and weaknesses of the place and its inhabitants. In Jerusalem, where everything has (at least) two versions, even the typical markets are two: one Arab and the other Israeli. Although the Arab souks are my passion – the smell of spices, the smiles and the chatter of the Arabs unconditional and joyful, the game of haggling over anything because you must haggle and that’s it, and for that feeling of lightness, when you walk between minarets, narrow alleys and tiny shops – I have to admit that the Mahane Yehuda Market has a very special charm.
While you are walking the adjoining Jaffa Street you can notice the surreal silence of the street, despite being full of pedestrians and public transportation.
Once you enter in the market, you are immediately struck for the quantity and variety of food, the opulence of fruit and vegetables, and the strange temporal dimension in which seem enveloped the place and its frequenters. It’s an imperceptible feeling, not easy to explain, and it is as if everything had frozen at 1800s, when the market was built at the same time of the Nahlaot Jewish Quarter, known for its narrow alleyways, its old-fashioned homes, the hidden courtyards and the myriad of small synagogues.
The customers of the Mahane Yehuda come from every corner of Jerusalem and its surroundings (you can meet at each corner settlers armed with miter that arrive in the City for the shopping) and represent the entire Israeli society: Ashkenazim, Sephardim, religious, laity, rich and poor. Among the stalls you speak Hebrew, English, Russian, Ethiopian, German, French, Spanish and Yiddish. Next to articles of clothing and household, there are booth of baked goods, fish, meat and cheese, nuts, seeds and spices, wines and spirits. The market is very large and is the right place to taste local products and kosher food, you can taste it sitting at the small restaurants that are spreading inside the market.
One of the most interesting things in the Mahane Yehuda, is undoubtedly the kiosk Uzi-Eli Hezi, also known as “The Etrog Man”, “man of the cedar”, where you can find fresh squeezed juices and delicious of all types. Seller, inventor, farmer, healer, doctor, health-conscious and spiritual guide. He is a big bearded man and is full of joy. Following the maimonidean school, prepares its juices and cosmetics, combining science and ancient remedies. Two of his most popular drinks are the etrogat, obtained from the lime juice and leaves of khat, and the “drink of the Rambam,” a mixture of dates and almonds, sweet and bitter, with juice of wheat germ.