A lot of my birthright experience was filled with history, history, and more history. I'm not in any way saying that I'm no fan of learning, but in all honesty, I would rather spend some of this precious time in Israel
learning about foods stuffing my face with goodies. I mean, there is only so much by brain can retain before it explodes... and gets hungry!
We had the opportunity to get lost in the super busy Jerusalem Market, Mahane Yehuda (יהודה מחנה שוק), commonly referred to as "The Shuk". This marketplace, originally all open-aired, now partially covered, is popular with both tourists and locals alike. The market is home to over 250 venders, including fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods (which I would have loved to got my hands on), fish, meats, and cheeses, nuts, seeds, and spices, wines and liquors (oh, yummy!), and even clothing. And shoes. And housewares. And Judaica. Just about everything. I could have stayed there for hours.
But we were only given about 45 minutes. Complete bummer!
As we walked around, we were surrounded by falafel and schawarma stands, juice bars, cafes, and restaurants. Having a few felafel and schawarma pitas already on our travels, I really wanted to get my hands on:
1) chocolate rugelach
2) fresh jerusalem breads and pitas
These pita's are the most awesome thing to stuff with cold cuts, olives, and cheese, or whatever else your heart desires. Why not put some hummus and felafel inside? My absolute favorite!
After wandering throughout the market, with my mouth more than salivating, we headed off to a nearby park and got right to it- eating that is.
And sliding down the Monster Slide. Look at that thing! SO UNEXPECTED!
Tip: If you want to explore the market, try to stay away on Thursdays and Fridays, as the marketplace is filled with shoppers stocking up for Shabbat. The Shuk is closed from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning for Shabbat.
Tours: If you want to make sure you don't miss any goodies, you can opt to take a self-guided tour, called "Shuk Bites". For 99 shekels (approx $26 US), you get a ticket that includes both a map with a pre-planned route through the market and a punch card which allows you little tastes of a variety of foods and drinks. Other guided tours include a bakery tour, a wine and cheese tour, chef-guided tasting tour, and a shuk cooking workshop. I really wish we had enough time to do this.
Considering the tensions between different ethnic, religious, and social groups in Israel, it is fascinating that the Shuk is one of the few places of sanity in the whole city. It's true: food always brings people together.