Inside Machane Yehuda Market In Jerusalem

Machane Yehuda is marketplace by day, bar and restaurant hot spot by night

The lively Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem is the city's go-to place to experience the breadth of modern Israeli cuisine. With more than 250 vendors, you'll find everything from giant piles of colorful produce and pitas stuffed with falafel to expansive pans of baklava and kanafeh, and, of course, cakes of halvah in every flavor. And that's just the beginning; a huge variety of restaurants and bars continue to open and operate inside and around the market—or "the shuk" as the locals call it.

"The past few years have brought a tidal wave of new restaurants that help create the warm and funky scene everyone loves about Machane Yehuda," explains James Oppenheimer, cofounder of Crave, a new kosher restaurant specializing in Western comfort food favorites like fish tacos to tonkatsu beef sliders. Even Crave's location in the market—tucked around the corner from Ishtabach, which specializes in Kurdish shamburak, and Hachapuria, known for its Georgian khachapuri—underscores the vibrant and diverse city around it.

Machane Yehuda Market is practically brand new by Jerusalem standards; after all, the city is one of the oldest in the world. But according to Israeli food expert and market tour guide Joel Haber, the market has reflected Jerusalem's modern history since it opened in an empty lot in 1887 following the city's expansion. "Basically, I see the shuk as a mirror that reflects the city back to itself," he says. "As the city has developed and changed over the last 150 or so years, the market has changed to match it."

During Ottoman rule, the market grew quickly but in a haphazard fashion, with makeshift wooden buildings and tin shacks. Permanent stalls were erected for sanitation purposes during the 1920s under the British Mandate. From that point on and throughout the rest of the 20th century, improvements were continuously made to the shuk while Jerusalem modernized alongside it.

For most of its history, the businesses inside the shuk have been retail stalls selling produce, meat and other food goods. In 2001 during the Second Intifada, vendor Eli Mizrachi opened Machane Yehuda's first-ever café inside one of the market stalls. Restaurants continued to open from there. Most notable among them is Machneyuda, which opened in 2009 and is owned by three renowned Jerusalem chefs; named after the market, it focuses on using ingredients sold there. 

In the last five years, the shuk has also become the center of Jerusalem's nightlife. Once empty after dark, it's now home to a vibrant scene, featuring more than 10 bars serving everything from local Israeli beer and wine to high-end cocktails.

The market is also branching out with its gastronomic offerings—and beyond the bounds of traditional Israeli cuisine. There's Italian pasta at Pasta Basta, English batter-fried fish at Fishenchips, French pastries at Boutique Central and Chinese buns by chef Chananya Rosenthal at Steam Kitchen and Bar. Latin American immigrants and chefs are now leaving their mark on the shuk with dishes like a kosher Cuban sandwich (made with beef shoulder and goose pastramis) at Pepito's and lamb-and-date empanadas at Argento.

With so much happening at the shuk, it was never a question for Oppenheimer and his business partners where they'd open their restaurant. "The shuk is a magnet for all kinds of people," he says. "Machane Yehuda's environment creates a dynamism that's absolutely unique and inspires us every day."

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