Shopping and noshing through the Holy Land
The Al Hespa Market in Ramallah, Palestine, where locals say fruit is half the price as elsewhere in town. (Katie Beck)
From the walled city of Jerusalem to the otherworldly landscape of the Dead Sea, and from the vivacious beaches of Tel Aviv to the historic streets of Jaffa, there are many sights and activities in Israel, but spending your time shopping means taking home the tastes, smells and wares of the Holy Land.
In the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, between the many holy sites, are tiny, crowded alleyways packed with bazaars. Glittering garments and hand painted pottery spill out onto the walkways, sharing the cramped space with old women selling freshly picked vine leaves ready to be stuffed with meats and vegetables. You will rub shoulders with locals and tourists, and there is a refreshing lack of attention paid to patrons. Unlike some markets, you will not hear calls of prices and bargains from the vendors here; no one will yell at you to buy their goods. But it will be hard pass up the temptation to take home some leather sandals or aromatic spices to remind you of your travels.
When you need a break from shopping and sightseeing, cool down with an ice-cold juice from one of the many stands found all over Israel and Palestine. In Old Jerusalem one such traditional hummus place offers an unbeatable and affordable feast. Abu Shukri (intersection of Via Dolorosa and Al Wad Road; 972-2-627-1538), is small and has cracked and worn tables, but the service is friendly and quick and the hummus is perfectly smooth and flavourful. For a cheap and memorable meal, try the foul, a dish of mashed fava beans, and the homemade pickles and Arabic salad, served with piping hot pita bread, followed by a mint tea.
In west Jerusalem, the sprawling covered Machane Yehuda food market is full of gorgeous fresh meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables being picked over mainly by locals. The prices are average and the goods, like the hot golden rounds of bread fresh from the oven, sprinkled generously with sesame seeds and piles of plump, ripe figs, are as beautiful to look at as they are delicious.
Find a perch at the Topolino café (62 Agripas; 972-2-6622-3466), a kosher Italian restaurant specializing in seafood and homemade pizzas and pastas. It is a great spot to watch people, busses and cars whiz past while enjoying olives and a glass of wine. Delicious chocolate truffles are served with the bill.
Ha Carmel Market (Shuk Hacarmel in Hebrew), located in the centre of town on Ha Carmel and Allenby Streets, is the largest open air market in Tel Aviv. The rambling market’s vendors hawk a mix of souvenirs, jewellery, T-shirts, woven sandals and candy, but what sets it apart are the impressive fruit and vegetable stands. Tables groan under the weight of mountains of grapes, cherries, eggplant, radishes, peppers, olives and okra, when in season. Continue past the golden mounds of baklava and heaps of freshly baked bread to another section where local artists sell their paintings and handmade crafts. The market is open during week, but is at its most heaving on Fridays.
End your one-stop shopping spree at Restaurant Gadera (2626 Gedera Street, adjacent to the market at the intersection of Allenby and King George Streets; 972-3-5100164), an adorable little spot with a friendly staff offering a unique fusion of Mediterranean and European specialties made with fresh local and seasonal ingredients. Its variety of boutique Israeli beers and wines are best sampled with a selection of delectable mezze (small dishes) during happy hour.
A ten-minute, costal drive south of Tel Aviv is Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew), a relaxed bohemian town. A flea market in the old section (along Yefet Street and Jerusalem Boulevad), a few blocks from the clock tower in the centre of town, is a vintage lover’s paradise of antiques and retro items.
The metal shutters lining the narrow cobblestone streets are flung open each morning to reveal dozens of makeshift shops, selling everything from antique jewellery and tools, to mid-century furniture and bright 70s-era clothing. Haggle for better prices.