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.
The area has become trendy in recent years and a large
selection of local boutiques, bars and cafes are mixed in with the antique and
junk shops. You can combine shopping with noshing at Puaa, a charming restaurant that is a
favourite of locals and tourists. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with
local specialties like homemade yogurt and shakshuka, an egg and tomato dish
usually eaten for breakfast, and has a nice wine selection as well. Most of the
carefully selected vintage furniture, decorations and crockery in the
restaurant are for sale.
Adventurous travellers may want to make a
side trip to the Palestinian town of Ramallah, located in the centre of the
West Bank, six miles north of Jerusalem. The city is slowly making its way onto
tourist maps; it is the West Bank's most cosmopolitan and affluent town and
recently opened its first five-star hotel.
While crossing from Jerusalem is safe, you
can feel the tension of the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The West
Bank has been occupied by Israel since 1967 and to get to Ramallah you cross a thick
concrete wall of a checkpoint.
Al Hespa Market in Ramallah is just off Al Manara Square in the centre of town.
You will not find many tourists here, but this is where local families do
their produce shopping. It is best to arrive early in the morning to get your
pick from piles of watermelons, cherries and grapes, displayed under brightly
coloured umbrellas to shade them from the sun. Vendors also sell fresh bread
and homemade sweets, and men in ornate red costumes sell tea and fruit drinks
out of huge metal flasks hanging from their neck.
stocking up, head a few blocks away to Ramallah Tahta for Abu Abed's Shawerma
shop (Rukab Street; no phone) where the staff chisels
away at a huge slab of slowly spinning meat cooking under hot lamps. Laced with
fresh chillies and tahini, it is the best lamb shawerma in town. With plastic
tabletops, the atmosphere is cheap and cheerful.