The Shuk – An Israeli Cultural Experience
Hebrew: עושים קניות בשוק – חוויה ישראלית
The shuk; you might have heard it called a souk and you’ve probably seen it spelled in a variety of ways; sūq, soq, souk, esouk, suk, sooq, souq, or suq. In Hebrew, we call it a shuk – שוק- mostly, in Israel, it refers to a fresh food and vegetable market. You may associate a shuk with images of exotic foods, spices, boho folks and other exquisite things just like “Carrie Bradshaw” (of Sex in the City fame) discovered in Abu Dhabi. Not quite the place for designer outfits and Manolo Blahnik shoes thoughg, but the Israeli shuk is an unique experience for tourists and “a must” for local residents.
The hustle and bustle of retailers competing to sell a kilogram of strawberries, the unique smells and a wide selection of merchandise make the shuk experience compelling and addictive. Get your sports shoes on, grab your shopping cart, put your wallet in a safe place and head on down to your nearest shuk.
Shuks in Israel are prime destinations for value-for money food and fresh produce shopping. Enjoy discounts on fruit and vegetables on Friday afternoons, just before Shabbat. Indulge yourself in super-fresh roasted “Garinim” (seeds) of numerous types; sunflower, pumpkin & watermelon loved by Israelis (and very healthy too!). Endless varieties of dried fruit, pickled olives and mouth watering baked goods baked fresh daily. Spice up your life (and your cooking) with fresh and fragrant sumac or hawaj or maybe hot or sweet paprika.
The Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem and the Arab Market in the old city, Shuk HaCarmel or Sarona in Tel Aviv, Shuk Talpiot in Haifa and the Bedouin Market in Beer Sheva, are just some of the more famous shuks that Israel has to offer.
Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem
Hebrew: שוק מחנה יהודה בירושלים
There is no market in Israel that quite compares to the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. The market, established in the early 1900’s, has more than 250 vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables; baked goods; fish, meat and cheeses; nuts, seeds, and spices; wines and liquors; clothing and shoes; housewares, textiles and Judaica.
Mahane Yehuda market is bounded by Jaffa Road to the north, Agrippas Street to the south, Beit Yaakov Street to the west, and Kiach Street to the east.
Aside from top quality fruit and veg, there are some interesting stalls. There is the man that sells halva – probably 100 different types; some with chocolate, some coffee flavored, with pistachios and even bits of dried fruit. At around 12 shekels for 100g, it is a real taste fest.
Then there is Uzi-Eli Chezi (a.k.a the Etrog medicine man) a peddler selling unusual freshly squeezed juices. He is most famous for his Citron (Heb: Etrog) and Gat juices (made from the leaves of the Gat plant and enjoyed by the Yemenite community). The citron is a bitter citrus fruit and is used during the Jewish festival of Sukkot. After Sukkot, it can be made into jam or a preserve. Uzi-Eli, the owner, maintains that these fruits have special healing and nutritional value. Each day, he rubs citron oil into his skin. Not a wrinkle on his face – you would never guess his real age.
Then there is the stall that only sells kippot (a yarmulke or skull-cap) worn by all Jewish men during prayer and by religious Jewish men all the time. Black velvet, white satin or hand embroidered. Probably the widest selection come from the hand crocheted ones available is all colors and designs. With the Manchester United logo, Jewish symbols, fair-isle designs, every color and every conceivable design decorate the kippot and turn each one into a conversation piece.
Take a video tour of Mahane Yehuda
Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv
Hebrew: שוק הכרמל תל אביב
The Shuk HaCarmel market in Tel Aviv is located between Allenby Street, Kikar Magen David along Carmel Street and King George. Like all the markets, it is open every day of the week except Saturdays. With great fresh produce, Shuk HaCarmel is also famous for its clothing stalls. Israelis come from all over the country and spend a day shopping for clothes and bargains. Designer knock-offs; shirts, shoes, bags, belts, underwear, you’ll find it all. Remember to bargain! It may not be part of your culture, but give it a try. While you may not get 50 per cent off, the vendor will probably discount his goods by 10 or 20 shekels. You could probably walk away with 10 T-shirts for less than 300 shekels.
The Flea Market in Jaffa
Hebrew: שוק הפשפשים ביפו
Jaffa’s flea market has undergone tremendous changes in the past few years. The entire surrounding area, has become one of the hottest and trendiest neighborhoods in Tel Aviv. In the evening hours, growing numbers of tourists and locals experience fine dining with a spectacular view of this ancient port. Bino Tzadok is well known for his shwarma (and his Shakshuka too). Aboulafia’s bakery is a legend and Abu Hassan’s hummus is a short walk away.
Nahalat Benyamin Arts & Crafts Market in Tel Aviv
Hebrew: נחלת בנימין
On Nahalat Benyamin Street between Rothschild & Allenby Streets on Tuesdays and Fridays you will find the Nahalat Benyamin arts-and-crafts market where hundreds of vendors sell hand-made items. A tourist must-do.
The Sarona Market in Tel Aviv
Hebrew: שרונה מארקט
The Sarona Market complex inspired by European food markets, is the place to experience Israeli culinary art. Ninety one shops stalls and restaurants make up Israel’s largest indoor culinary market. A five minute walk from the Azrieli complex and the train station in Tel Aviv, Sarona is open seven days a week. Gourmet foods, a typical Dutch style cheese shop, imported foods from Italy, France and beyond. Local produce too; local wines, boutique beer, chocolates and hand-made pastries. Dine at Segev’s Concept or Aharoni’s Ramen noodle bar, two of Israel’s master chefs or eat blueberry pancakes at Benedict’s
Shuk Talpiot in Haifa
Hebrew: שוק תלפיות חיפה
Located in the Hadar, the main entrance is on Yehiel Street between Sirkin Street and Hehalutz. Numerous stalls are located in two tiers: the outdoor market, and a huge section in the basement of the Talpiot Building on Sirkin Street.
A great fresh fruit and vegetable selection as well as butcheries and fishmongers – some are kosher, some are not , bakeries, cheese and eggs, Middle Eastern deli – halva, olives, olive oil and pickles of all kinds, fresh herbs and spices, fresh garinim, nuts and dried fruit and sweet stores, a selection of private supermarkets within the area as well as small shops selling inexpensive household goods.
Wadi Nisnas Market Haifa
Hebrew: ואדי ניסנאס
In the heart of Haifa’s Arab Quarter on Wadi Nisnas St and Yohanan HaKadosh St, this suburban market is a real pleasure if you prefer a quiet and relaxed shopping experience. Fruit and vegetable stalls selling top quality produce. Fresh fish and seafood from Victor the fishmonger and the best blend of Turkish or other coffees from Marwan’s coffee shop. You might want to try Falafel HaZkeinim or Falafel George – who compete for the title of ‘Haifa’s best falafel‘ or the bakery that sells every type of baklawa imaginable. In close walking distance, Suidan sells a fantastic range of imported products.
Wadi Nisnas and the German Colony is the venue for Haifa’s Festival of Festivals (Chag HaChagim) in December where Jews, Moslems and Christians celebrate the holiday season.
The old Haifa Turkish Market
Hebrew: שוק התורכי
Some people still ask about it, but the old Turkish fruit and vegetable market closed down and has been desolate for years. Recently the area was revived. Now part of Haifa University’s new campus, downtown, the area has been transformed. Artists and shopkeepers selling handmade items; designer clothes, shoes, leather bags and more.
On Thursday evenings, during the summer months, stalls sell anything from hand-made soaps, dim-sum and a selection of European pastries and cakes. Up and coming musicians perform for free in the central square. Easily accessed by the Carmelit underground.
The Old Akko Market
The Old Akko Market, deep inside the walls of this ancient city is charming. Beginning on Farhi Square, next to the falafel stand (constantly in demand, you know that this falafel is super fresh), and it winds its way to the port area. Most of the market is covered, but rain or shine, you must experience the sweet yet slightly salty Knafeh – a Middle Eastern cheese pastry – from Kashkash Sweets store. Jarki Bros for herbs and spices of every kind and before you leave, you must visit Said’s, a well known hummus emporium. Queues are long and it is closed on Saturday. Some say that Said’s is the best in the world
Farmers Markets in Tel Aviv, the Sharon and other locations
The Farmers’ Market concept has been around for a number of years but it only recently arrived in Israel. Local growers traveling to the city to sell their own fresh and unique produce directly to the consumer. Unusual species and varieties of fruits and vegetables in season that aren’t readily available in supermarkets.
Locals, tourists and visitors to Tel Aviv can now enjoy some of Israel’s freshest foods at the Farmers Market that take place every Friday morning and Tuesday afternoon in the Tel Aviv Port and in the Jaffa Port.
The Raanana Park market is open on Friday mornings. The Herzliyah market on the corner of Shenkar and Solelim Streets, is open on Thursday afternoons.
Mostly farmer’s markets in Israel are held indoors in leading shopping malls. Thursdays and Fridays are market days
The Druze Village Markets in Northern Israel
The Druze Villages of Daliat-El-Carmel and Usifiya are about 10km outside of Haifa, past the Haifa University. A street market with typical middle-eastern wares. Curios and bric-a-brac can be bought here too. Read more about the Druze community in Israel..
The Bedouin Market in Beer Sheva
The Bedouin Market is held every Thursday in Beer Sheva Lots of interesting bric-a-brac and authentic Bedouin food.
Shuk Ramlah-Lod, as its name suggests, originated in the municipal area of Ramlah and Lod, in the general vicinity of Ben Gurion International Airport. Today the market, which sells mainly clothing, soft furnishings, household wares and some traditional Middle-Eastern food, is held every day in a different location across Israel. (Ramlah – not to be confused with Ramallah in the West Bank)
Getting to the Shuk
Most markets are centrally located. Dozens of buses and sheruts (shared taxis) will get you wherever you need to go for less than 6 shekels. Parking close to any of Israel’s shuks can be a problem so unless you have a regular or secret place to park consider leaving your car at home.
Shuk & Shopping Tips
- Take cash – while the stalls won’t take credit cards, the butchers and supermarkets will.
- Check for rabbinate certification.
- Not all of the fruit and veg. stalls observe shmitta – check!
- Shuk opening hours: Best time of day to go: mornings. Busiest time is Friday afternoon. Don’t bother going before 08:00 or after 18:00. Some stalls close at 16:00 on Tuesdays. Stalls officially close at 16:00 on Friday afternoons, but some might close earlier.
- Check quality: not all the stalls have good quality produce all the time, and they will all take a chance with you if they can
- Check your change carefully especially for counterfeit 10 shekel coins.
- Take a shopping cart with you – you’ll need it if you’re shopping for a family. You can buy a shopping cart in the market stalls that sell household goods and kitchenware. You can also buy a cart at some supermarkets and the large hardware chains like Home Center. They cost anywhere between 80 – 150 shekels depending on the quality. Buy one that is sturdy and has strong wheels.
- Wear comfortable, non-slip shoes as you can easily trip on squashed fruit and vegetables that have fallen to the floor.
- Be prepared to be jostled around and even knocked into by shopping carts. After a few years in Israel, you’ll be jostling and deliberately knocking into others too.
- Aside from a few negatives, the shuk is an exciting and worthwhile place to shop.
- Take your overseas guests for a real Middle-Eastern experience.