Everybody stops by the shuk sometime or another. Israel’s three most famous open-air markets are Machaneh Yehudah, in downtown Jerusalem, the Arab shuk in Jerusalem’s Old City, and the Carmel Market of Tel Aviv. Other large towns also have permanent shuks of their own. Smaller towns are served by traveling markets that arrive once a week and set up in a designated place; in a later entry I will show you the shuk that covers the north of the country and stops in Safed on Wednesdays.
The local shuk is always worth visiting and snooping around in. There might be some cubbyhole of a shop in which you discover a whole separate little world, a specialty vegetable available only at one particular vendor, a friendly and talkative stall owner. Even the grumpy, disgruntled folks are interesting, if you consider them local color and don’t take anything personally. You can hear a potent mix of accents as you stroll around: Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic and Russian are the main ones. Even my “Anglo” accent is no stranger to the shuk.
Today I took my camera to the shuk in Petach Tikvah. And here we are, at the entrance to the shuk. A modern roof was recently built over it, protecting shoppers from the weather year ’round.
Not too long ago, the whole place was dilapidated, looking like this:
In spite of the snazzy new exterior and roof, the shops and stalls inside remain the same.
You can find a group of friends busy with shesh-besh (backgammon) in a little side street, where tables are always set up for them. Jerusalem’s Machaneh Yehudah market also has a shesh-besh corner.
At a tiny place inside the shuk, two brothers sell freshly roasted and ground coffee, as well as a variety of spices.
Their wares are scrupulously clean and tidy, although some of their equipment is almost antique.
From left to right, the canisters hold: black pepper, powder for amba, fenugreek, dried Persian lemons, and Dutch cocoa.
I bought deliciously fresh cocoa powder at that store. I never knew powdered cocoa could smell and taste so fresh and rich.
And here is their coffee roaster.
Another spice store I visited had sacks of dried pumpkin and watermelon seeds, and tiny seed onions.
They had an attractive display of ground spices. This was only about a fifth of the spices in the shop: rosemary, thyme, coriander, coarsely-ground black pepper, mustard, fish seasoning, citric acid, za’atar with sesame seeds, and a mysterious orange-colored blend whose marker reads “spice for pizza, pasta, spaghetti, and shnitzel.” Hm. Note that some of the spices (citric acid and mustard) are also identified in Russian.
The spice grinding machine was a real antique, deserving of better treatment.
Myself, I prefer to buy my spices, pulses, seeds and dried herbs from places like the coffee shop, where they package everything. Often I’ve seen a pigeon or sparrow sitting right on top of an open sack, nonchalantly picking up a free lunch. Till the shop owner flaps a towel at it and away it flies – dropping a wet little souvenir behind.
Late summer’s fruit…
…and a lonely pomegranate, far from its home orchard.
As I was leaving the shuk, a young Arab woman who had been watching me leaned out of her car and asked, “Why are you taking pictures of that pomegranate?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It just looks interesting to me.”