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A view of the Old City from the City of David

Exploring Tel Aviv & Jerusalem through food

As I stand under the baking sun among the rubble of what used to be a parking lot opposite the City of David visitor centre, I can just about piece together the evidence that’s laid out before me.

A foodie lost in Israel

As I stand under the baking sun among the rubble of what used to be a parking lot opposite the City of David visitor centre, I can just about piece together the evidence that’s laid out before me. The dusty, faded mosaics on the ground indicate a courtyard and I can see remnants of the stone pillars that once held up the walls of this near 2,000-year-old Roman villa.

The hairs on my arms stand on end as my guide, Yehuda, recounts tales of the intern archaeologist who discovered a hoard of over 200 gold coins here in 2008. A stash that was clearly left in a hurry before the Persians invaded, and whose owner never did return to collect them, their fate unknown.

Bread for sale in Jerusalem’s Machne Yehuda Market
Bread for sale in Jerusalem’s Machne Yehuda Market

The fate of Jerusalem back then, though, is not unknown. Thanks to the astonishing array of archaeological sites across the city you can literally see the history play out before you. It seems almost every new development that breaks ground finds something of importance.

Machne Yehuda
Machne Yehuda

Once just a humble plot with a few shacks from which Arab women would sell groceries, Machane Yehuda is now a sprawl of activity. The air has a pungent smell, owing to the blend of herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables piled high on many of the stalls, and as I pass by each stallholder yells in Hebrew, Arabic or English to draw attention to their products. I’m offered tasters of halva – a Middle Eastern sweet made from sesame paste – dried fruits, roasted nuts and iced tea as I push through the thronging crowds, but I bypass them all in pursuit of a traditional Israeli sandwich: the sabih.

The mammoth breakfast at Villa Brown, Jerusalem
The mammoth breakfast at Villa Brown, Jerusalem

“Haba Bakery makes the best sabih in Israel,” my guide Maria, from food tour company YallaBasta, tells me. The open-fronted shop sits on the fringes of the market with stacks of plump, freshly-baked pita breads on display.

Come night-time, the market doesn’t shut down, but instead comes alive with a far younger, rowdier crowd. With most of the food stalls closed for the evening, a handful of bars spread themselves out along the walkways. Display stands are covered with cushions and blankets to be used as seating at cocktail bar Tap & Tail, and the Beer Bazaar uses upturned crates for tables and spills out of the market onto the streets.

The nightlife scene in Machne Yehuda
The nightlife scene in Machne Yehuda

The vibe, I find out the following evening, is reminiscent of many bars in Tel Aviv, Israel’s glistening coastal gem. I arrive there late at night and head to my apartment in Florentin, the city’s creative neighbourhood famous for its many murals and street art pieces. On a Thursday evening, it’s all lively bars, al fresco drinking terraces and small corner shops selling street food to the inebriated masses.
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© This article was first published in Oct-Nov 2018 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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