While touring Israel, it’s tradition to stuff your face with as much falafel, shwarma, and hummus that you can handle. The perfect place to do that is the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, an outdoor “shuk” with over a hundred vendors that represent Israel’s diverse culture. Do yourself a favor while you’re there, and save some shekels for unique food that you would miss out on if you only stuck to the classics.
1. Veal Lungs
For those adventurous foodie souls who have yet to try any form of animal organs, this is the place and dish to start. Azura slow-cooks its Turkish-inspired food over kerosene burners for hours, making this spicy stew of veal lungs with red peppers a richly flavored dish. To be honest, this was my first time trying lungs (and they’re not really my thing), but the sauce is what kept convincing me to take a couple more bites. If the spice is a little much, order a side of their insanely creamy hummus with fresh pita bread.
2. Green Cheese
Amidst a glorious selection of cheddar, Havarti, and mozzarella imported from all around Europe, this bright green cheese stands out. Usually I equate any green on my cheese to mold, which is an immediate invitation to the trash. But as a cheese lover and guilty seeker of free samples, I just had to feed my curiosity and try a sliver of it. Holy heavenly. This gouda tasted just like pesto, and I didn’t have to try another type of cheese before I purchased a whole block of it.
3. Fish and Chips
You would think that for a place that has perfected fried foods in the form of falafel, the fish and chips would be mediocre (hey, we can’t all be great at everything). But don’t be fooled, this place could possibly rival those of Britain. Yeah, this place set the bar THAT high.
Fishenchips gets their fish straight from another vendor in the market, and then fries it so that the outside is crispy and the inside is tender. Four freshly made sauces are served alongside it. I can promise you that once you try the cod and chips basket, it will become the only thing you crave at the shuk.
4. Zaatar Halva
At some point during your trip in Israel, you will probably try halva, a Middle Eastern sesame treat. With literally hundreds of flavors to try, where do you even begin? It’s tempting to go straight for any halva that has chocolate in it (guilty), but throw your tastebuds for a spin and try perhaps the weirdest flavor they have: zaatar halva.
Zaatar is a popular Middle Eastern seasoning that is typically used on chicken, vegetables, and bread (and is so amazing on pizza), but provides a sweet and savory combo on halva. If you’re feeling frisky, try the whisky halva.
This is probably the only tea that you don’t necessarily need hot water to enjoy. I know, I know, tea is a beverage. But the vendor will fill your hands with samples of delicious, dried fruit teas that are perfect to munch on while making your way through the shuk. I think of them as the Israeli shuk version of fruit snacks, and these tiny bits of fruit are packed with surprisingly intense, natural flavor.