Making meals out of Jerusalem's larder
We visit Mahane Yehuda Market, which is fast becoming one of Israel's top foodie destinations
Stalls at Mahane Yehuda are stacked with a huge variety of vegetables, as well as bread, pastries, oils, fish and cheeses
In his recent BBC documentary, Jerusalem on a Plate, Yotam Ottolenghi shared his passion for the wealth and variety of food in his home-city. Jerusalem has always been known as the capital and holy centre of Israel, but in recent years it has started to provide Tel Aviv with real competition as the country's culinary top spot.
One of the biggest draws has been the revitalisation of the central Mahane Yehuda Market - the Shuk. Tali Friedman, of Ha Atelie Tali Friedman, is a culinary school-trained chef, and native Jerusalemite. She knows the Shuk and its vendors well, and offers daily tours combined with cookery classes.
She began teaching cooking but says she felt "something was missing" from her classes. One day, while giving a lesson on fish, she moved her pupils from the classroom to the market.
"It was amazing. I didn't want to leave, people who needed to go to work after the class didn't want to leave," she recalls. "And the day after I realised that this is what I want to do."
So, five years ago, she started offering tours of the market combined with cooking classes. They were the first of their kind in the country. Others have followed suit. Israel Food Tours offers visits to Mahane Yehuda and Orly Ziv's Cook in Israel leads two tours in the area. The former takes participants through the Jerusalem Hills to visit dairy farms and cook a traditional meal, while the latter focuses on Mahane Yehuda and preparing a meal based on what is sold there.
Ziv, a native Tel Avivian and professional dietician, who started offering tours after a cooking holiday in Tuscany, says: "Every place around the world offers local food experiences and cooking classes. Israel has an abundance of fresh food with influences of different food cultures and traditions, so it was about time such tours were offered here, too."
Friedman's tours provide a first-hand taste of Israel's world-class wine, olive oil, cheese and more, all through the microcosm of Mahane Yehuda, where old-school working-men's restaurants now sit next to artisan bakeries and fromageries.
Tali Friedman shows off a market purchase
She guides groups through the market, stopping every few stalls to point out the freshest fish, best grains, and most aromatic local spices. Later, the group returns to her studio overlooking the market to prepare a meal using the ingredients bought there.
Friedman's tours take in what she recommends as "some of the best food in Jerusalem". This includes chokmat haburekas mehaifa, which roughly translates as "burekas from the Wisdom of Haifa", with the group sampling light and flaky savoury stuffed pastries; marvelous granola from the shop of Yosi Mizrachi, who sells grains and baking supplies and, during Pesach, charoset made from his mother's recipe; fine local oils and dips from Pereg Olive Oil; halva made from the best ground sesame seeds at the Halva Kingdom, and a world of cheeses at Basher Fromagerie.
Participants then take traditional ingredients and prepare a modern, kosher Israeli meal under Friedman's tutelage. Her cuisine is representative of Jerusalem's culinary scene today, with chefs taking Middle Eastern flavours and applying them in a fresh way. Fish in a Mediterranean sauce, as prepared by Friedman in one class, is cooked with organic chickpeas, tomato confit, and pickled lemon before being drizzled with tahina. A classic Israeli dish of baladi aubergine is grilled as usual but topped with tahina, balsamic and fresh thyme instead of tahina, pomegranate seeds and date honey.
Clearly there is a interest in Mahane Yehuda, since business is booming. "This is the second year in a row that we've been completely booked" says Friedman.