Petite and pretty with animated brown eyes, Tali Friedman isn’t your typical character at the brusque Jerusalem shuk, but she carries as much weight as any of the burly shop keepers as she promotes the 100-year-old market.
A chef with a gift for drawing out the merits of local cuisine, Friedman has the same passion for Jerusalem cooking as Julia Child did for French dishes. Friedman has been instrumental in ferreting out the culinary treasures of the market and turning them into a touring business as well as an upcoming TV show.
Her unique Jerusalem food tour of the shuk, Mahane Yehuda, incorporates a hands-on approach: With a deep respect for its traditions and her keen culinary eye, Friedman describes the unique items and shops in the market, then the tour is capped off with a meal cooked by the guests from fresh produce in the market. On a recent tour, a group of Israelis and Canadians marveled at the selection of fish, cheeses and exotic spices as Friedman whisked them to different shops, including a shop that boasts the world’s fifth largest selection of cheeses.
Friedman discovered the benefits of being located in the shuk while a culinary teacher. She took her class on a field trip to the market one day for a hands-on lesson in fish and spices.
“I realized that what I taught in 24 classes I covered in five and a half hours in the shuk,” Friedman told Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land.
Once the bastion of down home Israeli food and culture, the outdoor market in Jerusalem has expanded its taste buds to include an international repertoire with imported delicacies and a new air of modernity. That aspect combined with the shuk’s 100-year-history has made the market more than just a shopping trip but a draw for foreign and Israeli tourists. It is now a destination for tourists both from overseas and around Israel. It is not uncommon to see Israelis from Tel Aviv on a guidedculinary tour of the market, just an hour from their own homes, but worlds away from the cosmopolitan coastal city.
Friedman’s tours, given in Hebrew or English, are open to chefs from the novice to expert to simply those interested in Israeli cuisine. She recommends the tour even to foreigners “to enjoy the market the colors the smells, all the lovely products that we have here in our area in Jerusalem.”
The wonders of the market will be the subject of a television cooking show being filmed now for Israeli TV. Friedman and a co-host will tell the tales of stores in the shuk and bring fresh ingredients back to her studio to cook some three courses per episode.
On a typical Jerusalem food tour, Friedman describes the unique foods, most unavailable in regular supermarkets, from different types of eggplants and cucumbers, green chick peas, miniature apricots, grape leaves, okra and a vast selection of spices. She begins with her recommended stop for the best burekas in town, Hohmat Burekas min Haifa (The Wisdom of Burekas from Haifa) She tells the story of its owner who learned the trade of burekas making in Haifa when he was 15 and brought the treat to Jeruaslem. A phyllo dough pastry filled with cheese and or spinach, potatoes and mushrooms, burekas are a Middle Eastern staple. The flaky pastries are best eaten when warmed and are breakfast or snack food.
Friedman then leads the culinary tour to a stand called Mizrachi, where you can buy homemade granola, salad and rice spices and baking goods. At David Dagim (David’s Fish) Friedman points out different varieties from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern waters. She chooses a cut for ceviche, which the group will make later.
Then, for a taste of the most diverse selection of cheeses in Jerusalem if not Israel, Friedman leads the group to Basher, the King of Cheese where between 800 to 1,000 cheeses from around the world are imported, some by the ton. This gives them the distinction of having the fifth largest selection of cheeses in the world, falling in line after France, Germany, Italy and New York.
“It’s not just your typical cheese store,” Dudi Basher told Travelujah. His brother, Eli, actually judges cheese competitions in Europe.
At the shop, one worker is always doling out tastings and explaining the various cheeses.
“We understand how to conduct a tasting. It depends on the first taste what should follow. We know what to follow up with,” Dudi said.
The store has been in the family for three generations, but the brothers developed it into a gourmet shop over the last decade.
On Friedman’s tour, a worker at Basher’s takes her guests through the same process, describing the types of cheeses as he shaves off several varieties for tastings from English cheddar to aged gouda from Holland to French brie.
At MeZetim (From Olives), tour guests sample olives imported from Greece. This is followed by a visit to Pereg where everything from ordinary to rare spies are sold including the exclusive saffron.
Back at her studio, Friedman dons a chef’s coat and allots tasks to her tour guests: julienning fresh vegetables for the salad; slicing apricots for the apricot strudel they will have after the meal; reserving tomato seeds for the sauce. Then she sends the guests to her studio roof with a bottle of wine so they can relax and enjoy an aerial view of the market while she cooks up the meal for them.
The re-gentrification of the Jerusalem shuk coincides with general improvements in the city. Once known for its loud heckling, surly shopkeepers, harried shoppers and bargains, the shuk has been invaded by swank cafes and gourmet food shops. Stores selling designer clothing, imported cheese, eclectic wine collections, cozy cafes and haute cuisine restaurants are interspersed among the old-time fare. Even the famous Israeli coffee chain, Aroma, has set up shop in the shuk.
Friedman has capitalized on the shuk’s recent changes. A Jerusalem resident for 20 years, Friedman points to the shuk as one of the traditional reflections of the ancient city. Foreigners find a new side of Jerusalem at the shuk, enthralled with the colorful arrays of fruits and vegetables, selections of meat and fish, stacks of pita and other breads, pastries, dried fruits and nuts, olives of all colors, and of course shwarma (meat roasted on a spit) and falafel shops, among many other items.
Despite its recent renaissance and inundation with classy cafes, designer shops and Friedman’s upmarket tours, the shuk is still uniquely Jerusalem. Religious Jews shop right alongside secular. Arab and Jewish shop keepers work side by side. Old, young and foreigners make their way through the narrow alleys and scour the stands for the best deals. And, notwithstanding the introduction of these new trendy shops, bargains can still be found.