When we began our research into Israeli cuisine, we realised just what a confusing business it is. Israel has influences from its direct neighbours, and much further afield. The best way to get our heads around it was to explore the wonderful array of choices with the experts. Enter Delicious Israel and their Eat Jerusalem tour around the Machane Yehuda market.
We were guests of Delicious Israel but all opinions in this Eat Jerusalem tour review are entirely our own.
Why Delicious Israel?
Delicious Israel was set up in 2011 by the extremely passionate Inbal Baum. They take their food seriously and adore sharing this knowledge. It is clearly a labour of love rather than “just another kind of tour we could run”. They have been running in Tel Aviv since their launch but have now expanded to Jerusalem and the Machane Yehuda shuk (market). We were seriously excited about trying out the Eat Jerusalem tour as it would a great introduction to the foods we could find throughout our Israel trip.
Meet and Eat – Getting to Know Delicious Israel
We had instructions to meet the guide under the large mural in the corner of the market. This was just down a backstreet and very close to the Light Railway so it was nice and easy. We were surprised to see that we had two guides for the day, Ruthie and Missy. They gave us a short introduction of themselves, how they ended up in Jerusalem and their favourite food. Then it was our turn to do the same. We all said hello to the group and shared both our favourite foods and food we despise. As every tour is slightly different, the guides use these “getting to know you” sessions to help tailor the day. For example, myself and my friend are both totally onion averse. Throughout the tour, Missy and Ruthie kept this in mind and made sure we had an allium-free option to try.
Into Machane Yehuda
Sabich – The Israeli Comfort Food
Pronounced sa-beek (or thereabouts), this is pitta bread full of yummy treats. This dish originated in Iraq but immigrated to Israel and became a real staple. It is served cold which makes it perfect for Shabbat as it requires no on-the-day cooking.
In the version we tried, our pittas were stuffed with boiled egg, aubergine, pickles and topped with tahini (sesame paste). There was also a really punchy green chilli sauce that reminded me strongly of mango chutney.
Kubay – Dumpling Delight
We should all know by now what a total dumpling freak I am. Take any food, dice it and stick it inside a little parcel and I’ll kill for it. Well, this was a very new taste experience for me.
We were given a beef dumpling in a bright yellow broth to taste. The semolina dumpling’s filling was reminiscent of a Russian pelmeni. In the soup were also lots of veggies, some of which were stuffed with semolina. The soup itself was heavily flavoured with lemon and completely cut through the fatty, meatiness of the dumpling. It was a real shock when my tastebuds were expecting a more savoury m experience. The addition of the lovely chunks of vegetable and acidic lemon made the whole thing much lighter and perfect for a hearty but summery dish.
After these first two dishes, it was time to head into the Machane Yumuda market’s covered streets. We passed a burgeoning hipster area serving ready to eat dishes. These food stalls are breathing new life into the market and ensuring it’s continued popularity, even creating a buzzing nightlife scene here.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Jerusalem? Check out our YMCA Three Arches Hotel Review
Etrog – The Mystery Fruit
Sure we have all been to juice bars before but our next stop had flavours and mixes that I had never seen before. It is a unique and interesting selection and the best thing about being on a food tour is that you get to try lots of them! Ruthie picked out five different flavours and we all shared a big tray of little shot glasses between us.
Out of the flavours we tried, I couldn’t get enough of the passion fruit and goat’s milk smoothie and Ginger Apple. Mr Fluskey was a total fan of the “Best Lemonade Ever” I think the copious amounts of sugar in it, leading to a sweet and zingy mixture, won him over.
Etrog (the main ingredient of EtrogGat) is an energy giving fruit that I had never heard of. It is used medicinally in many of the products at this stall, which also sells beauty products containing the same thing.
Malawach – Israeli Pizza(ish)
Pizza is a bit misleading as malawach (pronounced wal-la-wah) can be enjoyed as either an open flatbread or a rolled wrap. This dish originates from Yemen and really refers just to the bread. It is like lots of layers of puff pastry fried together, a lot like paratha.
Here in the shuk they cover or fill it with all kinds of exciting ingredients and cook with flair. You can pick your own toppings but popular ones include grated tomato, egg, spicy salsa and za’atar (more on this ingredient later). We opted for a pizza variant and so our malawach was smothered in yummy juicy tomato, aubergine, greens and egg. It is was utterly delicious and would be the perfect end-of-the-night snack.
Knafeh – “You’re so sweet.” “Well, you’re super cheesy!”
We next went to a stall displaying a wide variety of sweets. To my untrained eye, these all looked like types of baklava but we learn that some of them were called Knafeh. Knafeh is made of very thin strips of filo pastry filled with cheese and soaked in sugar syrup.
I must admit, I was very sceptical about this, especially when it had been sitting out.. Melted cheese that has had time to cool and congeal…? Luckily for us, Missy and Ruthie ordered us a fresh batch and we got to try it hot and dripping with sweet, sticky goodness. Oh my goodness, it was GOOD! I have never been a massive baklava fan thinking it too sickly but the cheese was just the tonic for that. I am now a total knafeh convert!
Craft Beer – Hipster Nectar
Beer is an acquired taste that we have never fancied acquiring. Mr Fluskey bravely tried this flight of beers at our next stop as the craft beer movement is quite a new phenomenon in Jerusalem and our guides were keen to show them off.
The rest of our group was made up of an American family and they were very happy with the collection of brews. Even their 12-year-old son had three sips which left him convinced he was drunk (bless).
I found the hard raspberry lemonade that the bar had on tap and I was perfectly content sipping on that. I wonder if it was better than the Best Lemonade Ever a few doors down?
If you have a bit of time check out Make the Most of Two Days in Jerusalem – An Itinerary
Tahini – Open Sesame (Seeds)
Tahini is ground sesame paste and only really known to me as one of the main ingredients in hummus.
Here, in a small shop within Machane Yehuda, tahini is being made fresh and mixed into all kinds of exciting sauces. Tahini itself is quite savoury and very dry so I was intrigued to try these different condiments. There was an incredibly fiery chilli version that set the group’s hairs on end, and a weird and wonderful chocolate version. I still like it best in hummus but it was fun to try these out.
Cocktails – Been There, Drunk That
We passed by a famous bar in the area known as the Georgian market called Casino de Paris. This place has been serving drinks since the 1930s but has been given a new lease of life with it’s re-imagining in 2011. We didn’t actually stop in here as part of the tour, but coincidentally, had popped in for a cocktail beforehand. What else do you do when you arrive 45 minutes early for a food tour! I tried their spicy cocktail and it was seriously addictive and lip-tinglingly delicious.
Flatbread – A World Away
Someone visiting from a country outside of the middle east is likely to be amazed at just how different bread is here. You may have tried pitta bread and thought it was OK, but here in Jerusalem, it is a totally different beast. It is soft, spongy and a joy to munch on. Laffa is no different, especially when it is hot, fresh from the over and liberally topped with za’atar.
Za’atar, is a herby condiment closely associated with Israeli cuisine. It tastes like a very strong variant of oregano (it’s presence on the malawach made it taste more pizza-like).
Spices – Sugar, Spice and All Things Nice
Our next stop was a spice shop. Here were smelled and tasted a variety of spices present in many Israeli dishes. We also got to try tasty mixtures of dried fruit and spices. My favourite tasted just like Christmas.
Khachapuri – Bready Boats
Looking a little like Turkish pide, these boat-shaped Georgian loaves of bread are a vegan’s nightmare, but a vegetarian’s dream! There are a few ways to eat Khachapuri but we tried the rich, salty butter-laden version. The middle of the bread was filled with butter, cheese and egg which we mixed to the most fantastic scrambled eggs.
We were pretty full by now but it was impossible not to rip off the corners of the bread, dip them in and stuff them into our faces. Everyone was grinning like idiots, trying not to take the lion’s share out of politeness. I was deeply saddened that I had to be so polite.
Ice Cream – You Scream, I Scream…
What good meal doesn’t have a little dessert at the end? Well, for this one, ice cream was a good way to cut through the greasy, cheesy Khachapuri. The shop the guides took us to had some very weird and wonderful flavours. I decided to play it a little safe and mixed chai with mango (an Indian sundae).
Back to Beer Bazaar – This Round Is On Me
I know, I know, we had already indulged a lot but the raspberry lemonade was pretty tasty and we needed to sit and digest for a while. We wandered back up the hill to Beer Bazaar, where the group had tried the craft beer, and enjoyed an hour or o of people watching.
Check out all our travels around Israel
If you are thinking of joining a food tour with Delicious Israel, here is some information you might like to know.
- The best way to book is directly through the Delicious Israel website.
- Delicious Israel runs one tour in Jerusalem at the moment but they are also creating a night tour through the Machane Yehuda as well.
- Tel Aviv tours are much more varied and you can visit several of the city’s markets.
- Delicious Israel also runs other foodie experiences including shabbat meals in family homes, cooking classes and tours to breweries and wineries.
- Every tour will be slightly different as the guides create the tour based on your likes and dislikes. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t resemble this one all that closely.
Final Thoughts on our Eat Jerusalem Food Tour Through Machane Yehuda
It was a real treat to have such guides to show us around Machane Yehuda. It was wonderful to hear their personal relationships to Israel and the food of the market. We ended our tour through the Machane Yehuda market with our bellies full and a new appreciation of the world of Israeli food beyond hummus. Plus, we got a little parting gift (but I don’t want to spoil the surprise).