Friday, December 9, 2011

Shopping in the shuk

OCADO IT is not. There's the 3km walk there for starters: uphill, with two children in tow, naturally. And back again. Buggy laden with more plastic bags than the Daily Mail could hope to persuade Brits to save in a year. Such is shopping in the shuk, which sounds remarkably like souk, but is actually Hebrew for market, something I've been doing since our second day in this city and something I will miss more than just about anything else about living here.

It has its downsides. That walk, for starters. Especially the day Louis insisted on scootering. Or the one I left the buggy behind, but still bought two massive bags of produce, including a litre of olive oil. And I invariably pick the busiest of times to go, like the day before Yom Kippur and both the Shabbat-rules Sukkot holiday days. Not to mention most Fridays, including today, when seemingly all of Jerusalem piles in either to stock up for the one day that the shops are shut or to watch everyone else stocking up.

Me, I like to do a bit of both: stockpiling and watching, although as today was my third trip this week Louis got off relatively lightly on the shopping front. Best are the bearded, black-hatted Haredim men, armed with ancient buggies-cum-shopping trolleys, who clearly scout out the best bargains going. I saw a few scuttle along this afternoon barely minutes before the shuk shut to nab everything going cheap.

I used to lure Louis up there with the promise of a tram ride: the track goes down Jaffa Road, perpendicular to the shuk, or Machane Yehuda to use its proper name. But now he's ridden the entire line he's a bit more blase, so I'm left with tummy-led temptations. For a while I used the ice cream at Mousseline (on Ha-Eshkol Street next to the Khachapuri bakery if you're in the area): sublime. But now it's colder we're back to "pink pasta" at the Italian we found on that first trip, which I know now is called Pasta Basta. Back on day two, I was desperate for somewhere to feed both the little people and the tiny cafe, on a corner inside the warren of bustling streets, happened to have a seat. I was too daunted by the Hebrew menu initially to order much more than a salad and a juice, a mistake I quickly rectified. They keep it simple, with just three pastas and several sauces, onto which you can pile any number of toppings. It's quick, unusually cheap for Jerusalem, and exceptionally delicious, Louis' top pick being wholewheat fettuccine with beetroot, oil, and garlic.

The pasta place is emblematic of the changes to what must rank among the world's top food markets, with a number of new cafes opening in the past couple of years, not to mention upmarket cheese shops, olive oil stalls, and even shops selling locally designed pottery and jewellery. Come night time, when the vegetable (and meat and fish) sellers have gone home, cafe tables spill out into the shuk's inner streets and take over (so I'm told; I have yet to leave our flat). All very Borough, but with the bonus of coming home with change from £20 for more freshly picked produce than I know what to do with.

I used to think I'd be glad to get back to Ocado but after tasting the dinner I made tonight, which was nothing fancy (green beans, dill, onion, garlic, and feta, baked in olive oil and lemon juice with bulghur), I'm already in mourning for all the vegetables we'll leave behind. Air flown, polystyrene-packed Kenyan green beans just aren't going to cut it.


Iota said...

Happy New Year! Is 2012 going to see you staying in your current location, with exotic shopping, or heading to pastures new (Borough perhaps?)

Babies who brunch said...

Ahh, Iota: Happy New Year to you too from a VERY grey London. We're back - but I still have some Israeli blogs up my sleeve..... And failing that I could blog about the sensation that is Bermondsey's Maltby Street market... fingers permanently crossed for pastures further afield however!!