Souk or suk or suq n. - in North Africa and the Middle East, a market or marketplace. I’m going to call it the shuk, because I am an American which means I am congenitally incapable of speaking anything other than bad english (I also find that when I just speak English loudly, non English speakers can understand me - travel tip #43). The shuks in Israel are quintessentially Middle Eastern places. If someone tried to open one in say, Texas, it would probably turn into a giant rodeo complete with cotton candy and hot dogs. In California, it would become a farmer’s market where you could get wheatgrass shots and sustainable toilet paper. (I think I regret just writing that. Some eco-minded person reading this right now is thinking, Hmmm. Sustainable toilet paper. How can I make that happen?) So when you go to Israel you will probably hit the shuks, because nowhere else can you experience the culture and color of Israel so vividly.
My personal love, though I hate to be trite, is Jerusalem's Machane Yehudah. It’s become a little gentrified of late, with trendy bars and restaurants and gourmet shops. Which I guess is cool, but also kind of a shame. I always, always get lost. I’ll find a great shop or stall, and then I can’t find it the next day. I found a pair of very essential earrings in a little jewelry shop and then I lost one earring during my trip. The shuk is so big and and has so many alleys, that I found several other (admittedly not as essential) pairs of earrings on the way to finding the shop I was looking for. Click here to read a great blog that a friend wrote about some of the awesome things to check out in the Shuk.
On my wall is a pretty ugly tapestry that I bought in the Arab shuk in the Old City. My husband and I were walking through the Cardo in Jerusalem’s old city, which turns into the Arab shuk. (the Cardo is a shuk that is legit - in ancient times it was a market place as well. But it’s also basically geared to tourists. The difference is that the other shuks are local places that tourists like to visit.) We were sort of casually looking at wall hangings and were so taken aback by the aggressive tactics of the shopkeeper that we bought the tapestry. I think he thought we were playing the middle eastern bargaining game like the pros we are not. We just really didn’t want the stupid thing and he kept lowering the price so we bought it. Ok….so maybe we were taken in.
Shuk Hacarmel in Tel Aviv is like Mahane Yehuda. But not. Less Judaica, less food, more clothes and textiles. And even more crowded if possible. I picked up some great scarves there. When I am Israel, I am always convinced that I should take to wearing scarves on my head like an Ethiopian princess. Than when I get home, I realize that I actually just look like a poser. But I have a lot of cool scarves in my closet that other people (Yael) like to steal borrow. Right next to Shuk HaCarmel is Nachlat Binyamin, which is a shuk that is exclusively art - of all kind. So think, jewelry, bags, glassware, etc. This one is only twice a week - Tuesdays and Fridays - so you need to plan ahead if you want to go there. I seem to always be in Tel Aviv on the wrong day. The cool thing about Nahalat Binyamin is that each stall is owned and operated by the artist creating the work that is for sale.
Other shuks around Israel - Sarona and Levinsky markets in Tel Aviv, two foodie destinations. The market in Akko, small but authentic. Shuk Talpiot in Haifa is the best place to get fresh seafood. Since Haifa is a port city, lots of local fishermen are selling their catch of the day there. The Ramla market is open everyday and visitors can find exotic spices as well as Arab antiques. At the bedouin market in Be’er Sheva you can still sometimes run into Bedouins coming to the shuk to sell their livestock. Not something you ever see at Stop n’ Shop.