Night life at Mahane Yehuda Market

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The porch is minuscule. On the edge of the iron fence that portions off the small tables from the passers on the market, roses bloom profusely from cans. On the tables more roses. I am fortunate to conquer the last free table at Bar 5th of May.

Jeruzalem – A young man wriggles out from behind the bar of the small business he runs. Just a few barstools and three small tables on the porch. “Shalom”, and he continues in Hebrew. Presumably he presents himself by the name Amir but I have no clue. Only when he reads the incomprehension on my face, he switches to English.

Mahane Yehuda market

“I am sorry, welcome, you look so Israeli. I thought you were from here. “Amir indeed turns out to be his name and he is one of the owners of the cafe here in the indoor part of the Mahane Yehuda market in the heart of Jerusalem.

It is crowded at the market. It’s Sunday and life in this religious town is back on track after Sabbath. The market is an old one. Founded in 1887 by two Jews and a Protestant banker, it grew to become the main market of the city where Orthodox Jews and Palestinians are commending their goods.

Suicide bombings

It is also the market that has been avoided often due to the many killings that took place between 1997 and 2002 by suicide bombings. Earlier, when the British were given the mandate over Palestine in the early twentieth century, they had the market partly covered.

At 10:00 in the morning it is busy. Traders roll large beer barrels, buckets or bags full of olives and spicy herbs through the aisles. Israeli soldiers, machine gun loosely over the shoulder, squeeze past black-clad men with black hats and Arabs dressed in white.

Iranian braekfast

I can choose between an Israeli, European or Iranian breakfast. I decide on Iranian and a few moments later a large plate full of rice, nuts and fried vegetables is put in front of me. The Palestinian fruit vendor across, has pressed fresh pomegranate juice for me. The Israeli breakfast, Amir tells me, consists of falafel, fresh fruits and goat cheese.

In the small shop next to us, a woman sells silver jewelry, while on the side, the owner of a narrow tiny room full of pet supplies, tries to lure his audience with colored bouncing balls for dogs.

Commune

Amir began his place, called 5th of May , five years ago. The bar’s name is derived from the community in which he grew up. Together with his young wife, he invents numerous projects to revitalize the market .

“The market is a good central place to bring people together,” he says. “But at night it’s deserted here. Since it is accessible to everyone, we decided that we had to do something with that huge space. ”

Together with other young people and the community they started creating art projects. Enthusiastically he tells his story. Across from him an Arab merchant scoops mint and pepper in large burlap sacks.

The shutters of the small shops in the shuk were painted as were the bins. Musicians started performing in the corridors and Amir thought it would be a nice place to have dinner together at night.

“Many young artists and chefs want to make it into a multifunctional space for the public,” he continues.

Cooking in a hundred years old corridor

“You can do a tour of the market,  have a taste of everything or do a cooking class but by the end of the day the place is deserted and that is a pitty. So we decided to start cooking here at night in this magnificent corridors with perfect acoustics for performances. ”

If you like, come and have dinner with us tonight. Every Sunday we transform this market street into a restaurant with tapas bars and live music.”

Groenteboer in Jeruzalem

At night I have trouble finding the restaurant. Where I first had to elbow my way through the crowd, I now wander through deserted alleys that smell of spices and fruit. All of a sudden I hear a trumpet. in front of bar 5th of May the street has been turned into a lounge area.

Crates with colorful cushions are placed in cosy corners. There are umbrellas and big oil cans are used as tables. Every little bar or cook has created a private booth with a hot plate or a barbecue.

Sardines on a bruschetta

Today’s menu at Amir’s consists of baked sardines on bruschetta with olive oil, mozzarella cheese and cilantro. There’s cherry beer and ice slushies. A jazz band is playing Miles Davies. I choose some tapas and a local beer and watch how the cook is preparing my food.

When Amir has spotted me he comes up with the spatula in his hand: “Shalom, welcome. How nice to have you here.” He pushes me at the table with strangers. Take a seat. You can’t sit on your own. There’s nothing like having a good dinner with friends.”

Text: Anneke de Bundel

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