Open Air Market

by Sarah on March 31, 2009

My favorite neighbor, Evelyne called today to ask if I wanted to go to Lod shuk. I have been to this shuk only a few times and it has always been a memorable experience. The first time I went to the shuk was to buy a saj (an upside down wok for baking flat bread). This open air market is not an organized place like the more famous ones in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but crowded and filled not with tourists but busy people looking for a bargain. There is always a colorful mixture of Bedouins, Arabs, Ethiopians, religious Jews, and Russians; a colorful crisscrossing and interaction of cultures. That summer day was hot, crowded, stinky and loud, and I loved it.

After buying the saj from the Arab merchant, I proceeded to wander around the suk looking to buy vegetables. I began to notice people staring at me and every 10 steps an Arab or Bedouin women would stop me and ask “You know how to make pita on a saj?”, I nodded but they must have all been thinking “what’s the white girl doing with the saj?” Finally a Bedouin asks me how I make my bread so I tell her that I take 1kg of flour…..”1 kg of flour! ha, ha ha!! We always use at least 10 kg” It was so in congruous for them, sort of like a Bedouin walking around the shuk with a platter of sushi rolls.

The second time I went to the shuk to buy melouchia which I couldn’t find in my local vegetable market. After picking up a huge bunch of mloukhia an Arab women stopped me to ask if I knew what to do with it and that “it’s not spinach you know”. She was very helpful and told us to buy a half circle knife from the corner salesman for chopping the mloukhia “and don’t pay more than 20 NIS for it!”, and then gave us her family recipe. The knife merchant asked for 100 NIS, oh no, that’s not low enough, after some haggling I was able to reduce it to 30 NIS before I gave in (not bad for a pushover).

Today, with Moroccan music on the radio (for authenticity), I picked up Eveylyne and her daughter Hedva to stock up on vegetables before the pre-Pesach rush. Evelyne needed to pick up a few things for her mother, an accomplished Tunisian cook who makes some amazing dishes. After consulting with her mother, Evelyne proceeeded to buy three sacks of artichokes, finishing the vegetable vender’s entire stock. Her mother must have dozens of secret artichoke recipes because I can’t imagine what she is going to do with all that. After that we went to buy fresh garlic for her mother’s famous harissa as well as for my unknown one. Even after we are loaded, we still must get broadbeans, harshaf (cardoons, from the artichoke family), bananas, strawberries, spices….. I love the shuk and always buy way more than I can possible use before the produce turns to compost. I am just happy that my buying problem is limited to buying too many bunches of aromatic basil, parsley and za’atar and not Italian shoes. To me a beautiful vegetable is like a painting, even better because it is real.

My car is well protected from vampires, it is absolutely stinky with garlic.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Thom April 3, 2009 at 6:03 am

What an absolutely excellent blog. I’m kind of surprised that I am the first one to comment. You took some great pictures, and I like how you have gone into detail about everything….history, friendships. Best to you and your family!


Sarah April 3, 2009 at 8:32 am

Thank you! BBQ season is near and I will be going to your blog for tips!


Kaleigh August 30, 2011 at 1:13 am

Thanky Thanky for all this good informtoian!


sazji April 5, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Great photos and article! I love outdoor markets; they are an institution in Istanbul. In my old neighborhood there were four different ones on different days within 10 minute walk of my house. Now I only have two…:( Here they tend to reflect the population of the area – lots of people from the Black Sea here so heavy on corn products and lots of Trichostemon orientalis for sale. In Tarlabaşı with its heavy Kurdish population there will be wild cardoon and the bitter rhubarb that is harvested now. Though the markets sell a little of everything, I’ve never seen a sac/saj on sale there! (They are sold elsewhere.)


Sazji April 5, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Ah, I love open-air markets and loved this post! Your photos are so familiar; these markets are an institution in Istanbul and have all the same vegetables in season now. Ours tend to reflect the population of the neighborhood – wild cardoon and the bitter wild rhubarb in Kurdish areas, lots of corn products and (now) Trichostemon in my present neighborhood. Though ours sell everything from fruits and vegetables through housewares to clothes and ladies’ undergarments (always sold by men), I’ve never seen a sac/saj in a market, even in mostly Kurdish neighborhoods. I guess the permanent Eminönü market has that wrapped up.


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