Nazareth Shuk: A Kaleidoscope for the Senses

by Sarah on February 3, 2010

There is nobody as hospitable as those from Nazareth, and a simple phone call to ask about  where to obtain ma’amoul molds and the best place to buy spices was answered with an invitation for lunch at a friend’s home in the center of town.

My partner on this trip was Miriam Kresh who told me directly that she would not be able to help navigate (as she doesn’t drive) which meant that I needed to depend on my temperamental GPS. Along the way, I had quit a few seething dialogues with the little machine that insisted on taking me “the funny way” as we say in my family:

GPS: (before entrance into major intersection) Take a left, right at next intersection

Me: Left or Right? WHAT IS IT?

GPS: Right.

Me: Right?  Right?! But I am on the left lane of a three lane highway in the middle of the intersection, what’s wrong with you?!

GPS: (at next multilane intersection) We have lost GPS signal

Me: We? Blithering (censored) don’t try to blame it on me! %$^$%&%$&%$%^$%^#$%^#$%$#! Etc

Only when I knew exactly where I was going did the GPS work perfectly.

Church of the Annunciation, Catholic

When we eventually arrived in Nazareth I managed to drive through every alleyway in the old city looking for parking before meeting my friend’s sister in law, who made special arrangements to be our tour guide for the day. I was a little fazed from the trip and when she asked me to park by reversing onto a steep narrow hill, I handed her the keys and without laughing at me (at least not in my face)  she parked my car in about three seconds. She has been maneuvering Nazareth’s labyrinths daily, as Miriam pointed out, trying to make me feel better. Ok, I admit, I can’t parallel park and this is not the first time I relinquished my keys, last time it was to a complete stranger who could have drove off with my car.

The shuk emptying at the end of the day

Many colorful head scarves but some just like them white

The old cobbler

Although I could have easily visited Nazareth myself (it may have taken me twice as long to park) it is always more interesting culturally to be with someone who has spent a lifetime there. She introduced us to the Galilee Mill spice store which I spoke about in my last post and then onto the local shuk which for me is not only a place to fulfill errands but an amazing hub of interactions and a kaleidoscope for the senses, bringing people together on its ancient cobbled streets.  The shuk was stocked with the usual myriad of fresh produce, spices, textiles and kitchen and household wares but also items which are much more difficult to find.

Friendly coffee shop merchant

While making our way through the corridor of the shuk, we could smell the scent of freshly ground coffee wafting from a coffee shop, enticing us into the old stone building. We were greeted by the ebullient shopkeeper who allowed us into the back room to see how the coffee was being roasted and graciously offered us a small cup of the velvet black elixir all the while talking about his favorite soccer team.  Although I seldom drink black coffee, I bought a bag with the addition of the exotic cardamom, which the shopkeeper added by eye, throwing in an extra pinch right before closing the bag. He put in exactly the right amount, I know, I have tasted.

It wasn’t long before we stopped again at a kitchen supply store where, aside from the usual pots and pans there were some wonderful treasures.

For those with big or bigger families

For all your kitchen needs, including darbukas

But instead of traditional Arabic music emanating from the stalls, someone had tuned in to Shimon Peres’s address delivered at the 65th international Holocaust Memorial Day in Germany. Somehow, shopping in the heart of an Arab town, populated by both Muslims and Christians, his words “I believe peace is attainable” seemed to be true, at least in the microcosm of the shuk.

From every stall, what appeared to be large plastic or metal pot coasters were hanging from the ceiling which Miriam explained were shish barak trays, used to make dainty Middle Eastern dumplings. I also found a deluxe vegetable corer with a notch added to facilitate coring, and really nifty multipurpose plastic ma’amoul molds as well as handmade wooden ones like we saw at the Galilee Mill. I was in good company as Miriam was as enthusiastic as I was, in that quiet way of hers, and all for finding a couple of cheap kitchen gadgets.

Modern and traditional ma'amoul molds

shish barak trays and green handled vegetable corers

This is the first shuk where I have seen akub  (Gundelia tournefortii) being sold, which luckily was already cleaned of the spiky leaves and stems.

Akub, that were once fresh

Akub grows wild in Israel but because it has been extensively gathered, it recently has been declared a protected plant by the Ministry of the Environment. To help supply the demand, Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar has been growing it on experimental plots to see if it possible to cultivate them on a wider scale to supply the increasing demand. The first time I ate it was at Elbabour restaurant in Eyn Ibriham where they sauted it simply with olive oil and garlic allowing its natural flavor to dominate which tasted to me a bit like Jerusalem artichokes.

The best fried kibbeh

After the afternoon spent meandering around the shuk we were invited to eat lunch at my friend’s house, whose wife made the best fried kibbeh I have ever eaten, with a slightly crunchy crust and a rich savory lamb filling.  She also made a magnificent stuffed chicken spiced with cinnamon scented rice and small morsels of meat which were hand chopped. To accompany this feast was a lovely vegetable salad, dressed simply in olive oil and lemon juice. Our friend told us that he finds it difficult eating outside his home as nothing tastes good to him, even the coffee his wife makes is better than anywhere else. Somehow, after eating there, I am not surprised he feels like that.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

lisaiscooking February 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I could probably spend many hours at a shuk. There’s so much to see and take in, must have been a fun day!


Hirin April 23, 2013 at 5:06 am

If the kosher shops of the shuk had very clear toduet (no mess, no old laminated signs dangling around, no ishur mehadrin without Rabbinute etc, no people asserting to trust me, ze beseder , no out of date mehadrin toduet with the excuse everybody knows the guy still comes ).A solution could be a simple colour coding to differentiate regular and mehadrin toduet, but nothing more complicated, with no partial-supervision of shops etc etc, then it would be clear which shops are and are not kosher.This is a big issue and I prefer to go to the supermarket where everything is either wrapped in plastic with a hescher, or from a clearly supervised and certified section of the shop (meat and fruit specifically)What does the Shuk committee say about this?


Liz@Cafe Liz February 3, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Wonderful photos! I always wondered what those honeycomb-like things were. And I also saw akub being sold in that market, when I was there a few weeks ago … didn’t ask them where it’s from. (In fact, I still have some coffee left over from Farhoum …)


Yael February 4, 2010 at 2:46 am

i am so envious! while i waste my time in this lab you’re living life. this trip looks like so much fun. you should get to Akko shuk next. old Akko is very wonderful.


Jay P February 6, 2010 at 12:19 am

Kibbeh is called içli (something inside) köfte in Turkey. I love it but have never been brave enough to attempt to make it. The ones in your photo look lovely…as does the shuk. Could spend hours there!


Sue Grom March 29, 2011 at 7:58 am

I have been searching near and far for one of those “green handled vegetable corers” to replace the much loved but falling apart one given to me by my Lebanese grandmother for my bridal shower. I use it to make her coosa recipe. I stuff yellow squash along with stuffed green peppers with a ground beef and rice stuffing flavored with cinnamon nutmeg in a tomato broth. Am loving your stories that go along with the recipes. Thank you.


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