The great thing about marketplaces, or souks, in Tel Aviv is the superior quality and good value of the produce on offer. The markets here provide visitors with a chance to experience the colours, atmosphere and delicious foods this amazing city has to offer.
Souks have been an intrinsic part of Middle Eastern culture for centuries. They have not only been providing residents with fresh, seasonal produce, but they have also been a place to interact with different communities and cultures. Nearly every major city in Israel has a central souk, with the largest and most famous being Machne Yehuda in Jerusalem and Shuk HaCarmel (Carmel Market) in Tel Aviv. Most are open daily from Sunday to Friday.
The famous flea market of Old Jaffa has been around in its current location and iteration for about 70 years and is part of a market culture that’s been in Jaffa for centuries. As with all flea markets, tat and treasures sit side by side, so be prepared to do some digging to find the gems hidden in the market’s maze of stone-paved lanes and narrow streets. Jewellery dealers selling artisanal Persian rings sit next to carpet sellers and second-hand furniture merchants hawking Ottoman-inspired brass lamps or hand-carved Art Deco desks from Belgium. At dusk, before Shabbat, the market turns into a nightlife hotspot as music blares and restaurant tables are dragged out on to the street – the atmosphere is electric. Cafés such as Pu’aa make the most of their location from the plates on which food is served, which are all market finds and are also available for sale.
About a minute’s walk from Jaffa’s famous clock tower at the entrance to Old Jaffa is the Greek Market. Named after the nearby Greek Orthodox monastery that oversaw its foundation in the 19th century, it’s enjoying a renaissance of sorts. It’s an outdoor market that specialises in antiques and vintage clothes. Friday at lunchtime and on Tuesday nights, musicians come out with their bouzoukis and lyres to busk. Also on Fridays, artists and craftspeople take over the squares and lanes of the small plaza to sell their wares, some of which are made on the spot. Enjoy a coffee or lunch at one of the market’s many bars and restaurants that spill out onto the streets. As the sun goes down, fairy lights strung from trees and lamp posts add to the magical Mediterranean atmosphere.
Follow the smell of cardamom, curry, sumac and cinnamon to the Levinsky Spice Market on Levinsky Street. The origins of the market in the once working-class, now gentrified neighbourhood of Florentin are found in the traditional spice merchant communities of Mizrahi Iranian and Iraqi Jews. Several younger generations of Mizrahi Jews have opened their own shops, adding a food lover’s flair to the mix; however, the atmosphere is still much as it was when the market opened in the 1950s. This market brims with atmosphere as well as aromas: canvas bags of nutmeg, dates and pistachios spill over onto the street. Open every day and just a 10-minute walk from the New Central Bus Station, Levinsky Spice Market is also a great place to eat and drink. Sit and relax with a coffee from Café Atlas or make a quick stop at Yom Tov Deli for some Turkish snacks.
The Shuk HaNamal, or Port Market, opened in 2010 as part of an expensive and expansive makeover of the port area in the north of the city. Boutiques, spas, bars and restaurants opened up along a sleek new boardwalk, all helping Shuk HaNamal to earn a reputation as a foodie’s market. It’s Tel Aviv’s only covered market and one that draws a fairly well-heeled crowd. Local shoppers load up on good coffee and buttery pastries before purchasing their groceries from farm stalls. Prices tend to be higher than those at other street markets, but it’s the best place to find organic produce, including meats, cheese, rainbow carrots and purple potatoes. Many of the stalls around the market sell prepared dishes, with the Kitchen Market providing a more formal eating space. Weekends at the market are the busiest, especially during the morning hours.
Nahalat Binyamin is a pedestrian street parallel to the busier and noisier Carmel Market and Allenby Street. It’s lined with some of the city’s most enticing cafés and eateries. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the atmosphere surrounding Nahalat Binyamin completely changes as the famous Artist Market takes over. It’s a souk that offers all things handcrafted and artisanal. From paintings, photography and picture frames to jewellery, new and repurposed ceramics, glassware and Judaica, vendors sell their own items, so prospective buyers can talk to them about their craft and inspiration. Street performers add to the lively atmosphere.
The city’s restored German Templar Colony reopened in 2015 as the Sarona complex, a food and retail emporium. Sarona is more of a food hall than a market, but it offers international cuisines and some of Tel Aviv’s best food experiences. There’s a branch of French gourmet food emporium Fauchon and local favourites, such as Tel Aviv’s famous Max Brenner chocolates. More savoury offerings include hummus from an outpost of the Jaffa legend, Abu Hassan, cheese from the haute cheesemonger Basher Fromagerie (this cheese shop actually originated in the Machne Yehuda Market in Jerusalem) and ramen from Israeli chef Yisrael Aharoni’s Hiro restaurant. There are also some very popular pubs and coffee spots. Sarona doesn’t have the same lively atmosphere as Tel Aviv’s outdoor markets, but it’s a lovely new addition in a historic setting.
Shuk HaCarmel is one of Tel Aviv’s most famous markets. Close to the Yemenite Quarter, the hawkers here alone make the experience entertaining; they are famous for the boisterous and lyrical way in which they try to get you over to their stalls. The market dates back to the 1920s and offers a little bit of everything: fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, dates the size of golf balls and glasses of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice – it’s the perfect place to try a bit of everything. Organised in a rather haphazard way, fruit sellers set up next to tables laden with mezuzahs, music or milkshakes. It’s important to note that some vendors have earned the ‘buyer beware’ label (it’s likely those adidas trainers are fake). The shuk runs on either side of a narrow street, running south from the junction of King George, Allenby and Shenkin streets. The market is small and compact, but there’s more to it than the main strip. Don’t wander in a straight line but zigzag through intersecting streets to taste and smell everything from bourekas to empanadas. A popular option is to sign up for a three-hour guided tour through the market. Look out for the increasing number of chefs organising pop-up restaurants alongside stalls selling prepared foods.