Passover Food in Jerusalem
The food in Israel during the entire week of Passover is unthrilling; all of the Jewish restaurants and street food stalls close. The only leavened bread I found was in the Muslim Quarter in the Old City, but even these were monotonous and less tasty than bread from my village bakery in Jordan. My Peace Corps colleagues who had visited Jerusalem earlier had raved about sushi restaurants, kosher delis, bagel cafes, and pastry shops around every corner. During the entire week of Passover, however, it was only a tease; I stumbled aimlessly through streets lined with restaurants advertising Sushi! Pastries! Panini Sandwiches! Homemade Lasagna! Bagels and Lox!...once Passover ends. I stared through their windows at empty tables in an unlighted room. For those who know me personally, you know that I was highly disappointed. I wasn't about to subject myself to falafel and hummus from the Muslim Quarter, so I set out on a mission to satisfy my tastebuds with what little options were available.
I found sanctuary in a marketplace called Mahaneh Yehuda, my favorite neighborhood in Jerusalem. From morning until sundown, the raucous, open-air market sells fresh fruits and veggies, whole fish, dangling cows and sheep, dried fruits and nuts, macaroons (the only pastry I saw sold during Passover), an array of cheeses, olives, halva, crates of eggs, and spices that mesmerize the nostrils and tantalize the tastebuds. Locals congregate here for the cheapest produce, and I elbowed with Israelis vying for the shiniest bell peppers or the firmest apples. They were more prepared than me, I soon realized, as I found myself struggling with several plastic bags and them strolling past me with a wheeled contraption which stably held a canvas bag the size of a very large suitcase. Two days in a row, I went during sunset, when the market closes, and found Mahaneh Yehuda pulsating with screams of lowering prices, locals scrambling to grab the last of the last, and hawkers erasing blackboard prices and scribbling a lower number as the crowds dwindled. The best meal I had in Jerusalem, thanks to no restaurants open, was a buffet spread I bought from the Mahaneh Yehuda market: a spread of cheeses, tuna salad, fresh guacamole, a colorful and oily concoction of grilled veggies, and an orange-colored, pear-shaped fruit that I had never seen before. The best part? This delicious picnic cost me 20 shekels, less than $6.