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EST. 2011 BY LIZ RUEVEN
Shopping the Shuk in Israel Reveals More than Fresh Fruit
Erez Golko with me in Wadi Nisnas, Haifa, Israel

Shopping the Shuk in Israel Reveals More than Fresh Fruit

It never fails.

When I visit a family owned farm, an unpretentious winery, a farmers’ market or a neighborhood cafe that celebrates local ingredients I ALWAYS taste something that wows me.

When I take any of these paths when I travel, I ALWAYS feel more connected to that place. Most importantly, these culinary adventures have the potential to unlock better understanding of a culture and most often, connection to new friends.

Haifa Bay view
Photo: Liz Rueven

Last week, while spending a week visiting family in Israel, I connected with Erez Golko in Haifa, my hubby’s hometown. Erez hosts for EatWith, offers market tours of the (mostly) Arab Christian shuk called Wadi Nisnas, and extends his tours by cooking in his home with ingredients he buys along the way.

Erez Golkko Wadi Nisnas
Photo: Liz Rueven

We arranged to meet at the top of the main street at the entrance to the market. The juxtaposition of older stone buildings bumping up to high-rise office buildings, was striking.

Haifa, Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven

Erez and I connected immediately as he explained the meaning of the Arabic word BALADI to me. As I understand it, baladi refers to local, organic and traditional ingredients and home cooked foods that adhere to time honored methods particular to Arab cuisine.

Wadi Nisnas is a serious of stands, small shops and eateries that highlight these types of traditional food.

The busiest days here are Fridays and Saturdays as most businesses are owned by Christians who honor Sunday as a day of rest. As the weekend starts, many shops sell baladi dishes prepared by family members in their home kitchens.

Wadi Nisnas Kosher Like Me
Photo: Liz Rueven; Erez and shop owner, Mustafa

Our view of the market was much quieter as we joined Erez on a Tuesday morning when foot traffic was light.This gave us an opportunity to visit with our guide’s favorite shop owners to chat and taste together.

Our first stop was to visit Mustafa (pictured above) who chatted animatedly with Erez as we sipped strong coffee  from thimble sized cups. This welcome gesture is integral to hospitality in the Middle East.

We tasted his carob honey, known for its health benefits for relieving ailments of the mouth, including pain in the gums and throat. The warmth and friendship between Mustafa and Erez was palpable and a joy to watch.

Kosher Like Me in Haifa Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven

Erez’s enthusiasm for less familiar ingredients like purslane, loaded with omega 3’s and ideal for vegans, is contagious. It has a slightly sour and succulent quality I never really liked but I’m open to trying anything Erez cooks for us on our next visit.

Kosher Like Me in Haifa Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven

Hollowed out zucchini is available ready to be stuffed and simmered. I bought the tool used to handle this task at a later stop but changed my mind about tucking into my carry-on. We decided that the blades really do look like a weapon and security is not a light matter at the airport.

Kosher Like Me in Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven

I was intrigued by this wild herb (leaf?) called lashon ha par (bull’s tongue) in Hebrew. It has a short season and is used as a wrap and rolled around herbed rice, freekeh and seasoned meat or lamb.

Kosher Like Me in Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven

I’ll be experimenting more with freekeh (pronounced FREEKI in Israel) now that I’ve seen it both whole and cracked. This wheat is picked young (green) and smoked for a unique flavor and texture. It is high in fiber and protein.

kosher like me in Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven
kosher like me in Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven

Sumac is a staple in the core trio of flavors (salt, pepper and sumac) at the center of baladi cooking. It’s sour undertone boosts most dishes in the Levant. Erez uses it on labneh, cheese, fish and salads.

kosher like me in Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven

We explored this general store loaded with every dried fruit, grain and nut any cook could want.

wadi nisnas in Haifa with kosher like me
Photo: Liz Rueven
Photo: Liz Rueven

But what really interested me more was Erez’s conversation with this home cook about how to cook the grain she was buying.

Erez Golko in Wadi Nisnas Haifa
Photo: Liz Rueven

It’s these kinds of conversations that connect our cultures through ingredients and our home kitchens.

Erez Golko and Kosher Like Me in Haifa Israel
Photo: Liz Rueven
halvah in Wadi Nisnas with Erez Golko
Photo: Liz Rueven

Halvah of all types is sliced for tasting. Pistachio or mixed nuts and dried fruit with black nigella? Impossible to choose.

Wadi Nisnas tour with Erez Golko and Kosher Like Me
Photo: Liz Rueven

We finished our morning over a vegetarian lunch at Hummus El Sham. It was the perfect conclusion to our walk through this market filled with baladi (hyper local and authentic) Middle Eastern foods from this region at the gateway to the Galilee.

Stefan, the young owner, and Erez greeted each other warmly as cucumber and eggplant salads, hummus and ful (beans) landed on our table at a pace we could hardly keep up with. As Stefan drizzled ghee over eggplant he talked about upgrading and elevating his grandmothers’ foods, while still showing respect for their traditions.

Mission accomplished.

Kosher Like Me in Israel shuk
Photo: Liz Rueven

To arrange your walk through the shuk at Wadi Nisnas in Haifa, Israel, contact Erez Golko here. Or check out what he’s hosting through EatWith here.

Be sure to let him know that I referred you.

For an exciting cookbook dive into exploring the best and most diverse shuks (markets) In Israel, consider buying SHUK: From Market to Table, The Heart of Israeli Cooking by Einat Admony and Janna Gur.

This vibrant volume highlights nine shuks in Israel and includes tips on best times to visit, tastiest stops and over 140 ingredient driven recipes to inspire you to cook like an Israeli.

Paperback travel guides may be dead but this vivacious volume will help you to choose which markets will fit into your itinerary while whetting your appetite for the culinary tapestry that is Israeli cuisine.

Curious about how this market differs from Machane Yehuda, the main market in Jerusalem? They are completely different! Watch for that post coming up soon.

Note: By clicking on some of the links in this post, Kosher Like Me may benefit by receiving a small percentage of that sale. There is no cost for the buyer. Thanks for supporting this blogging habit of mine.

xo

Liz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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