The Foods and Colors of Shuk Ha’Carmel

Shuk Ha’Carmel
Except where otherwise noted, all photos in this post are by Yosef Gafni, June 2014.

Shuk Ha’Carmel, or Ha’Carmel market in Hebrew and Arabic respectively, is the largest market in the heart of Tel Aviv, where farmers bring their produce and wares. It is a colorful and busy place, offering fresh produce, snacks, clothing, hats, and household items.
The market closes on Saturday to observe the Sabbath.


Religious items abundantly displayed.


Stalls with ground spices show a dazzling array of colors. Every spice you can think of is displayed there lovingly.


Each spice box is heaped artistically with its metal spoon. You can find cardamom, peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves, saffron, and more.

I couldn’t help thinking that in the 15th century, Columbus went through great pain to sail across the Atlantic in search of gold and new sources for those same spices that were sold in the Cairo bazaars since Roman times. He braved a perilous journey across the ocean and tried to convince the local native populace of his good intentions, only to find himself empty handed. In addition to his many enemies, the Moors controlled the seas and barred his way to the Middle Eastern spice markets. Additionally, Venice charged large tariffs for their spices brought from India, levies that started in the 13th century. In the New World, Columbus did find new and exotic fruits and vegetables, which he brought back to old Europe.


Verdant and succulent vegetables, neatly arrayed.

In the Shuk Ha’ Carmel, I strolled along stalls of produce and was amazed at their freshness. I found Egyptian moulouchia, a leafy stalk that looks somewhat like spinach. When ground into a fine paste and mixed with coriander, it makes an excellent viscous green soup that is cooked with garlic and meat then served over white rice.


Fresh fruit and watermelons are sliced to lure you with their mouth-watering sweet tastes.



Pickled olives and olive oil fill containers. Nuts displayed in their boxes make you want to sample each kind.

Photo by Yehudit Garinkol Pikiwiki Israel

The candy stalls are another temptation. But watch out for children who will not desist until they satisfy their sweet tooth!



Sweetened nougat tempts you to taste them all.





Breads, bagels and pretzels beckon with their fresh baked aroma.


You can buy kosher cheeses: from Camembert to blue cheese, to the white and smooth goat cheese.


A busy hummus restaurant.

I then found a restaurant that serves pita and hummus only, all day long. And the lines to get in were long. It’s a healthy snack when you’re on the go.


Fresh dolma are prepared by hand.

Next I came upon a stall where Druze women were preparing stuffed grape leaves (dolmathakia in Greek) with rice, fresh herbs, lemon, and pine nuts for a delightful appetizer dish.

“Pita and falafel, seven shekels only! Pita and falafel, seven shekels only!” The pita vendor repeated in a droning tone. How could I resist this falafel of ground chickpeas fried in oil, stuffed into a pita, and covered with tahini (a ground sesame paste) and Israeli salad. Oh my, finger-lickin’ good! That’s because the tahini leaks out of the pita. So take lots of napkins. Once satiated, I looked for the dessert stalls and found a sweet paradise.

Photo by Valentine Svensson, October 3, 2013

How did this picture get in here!


Tempting trays of baklava, konafa and basbousa.

One of the most delicious desserts from the region is baklava, sold throughout the world. A soft crust of layered phyllo surrounding ground pistachios and dipped in honey can make you forget your diet and tight-fitting jeans. I’ll be damned if I’ll pass up such mouth-watering sweetness! The next dessert is the konafa, which is the same as baklava but the crust is thin and and noodle-like and also dipped in honey. They’re shaped like short cigars. My all-time favorite is basbousa, made of semolina, cut in diamond shapes, and topped with an almond (See below for basbousa recipe).

What impressed me most at the market were the loyal customers who come back day after day to shop for fresh fish, outstanding produce, and handy household items. The most amazing sight was Arabs and Jews working side-by-side in the shuk.

All in all, it was an interesting foray into foreign and exotic foods.

Basbousa Recipe
8 tablespoons (1 stick) margarine or butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 and 1/2 cup coarse semolina
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
blanched almonds (you can substitute pistachios)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 grated orange peel
1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)

3 cups water
2 and 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and use the middle rack. Grease a 9 by 13 inches baking dish.
Mix margarine or butter, sugar and lemon with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time while still mixing. Mix semolina, flour and baking powder in another bowl and Pour into the mixture. Next stir in the milk. Pour the batter into the baking dish. Decorate with rows of almonds.
Bake for 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. The basbousa should look golden. Put aside to cool.
Heat the water and sugar until dissolved. Add lemon juice and boil then reduce to medium and cook for twenty minutes. Afterwards, let it cool.
Use a toothpick to prick surface of the basbousa and pour over it 1 cup of syrup. Leave the in pan to cool then cut in diamonds or squares. The rest of syrup can be stored in refrigerator if needed. Serves 10 – 12 pieces.

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About the Author
Lilian was born in Cairo, Egypt, of a Sephardic background. Her family immigrated to Israel in 1956. They spoke Ladino at home in addition to French and Hebrew. Lilian served two years in the Israel Defense Forces then transferred to the Negev Desert where she met her husband Joel. Afterwards they moved to California to raise their two children.