Mahane Yehuda is a feast for the senses. My eyes are wide as we disembark the bus; it’s almost impossible to take it all in. Amidst the oppressive heat, people bustle underneath a dark glass awning, examining shop-owners’ wares with sharp eyes. They load their bags with fresh produce–the largest avocados I’ve ever seen, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, and grapes–before scurrying down one of the side alleys just off the market’s winding thoroughfare.
As I meander through the twisting streets and take solace in the blissful shade, I notice that color is everywhere–the fruits, vegetables, and spices are highly saturated, as if they’re only found in their true forms here, and all others are feeble imposters. Emerald avocados are stacked in pyramids; intriguing juices swirl in frosty dispensers, and spices in primary colors are formed into precarious, dramatically tall cones. I feel as though I might get whiplash from turning my head left, then right, then left again, each new, brilliant flash catching my attention like some exotic creature just beyond sighting.
After filling a few bags up with spices at one shop, I hand them over to be weighed. As I do so, the shop owner tilts his head at me, a look of puzzlement on his face: “Finished?”
“Yes, finished,” I say with a decisive nod, handing over the rest of my spoils.
He frowns, brow furrowed in concern, and tilts his head ever-so-slightly more. “No, no,” he says in a kindly voice. “Here, try, try.” With a gentle pinch, he deposits another spice blend into my palm to taste from a nearby bin. I toss it back into my mouth: it’s a salty, savory, pungent blend of smoky paprika, lemony sumac, and other spices I can’t quite place. It’s also delicious.
“Good, yes?” He asks with a knowing look on his face. I nod with a smile. “Yes, delicious!”
“It’s for chicken, fish…” He trails off as I’m nodding along, then continues eagerly, “You want some? I make it myself.”
Ah, and there’s the catch. “All right…” I capitulate to the upsell.
“How much, how much?” He asks, bustling over to where the bags are and picking up the scoop expectantly.
I glance at the sign, which is priced in 100 gram increments, then back at him. “One hundred grams, please.”
“One hundred grams? That’s it?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“All right, all right,” he says, as if almost every statement must be doubled for emphasis. When he finishes filling the bag and weighing it, he turns to me again, a smile quirking his face almost as if he knows that what he’s about to say next will be funny: “…Finished?”
“Yes, finished. Really finished.” I put emphasis on the first word for good measure. I pay for my spices, shaking my head with a rueful smile, and wander back into the crowd–onward to whatever culinary adventure the market next holds.