How to Get the Best Deals at Israel’s Open-Air Markets
The hustle and bustle of a Middle Eastern open-air market (locally known as a "shuk" in Hebrew, or "souk" in Arabic) is an amazing experience for Western tourists on their first trips to Israel. Even veteran locals still get a kick out of it. Israel’s major cities all have great shuks where you can buy trinkets, souvenirs, curios, home wares, artwork, clothing and, of course, food. Standard retail establishments don't come close to the levels of variety, quality, frugality and frenetic energy available at a Middle Eastern shuk.
However, getting the best deals can be a challenge, especially when you can so easily be identified by merchants as a tourist. That's not to say that it's impossible. Even those with zero Hebrew skills can avoid being taken for a ride by displaying a bit of familiarity with how the transactions here go. Follow these tips to get the most out of Israel's marketplaces without spending more than you have to.
Middle Eastern shuks are based on the premise that the price tag is always negotiable. (Specialty fixed-price shops and food items sold by the weight are the exceptions.) Haggling doesn’t always come naturally to tourists, so don’t be scared to ask for a lower price. Be prepared to walk away if the price isn’t right and only come back if the seller offers a better deal.
Sellers in the market can be loud, so expect that there will be yelling, but don’t back down, and you will pay considerably less than the asking price.
Shop on Friday Afternoon
Most of Israel's shuks are closed on Saturdays, so merchants are looking to get rid of their inventories before closing time on Friday afternoon. This is especially true of food items that will be spoiled by opening time on Sunday morning.
Go as close to closing time as you dare and pick up loads of goodies for a considerable discount.
Eat a Gourmet Meal for Less
One of the best-kept secrets of Israeli open-air markets is that there are gourmet-level restaurants tucked among the stalls and shops.
These restaurants cater to customers who prefer delicious food over fancy décor, and they are often much less expensive than mainstream restaurants.
Look for Products Meant for Locals
Souvenir shops catering to tourists often have unnecessarily high prices, since they know their customers are less familiar with the local economy. Walk deeper into the shuk and look for stores that don’t have English signage and that are frequented by locals. Besides finding less expensive presents to bring home, you are also likely to find items that are different and special.
Exploring the shuk is a truly exciting activity even if you don’t buy a thing, but chances are you won’t resist the lure of these inexpensive stores. And you won’t be able to leave without tasting some of the delicious tasting – and smelling – foods which are at the core of the shuk experience.