You may have heard about the tent protests going on around Israel right now. It’s being called the largest social protest in the country’s history. It all began in July when a woman named Daphne Leef pitched a tent on Tel Aviv’s upscale Rothschild Avenue in response to the lack of affordable housing. As with any successful movement these days, she started a Facebook page and people quickly joined her. Soon thousands of tents lined the street and it spread to other cities in the country.
Here in Be’er Sheva a small tent city still sits outside the Teacher’s College on Rager. Israelis used this quickly growing movement as an opportunity to protest the state of high prices in general – the soaring prices of food and living – as well as the general state of the Israeli government, which is increasingly run by a privileged elite that is far removed from the average Israeli who is working hard to put food on the table (oldest story in the book, eh?). A lot of the rhetoric pointed to disillusionment, a detachment from the idealistic, socialist, kibbutznik roots of the country compared with the current state of affairs. Last weekend 450,000 Israelis showed up in Tel Aviv to continue the protest. For more information there’s a great article in the Atlantic that sums things up.
A big aspect of the protest movement has been a boycott of Israeli’s largest supermarket chain, Super Sol. In some smaller towns in Israel, this is the only grocery store and so they are guilty of price gouging and have an unfair monopoly on the market. In most major cities in Israel, however, we are lucky enough to have quite a few shopping choices. Inspired by this Liz of the incredible food blog Cafe Liz did a bit of research into the best places to shop for food in Tel Aviv. Read that great post here. She reiterated the fact that the shuks (Israel’s open-air markets) and other small, independently owned businesses are the best places to shop.
Intrigued, I wondered how Be’er Sheva would fare in comparison. As a much smaller city we are over-run with chains and there are far fewer independent grocery options than Tel Aviv. On the upside, as a smaller and less desirable location (that’s right, I said it – just calling it like I see it) everything here – from rent to groceries – is notably less than Tel Aviv.
So in the name of research over the last week I went to eight chain supermarkets, three independent produce markets, one independent spice store, and the shuk. I had a number of preconceptions going into this. Namely, I was sure that I would find that the shuk was far and away the cheapest for meat and produce, and that Eden Teva (our version of Whole Foods) would be outrageous. What I found turned things on their head for me a bit.
About the markets: I visited six different supermarket chains: Eden Teva, Super Sol Deal (two locations), Mega (both regular and Mega Bowl), Machsani HaShuk, Maman, and Tiv Taam. I live in the Gimel neighborhood so my research is skewed in that direction; supermarkets in Ramot, for example, were not surveyed. Eden Teva, Mega, and Tiv Taam are all in The Big, our large shopping center and one of the main arteries of life in Be’er Sheva (I visited these on September 4). Super Sol, Mega Bowl, Machsani HaShuk, and Maman are located at Rehov HaOrgim off Sderot Ben-Gurion (near the Hot building; I went to these on September 5). It’s a strange, industrial-looking complex that can be reached by car or the 14, 16, or 24 buses. Finally, I visited the Super Sol (also on September 4) that I most frequent near the government offices on Rager onto Wolfsohn (you can see it from Rager).
I also went to the Shuk plus three other independent produce markets (all on September 9). Fruit and Vegetable King is right on the intersection of Ben Zvi/Haim Yahil and Keren HaYesod. Tnuvet HaNegev is just a few stores down on Haim Yahil (away from the Train Station). The last is the produce store on Arlozoroff and HaShalom, whose prices are quite high (and are not included in the chart below).
There are some items that are the same across the board. Cucumbers should cost NIS 2.99/kilo and no more than 3.99. Tiv Taam, however was charging 6.99 this week! Eggplant is another staple of the Israeli diet that can be found from NIS 1.99/kilo to 3.99, which is at the high end. Tomatoes (I’m talking the standard tomatoes, not the nice vine-ripened ones) should be NIS 2.99/kilo, although I saw them at some places for 3.99 and at Tiv Taam for a whopping 6.99! Onions should be about NIS 2.99.
Other produce varies widely from store to store – even within the same brand! Mangoes, for example, were NIS 10.99/kilo at the Mega in the Big and 12.99 at Mega Bowl. Between all the markets they range in price from 5.99-12.99/kilo (with the shuk offering the best prices). And while limes (a seasonal specialty around here!) are NIS 14.99kilo at any major chain that carries them they can be found for at least NIS 4/kilo cheaper at the shuk. The two independent produce shops have competitive prices though rarely beat the shuk. Here’s what I found:
All prices in NIS (the New Israeli Shekel) and by the kilo, unless specified otherwise ($1 USD = about NIS 3.59). For the Shuk I listed the lowest price I found but they vary wildly – you need to shop around.
GRAINS, DRY GOODS, AND MISC PANTRY ITEMS
I typically buy most of my dry goods – couscous, lentils, popcorn, and spices at the spice shop (Maimon Spices) in The Big next to Mega. They also have an excellent selection of dried fruits and nuts, tea and coffee (although I typically bring coffee back from the states or buy it at the Shuk for NIS 5/100grams). I was seriously shocked to find that Eden’s prices on the dry goods I checked were lower! I won’t stop shopping at Maimon Spices entirely because I do like supporting the independent shops, but it’s something to be aware of. Typically the bulk options at these two places is significantly less expensive than purchasing it pre-packaged at the supermarket. Also not included here, a new spice shop has opened on Haim Yahil and Keren HaYesod, in between the two produce shops.
And, a note on pasta. I buy DeCecco pasta at Super Sol, which is about NIS 9.79 a box. I know that there are significantly cheaper options (a pound of store brand pasta will run about NIS 4) but this is one place where I very willingly and conciously pay more. This is top quality pasta and for me the brand really makes a difference. Also Super Sol often has it on sale and I stock up. Here’s what I found:
I won’t devote a lot of time to dairy as milk and eggs are price controlled in Israel (of course at many merkolets and gas stations they’ll hike up the price illegally). Eggs should be NIS 11 for 12 medium eggs, 12.15 for large, and 13.25 for extra large. I often buy eggs at the shuk, which are NIS 25 for 28 extra large eggs so cheaper than the supermarket. You can also pay way more (up to NIS 20/dozen) for “organic” eggs at most supermarkets.
For supermarket dairy prices I compared the price of a 250 gram container of Gad Dairy Ricotta (you know the brand – it’s blue and white and says “ricotta” in English on top) across a few different stores. Super Sol (both locations) and Machsani HaShuk proved to be the cheapest, offering it at NIS 13.99. Mega in the Big has it for 14.99, Mega Bowl for 15.29, and Tiv Taam for 16.18. Also, I love my 1-liter containers of buffalo yogurt, which I buy either at the health food store near me (which I haven’t mentioned yet; it’s behind the Leonardo Hotel) for 21.99 or at Eden for 22.99. The only other place that I’ve found it is at Tiv Taam for 16.50/half liter.
For some nice boutique cheese, check out the health food store in the Big, which stocks delicious goat cheese from Naot Farm here in the Negev. And on Fridays the Farmer’s Market sets up in the Seventh Avenue Mall and there is a lovely, reasonably priced cheese stall with sheep’s milk cheese and yogurt.
I typically buy pita at the big baker in the shuk (NIS 6 for 10) or at the bakery on Arlozoroff and HaShalom (NIS 13 for 12). Both are very good and fresh. My new favorite place to get challah is at the bakery on Keren HaYesod next to Hummus Said. I can’t recall the price but it’s well worth it. They also have awesome pastries like eclairs and Napoleans (!) and the people are super nice and speak English.
MEAT, POULTRY, AND FISH
I find meat, poultry, and fish prices to be incredibly variable and also more expensive then back in the States. We now only rarely eat red meat because it is prohibitively expensive. When we do I buy the ground beef at the Super Sol near Rager for NIS 35-40/kilo. If we want something special then I will go to Shiri in the Old City (Trumpeldor 45, 08-6271926 ). If you miss American-style cuts (think flank and skirt steak) then he’s your man. He also has nice lamb chops, frozen sausage (sometimes chicken sausage) and other goodies. Prices are reasonable considering the quality.
For chicken it’s obviously cheapest if you buy a whole chicken and either roast it whole or cut it up yourself. Prices per kilo for a whole chicken were NIS 12.99-16.99 at the supermarkets I checked. Chicken thighs are the next best option at around NIS 17/kilo (with the best prices at Mega Bowl). Whole chicken breast will run you at least NIS 26/kilo and if you want it pounded thin for schnitzel that will drive up the price tag to NIS 29.90/kilo and more.
Finally, for fish your only (and best) option in Be’er Sheva is frozen. The fish at the shuk, which is typically sitting in the heat and covered in flies, does not look appealing to me. Also even if it appears to be fresh 9 times out of 10 the fish was frozen and has been defrosted. Eden has some of the nicest frozen fish with grouper for NIS 78.90/kilo, sole at 54.90/kilo, and salmon ranging from 74.90-99.90/kilo. Mega Bowl often has nice frozen fish as well like tilapia for NIS 49.99/kilo, haddock for 39.99/kilo, and salmon for 111.99/kilo. The frozen fish at the other supermarkets usually looks old and freezer burned to me so I avoid it. I get frozen shrimp at Tiv Taam or the Russian market on Rager (near Super Sol) for about NIS 34.90/500 grams.
This comparison really emphasized how important it is to be a savvy shopper in Be’er Sheva. Prices range so much from store to store (even within the same chain) that you really have to pay attention. No one place has the best prices across the board and I was surprised to find the shuk a little more for meat, Eden less for grains, and Mega more for produce. I was pleased to learn that the Super Sol I frequent has pretty good prices (even though it is a living Hell to shop there). Basically, I am going to continue shopping how I have been shopping: go to the shuk for all produce, Super Sol for pantry items and dairy, and Eden Teva for specialty items and frozen fish (and now bulk grains as well).
Where do you shop for food in Be’er Sheva? I know I’ve missed a lot here – what didn’t I touch on? Where do you find the best deals? Any tips you’d like to add for shopping in Be’er Sheva or elsewhere in Israel? International readers: what is food shopping like in your area?