Suitcase and World: The markets of Turkey.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The markets of Turkey.

love going to the market - any market. I love the sights, the sounds, and the smells (good and bad)....and I love the hustle and bustle as buyers and sellers go about their ways.

Of course, Istanbul has the grand daddy of all markets - the world famous Grand Bazaar. Known in Turkish as Kapalı Carşı ("Car-pah-luh Jar-shee"), the Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world with more than 58 streets and 4,000 shops.

We dedicated our last day in Istanbul to shopping in the Grand Bazaar and after almost eight hours of shopping in this huge labyrinth of stores, we hadn't even come close to seeing it all.

Luckily for us, the Grand Bazaar was only about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. We entered through the Beyazit Gate.....

....and once inside, proceeded to wander from store to store and got completely immersed in the shopping experience - completely losing track of time and place.

We had a great time - especially Lei who revels in haggling with every shop keeper. I don't have as much patience but then again, I don't buy as much stuff. Lei is the self affirmed impluse buyer and I'm much more focused on getting one or two items so I shop a lot and she buys a lot!!

On our first day in Istanbul, we stumbled upon the Egyptian Bazaar or Spice Market on our way out of Yeni Cami ("Yen-ee Jahm-me"), the New Mosque.

Known in Turkish as Mısır Çarşısı' (Muh-suhr Char-see-see"), the Spice Bazaar was built 1664. A much, much smaller complex of stores than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar is chock full of vendors mainly selling spices, candies, nuts and other dried food items.

Lokum or Turkish delight was a common item sold. If you wanted to, you could sample lokum from the time you entered the Bazaar to the time you exited and you would have left with a fully belly!

Of course, spices and teas were also commonly sold commodities.

Honey (frequently sold on the comb) and nuts were also popular as they are staple ingredients in Turkish sweets. In addition to be sold whole, nuts (pistachios, walnuts, almonds and pinenuts seem to be favorites) are also stuffed into dried dates and figs. I couldn't resist taking a photo of the lot of nuts that one vendor had labelled as "Viagra". He tried to convince me that one handful of the nuts and you could be assured of an endless night of sex. I giggled, thanked him and walked on :-)

In addition to fruits and flowers and herbs for tea, the Turks also dry vegetables. Dehydrated, hollowed out sections of zucchini, eggplant and red peppers can be seen strung up and hung from rods. I asked a local Turk how these are used and she explained to me that the sections are rehydrated and stuffed with meat and rice - similar to stuffed grape leaves or dolmas. If I remember correctly, the dried eggplant sections were about 72 YTL per kilo so I don't think it's a cheap commodity but I can imagine that drying out the skin does concentrate the flavor of the vegetable. Unfortunately, I never found this on any of the menus at the restaurants we ate at so I have no idea what they taste like.

While the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are tourist hot spots, the weekly market that we visited in Selçuk ("Sell-chook) is strictly for locals. We happened on the market following lunch on a Saturday.

Since this is market for locals, you could pretty buy anything from houswares to clothes to farming equipment and of course, fresh and prepared foods. I marvelled at the range of food products that were available. I couldn't resist the spices so I bought myself a small bag of pink peppercorns - a common spice item in Turkey but a luxury here in the US.

Lei and I wandered through the stalls and bought a few small food items for gifts as well as for munching on that night's overnight bus ride back to Istanbul.

With the exception of fresh fruits and vegetables, pretty much every food item I buy comes sealed either in a plastic bag, a cardboard box or on a styrofoam tray. When I'm at home, marketing is a weekly chore with little to excite my senses except when I pick up a fresh fruit to smell its ripe scent. When I'm in a foreign country, marketing is such an enjoyable experience for me - unfamiliar sights and sounds, tantalizing smells and everything open to touch - I love it all!