Saturday, March 6, 2010

Travel Bite: Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

When I visited the Spice Bazaar (a.k.a. Spice Market) in Istanbul last October, I quickly succumbed to its many sensory overload-inducing attractions. Located at the southern end of the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn, it was built in the 1660s and commissioned by the mother of Sultan Mehmed the Fourth to promote Istanbul's spice trade.

Everywhere I turned there were dried fruits, nuts, teas, herbs, sweets, spices, Turks, tourists and tchotchkes. And that was just the first shop. Only 85 more to go!

Since the majority of spices were once imported from Egypt, the Turks refer to the market as the Egyptian Bazaar. Back then, it was known mostly for its natural remedies.

Turkish Delight or lokum is Istanbul's ubiquitous candy. You can buy boxes of it cut in small cubes and dusted with powdered sugar or by the pound as shown here. Made from a sugar and corn starch base, it comes in many flavors, but my favorites had pistachios or hazelnuts. I brought back a box with walnuts and fig rolled in coconut, and no, I didn't share.

These figs stuffed with walnuts are just one variety of what they call Turkish Viagra. Must be why the men at the Spice Market can shop for six straight hours.

Henna is not only used for hair color, supposedly in the countryside, young women stain the palms of their hands the night before they get married. Don't ask.

The Glutton/Germophobe's Dilemma: to eat free samples that have been sitting out and fondled or not to eat free samples of the sitting and fondled variety. The glutton won and no harm done. See, germophobe? Don't be so uptight. It all worked out in the end.

Addendum: Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Part 2 can be found here.


  1. Great photos. Love the colorful cultural imagery. And I like me some figs and walnuts! Simple but delicious.

  2. Thanks Andrea. I was actually disappointed with my pics because there were fluorescent lights everywhere inside the market. I got some better ones outside the market that i'll put in a future post.

  3. OMG, the spice bazaar was my favorite part of Istanbul! love the pics. Also, beautiful blog... It has everything: Style, wit and food :)

  4. Thanks Jessica for the kind words. When were you in Istanbul?

  5. Hi there. The women painting their hands with henna in the countryside is not "supposedly" done, it IS done. I was born and raised in NY and we still have a traditional ceremony before wedding called a "kina" and the bride has henna put on her hands (she doesn't have to, though). Henna is then offered to the guests in little pouches to take home and use if they please. And this isn't just done in the countryside, it's pretty common--I mean, it would be weird to see someone in the major cities of Turkey do it. Hell, we do it in America, lol! : ) Nice pictures though.

    Oh, and what is the "don't ask" commen supposed to me? Like we in America don't have weird traditions like the bride hiking up her wedding dress in front of a crowd of people so her husband can pull her garter off...we're so classy and modern.

    On a different note, have you gone to any of the Turkish festivals in California? I've gone to a few on the East coast purely for the food.

  6. Hi Indeed. Thanks for visiting. First off, I didn't mean anything by the "Don't ask." I wasn't being ethnocentric. It just sounded like a funny phrase, and frankly, I was ignorant about the tradition. Thanks for clarifying! I haven't been to any Turkish festivals here, but I would like to. I really loved Turkey!

    BTW: I posted a second part to the Spice Bazaar here:

  7. Great blog man, I really love your writing style that you are using for your posts and stuff,