The spice market in Istanbul is located near the Galata bridge on the European side of the Bosphorus. It is a wonder of colors and flavors, and most of all, it is an overwhelming place that is unlike any other market I have seen before. When you enter, it may seem as if all of Istanbul is shopping here for the spices to use for the next dinner. This sprawling market does not only sell spices but also those Turkish delights (known as lokum to the Turks) that seem to be sold at every Turkish bakery (Figure 1). These confections have a base of starch and sugar gel. Then, all sorts of nuts and flavors can be added to make it a more bourgeois dessert.
Vendors also sell some of the most colorful and variable curry powders I have ever seen (Figure 2). But don’t expect any of them to be truly spicy like a Thai curry because the Turkish palate seems to be stunned by anything that is even slightly hot.
An assortment of teas also sit at your disposal (Figure 3), but you may want to ask the vendors about the teas because they seem to have the fresher teas “hidden” away in drawers in their shop. Plus, every vendor will go out of his way to explain each tea to you. And just so you know, apple tea is mostly a tourist thing, and it tastes almost like a warm apple cider.
In case you want to get some henna, there is PLENTY of it (Figure 4).
Look up and you will find sponges and spices hanging above (Figure 5).
And of course they couldn’t miss out on baklava, the sweet and nutty desserts (Figure 6). They do look fresher in bakeries not inside the spice market, though.
If anyone is in Turkey for a specific spice, that spice is probably saffron. Boy did I learn a lot about saffron at the spice market from a vendor who gave us a 45 minute lecture and saffron tasting (Figure 7). Apparently, there are over 90 types of saffron, including fake saffron that is just dyed to look like saffron. And according to this guy, saffron tea could cure pretty much every disease (including cancer) out there depending on how much you take a day. It’s interesting to hear about, but take everything in with a “giant spoonful” of salt. And please, if you buy saffron here, BARGAIN. A LOT. No one should be paying the prices they state for the saffron in the spice market.
Just outside the spice market, it seems as if people sell everything that cannot survive well indoors. There is an array of plants, including little kumquat trees (Figure 8), cute cacti (Figure 9) and vibrant flowers (Figure 10).
In case you are up for growing your own flowers instead, there are a variety of bulbs to choose from (Figure 11).
If you are in need of a pet, there are some of the sweetest puppies being sold (Figure 12), and you can get some interesting dog food for it at the same time (Figure 13).
And definitely check out the leeches for (hopefully) medicinal purposes (Figure 15).
- Make sure you check whether or not you can bring specific items back to your country. You may get some nasty customs bills if caught.
- Learn about the spices and teas here since everyone seems to speak English, but if you want it for a better price, get it a couple blocks away from the spice market where shops sell the same things for almost down to half the price. And if you want REALLY cheap, they sell the same things in the nearby Istanbul slums (which are actually not bad and very safe).