Istanbul: Spice Market

After fourteen days backpacking around Eastern Anatolia and Georgia (the ex-Soviet country, not the US state) this summer, A and C decided to round off their trip with a city break in Istanbul.

Being over in remotest Turkey, we took a flight in from Trabzon on what A accurately described as a 'rubber-band plane' and, just about living to tell the tale, set about exploring the city. (A small aside, here: if you ever get the chance to visit Trabzon, do - the guidebook describes it as a 'gritty, industrial port town' and that pretty much sums it up, but it's a real grower. After spending three days there on and off - the longest time we spent anywhere on our trip - we were really quite sad to leave!).

While A had been to Istanbul a few times already, C had never been before, and so predictably dragged A around the sites. Although stunned by the architecture, history and culture of the major sites, C was far more intrigued by the markets and bazaars: although still bustling, you're likely to find a higher concentration of locals here and it feels more authentically Turkish and less like a tourist trap.

After hours wandering around The Grand Bazaar one day, we stumbled upon the spice market - which turned into one of C's highlights of the trip.

The spice of life

A typical stall

The spice market is crowded and claustrophobic: it's filled with locals and tourists chattering, pointing and bartering loudly with the shopkeepers, who stand by open-fronted stalls lining both sides of the space. A covered market right by the Bosphorus, it's dark, long and wide, with tall ceilings and authentic elaborate lamps hanging from the roof, emitting a typical Turkish rose-tinted glow. Despite its size, this place feels small and crowded: the mass of people and their chatter fills the space right up to the rooftop, and teaboys with small trays full of black Çay edge between browsers delivering hot drinks to the shop owners.

As far as you can see along the lines of stalls are stacks of neatly peaked spices, herbs, seasonings and teas: like little mountains, they rise up out of the wooden segmented boxes in which they're stored. An aesthetic appreciator, C couldn't get enough of the mix and vibrancy of the colours: the sultry yellows of the saffron mixed with the dusky oranges of the paprika, the grassy green of the mint and the fiery red tones of the various Turkish spices and seasonings - as well as the black Turkish tea, of course.

Other goods on sale

Time for tea, as ever

Passing to the end of the Spice Market, outside the covered market is a longer, open market, with stalls selling teas, fruits, fish and meat. This is a place to barter, although you have to push hard to get any leeway with the locals - speak a little Turkish instead of English, and you'll have a better chance of succeeding. When you do negotiate, don't be surprised if you end up doing this over a cup of Çay - such is the way all over Turkey, as mentioned in one of our previous posts. Just relax, take your time and have a chat; and come away with some great products, and great memories.

Of course, we can't pretend that the Spice Market was entirely authentic; many of the stalls had the names of the spices in English, which disappointed A and C (not just because they wanted to practice the Turkish they'd picked up over their few weeks travelling). Still, all in all it was a mesmering place - and one C can't wait to get back to.

Aesthetically pleasing, despite the signs in English

Vibrant reds


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