Shopping & Eating in Istanbul

Have you ever had the feeling that you are being watched?

Grand Bazaar1
Its been around a long time!

Well, you can be sure that you are being studied from head to toe when you walk through the maze of shops in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. With more than 4,000 shops, you will have to walk a long time if you want to see them all. Fortunately you do not have to – since many of them sell the same things. Here is where some fancy footwork on bargaining will be really useful.

Grand Bazaar2
Labyrinth, that is

Be sure of what you want as you browse through the alleys and keep in mind the shops that you have seen the desired merchandise. Because you will most likely get lost and not find the shop again… And obviously it pays to do a little research ahead of time to know what are the stuff worth buying and not an export from you know where.

Grand Bazaar4
Oh we’re sure they have you mesmerized

Start by assessing the shops. In the main walkway of the bazaar there are numerous jewelry stores. And since you will appear as a tourist no matter how hard you disguise yourself (such as hiding the camera), you are obviously not likely to be able to strike a good deal in such shops seeking high profit margins. Thus having a local with you would really help. But if not, then be prepared for a long haggle if you really want to buy.

In Istanbul, the art of bargaining (like elsewhere) obviously lies in the feigning disinterest.

Grand Bazaar3
Like birds we were lured by colourful stuff

When you are sure of what you want, you cannot reveal your desire for it. Rather, it should be a case of “great if I manage to get it” – at your price and “oh well I tried” if you don’t. We have tried the >50% cut off. For example, a rug that was offered initially at 280 Liras was eventually sold to us at 80 Liras by this vain but actually really good looking shopkeeper.

Because the salesmen in the bazaar see people from all over the world every day, they are quite able to read from your body language if you have any interest.

Grand Bazaar5
Friends to the end! LOL

It is okay to strike up a conversation even if you have no intention of buying anything. It helps these men keep sane in the course of a long day. That is also one reason they are so friendly to everyone. Can you imagine being cooped up in your store and looking glum. Not likely to draw customers into your store! And it’s all well and good, for after the conversations you can part ways with the shop feeling the world’s so friendly.

Grand Bazaar6
Darn suave store owner

If you are just browsing (window shopping for some) which is our preferred mode of travel, then this is heaven as the sheer number of shops give continuous photo opportunities. It’s just as well that the shop owners do not object your photo taking since they are too busy haggling with some other tourist!

Shopping in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul can be a gratifying experience.

Grand Bazaar7
We were quite tempted…

There are so many unique little things you can find and see that there is no need to buy anything. Minimalists might squirm at the sight of all these wares displayed we think. But if you let yourself drift a little out of your comfort zone, you might be able to find that little piece of treasure in this bazaar… So, enjoy your walks through the alleys and make sure that you are able to find your way out. When we were there the shops apparently started closing from 6:30pm, so make sure you find out if the closing times have changed.

On the other hand Taksim square is where the locals do their shopping, browsing and eating. This is part of town that either never sleeps or marathons late into the night. When one walks around, one can easily mistake it being in any city street in Europe.

Food delights from Turkey

Taksim Square3
Once you start…

Many people who travelled to Turkey frequently mentioned the sweet nature of the desserts of that country. From their discourse, you would probably not have heard more except Turkish coffee or so-called “Turkish delights” (pieces of sugary chewies).

While exploring the streets around Taksim we ended up at ‘the Saray’, a local specialty deli for coffee and also desserts.

Taksim Square2
Can’t stop eating it!

From the moment we sat down and admired the passing local tram line, we were hooked, line and sinker. You’d be delighted to know that the famous Middle East dessert of Baklava pictured is available widely and in versions less sweet. The shops are accustomed to having foreign customers who do not take kindly to the extreme sweetness of the traditional version. See, those who moves with the times tend to do better huh?

But wait, Turkey is not just about sweet desserts and strong coffee. Do you know that the Turkish are also well known for their varied spices?

Spice Market1
Not large but packs a real punch!

Make you way to the spice market. This market is not a large one like the Grand Bazaar. It is an L-shaped gallery of shops mostly selling spices of various kinds. Maybe of ALL kinds. Of course you will also find Turkish desserts and other sweets here. There was a corner store selling grinded coffee powder apparently so popular that the queue does not seem to end, though the sales assistants were very fast hands.

Originally hailing from Central Asia, the Ottomans created an empire that straddled between the east and west. Spices flowed through their realm and today the tradition of mixing spices remain a central fixture of the local food ingredient culture. Stop and enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors. Aren’t they beautiful as they are fragrant?

The Anatolian plains are also reasonably fertile and produce a varied number of nuts. Do you know that the majority of the world’s hazel nuts are produced in Turkey? Some literature cites as much as 64% of the global supply comes from this country.

Spice Market14
So many varieties

In addition, Turkey is also a world leader in the cultivation of almonds, pistachios and walnuts. You know, Mel was hit on the thigh by a walnut falling from a tree while he was in Goreme! Talk about good luck. These aren’t the same as the hard black walnuts that cause real damage…

Spice Market16
We bought a few bags home…

At bazaars and many places throughout the country you will be able to find nuts being sold wholesale. And one of the best ways to consume the nuts is through chocolates. They have some of the best Pistachio nut chocolates. You must buy some home!

Spice Market17
Did you see how much it cost?

In addition, Turkey is also a significant producer of Olives. There are just so many varieties available in the local markets… One will be spoilt for choice when you are at the markets. You can also taste the olives before you buy them, just like the nuts. Buying a kilo here or there, you can ask that the vendor vacuum pack them for you. That’s what we did.

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The fresh markets in Turkey is great if you venture out. In Istanbul, a great way to be introduced to the local fare is at the spice market.

Spice Market15
Join in the fun!

There you will find locals buying anything from cheeses all the way to locally grounded coffee. So, the next time you meet someone who has returned from a trip from Turkey, ask if they had experienced the real delights of Turkey!

This Journey took place in August 2003 and October 2010 and appeared in our newsletter for Q2-17.

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