Market to Pantry #26: Spice Market and Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
From Nathan, in Seattle:
In November 2009 I visited Turkey on a scouting trip for a guided tour of Biblical sites. I was impressed with the beauty, the people, and not least of all the food. We had a couple of days at the end of the trip to visit Istanbul and it blew my mind. There were a few highlights, including the Basillica Cistern and the Hagia Sophia, but the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market proved to be the kind of places where I wish I’d had much more time to explore.
The Spice Market was a little smaller, though still quite large, and it had more of a food focus. My impression was that it was where more of the locals did their shopping. In such a competitive environment the merchants are eager to be friendly, serve you free tea, and strike a deal.
Our guide had a particular favorite spot (which undoubtedly gave him kickbacks) and the actual process of shopping for the spices was quite fun. My wife gave me a list of some specifics she wanted me to bring home, which I did, but also added a few others based on what I tasted and liked. I can’t remember the exact prices of each, but wild saffron from the mountains of Turkey, for example, was maybe a tenth of the price of something similar in the States...IF you were able to find it here.
I made my selections and the merchants put them all in vacuum-sealed bags. I also purchased some dried fruits and nuts for the long flight home, which turned out to be an inspired and delicious decision. Later I realized the sheer volume of what I had purchased and considered the complexity of getting this through customs. To my relief the people at customs in both Turkey and the U.S. didn’t even raise an eyebrow at the spice haul, and I made it home with no issues.
In the nearly two years since then we’ve run through most of what I brought back. With the delicious range of concoctions my wife has made in that time using the spices, it’s starting to feel like another trip to Istanbul might be in order soon -- this time with a bigger suitcase.