I got off the tram with my mom and another thirty people at the Eminonu stop and was pushed right in the middle of a sea of busy, impatient Istanbulians. I stopped for a while to get my bearings, and then we headed towards YeniCami (New Mosque).
It always takes me a day or two to get used to crossing the streets, finding a proper way to walk among the sometimes busy, sometimes lazy pedestrians when I visit Istanbul. It is like riding a bike. Once I find the balance, I gain my old quick feet back, dodge the many opportunities to get slammed by gray, black, and brown coat covered shoulders.
Once I adjusted my footsteps to the other people walking hastily and crossed the busy street, I was in front of the soot-loaded walls of the Mosque. We turned right, and approached the street vendors. Their rolling carts were loaded with boiled and grilled corn on the cob and roasted chestnuts, and steam was coming out of every one of them.
Oh, how I miss my city’s street food! Tasting the street food is one of the “must-dos” in Istanbul. The city does not leave you hungry, not even for a minute. My mom and I shared a grilled corn on the cob, then I got a bag of chestnuts. We watched some kids for a while who were feeding the pigeons on the footsteps of the Mosque.
Once the food was gone, it was time to head to the Spice Bazaar. I was more than ready to take a deep breath in the middle of spices, chat with the store owners over a glass of Turkish or apple tea, taste as many Turkish delight samples as my heart desires, and admire the vibrant colors in the shops.
That is what the Spice Bazaar is all about for me.
The Spice Bazaar (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) was completed in 1664, after the New Mosque was built. It is an L-shaped building, with many stores lined up on each side with premium rent and their eager salesmen crowding the fronts. People cutting in front of you, talking to you from a thousand different directions, lokum (Turkish Delight) trays pushed to your face…it can be a little overwhelming. You just have to say “No” and keep walking if you are not interested.
Once we reached our stop, Develi Spice, I was able to relax. For the past eleven years, they have been my Turkish Delight (lokum) and spice source. They neatly pack and vacuum everything, making it ready for a long flight back. This time around, I brought back their Turkish meatball spice mix (paprika, cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cloves and black pepper), and an Ottoman spice mix (Aleppo pepper, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, dry onion and garlic) which has a decent kick to it. After sampling lokums, we settled on one with pomegranate flavor. I watched him cut long sticks of it with a pair of scissors, and he stopped at the exact amount I wanted without even weighing first. We chatted about the current situation of politics and the economy, two of the three topics on which everyone has very strong opinions in Turkey. The third one, of course, is our beloved soccer.
The Bazaar is crowded. You can easily get lost among the shiny glass lanterns, spice bags, hand painted ceramic bowls, nuts and dried fruit piles. In a way though, it is just a corner of a typical Istanbul street. In the background, you can hear the ferries’ whistles approaching the pier, pigeons flapping their wings, quick footsteps of hurried people with a touch of cumin smell in the air. It’s the hustle and bustle of a city which will never lose its spice.
More photos from Ilke’s trip to Turkey and the spice bazaar in Istanbul here.