Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Market

We live between two really great farmers’ markets. The one on Wednesdays, the Çarşamba Pazar (Wednesday Bazaar,) we call the Fatih (fa –tee) market, because it is next to the Fatih Mosque. We climb up to the top of our hill, passing many laden-down market shoppers, and come into the heart of Fatih, the district in which we live, and the most conservative area of Istanbul.

Istanbul natives repeatedly tell us that this wave of conservativism is new; that this huge community of black-cloaked woman and bearded men are a surprise to them; that this population is not native to Istanbul. After reading so much about the secular nature of Turkey, we were a little surprised ourselves to see such a large number of completely veiled women. There are so many styles of headscarves and dress for religious women in this city, and we haven’t the first clue as to what each style represents. But it is hard to misunderstand the nature of the head to toe black cloak that often covers everything except the wearer’s eyes and nose: separation. Even still, we rarely encounter any real hostility, and we don’t usually feel uncomfortable walking up our hill into the sea of black dresses. Especially with an enticement like the Fatih market.

Part farmers' market, part sidewalk sale, the pazar completely fills the wide street running up to the Fatih mosque, spilling over into the little side streets and the many permanent shops around the mosque walls. All manners of seasonal produce abound. Last week the market was dominated by huge wedges of pumpkin, piles of chestnuts and root vegetables, including fist-sized radishes. The displays are beautiful: geometrically stacked spinach, a four-foot tower of lemons, samples of pomegranates cracked open to show off their glossy seeds, the longest and cleanest leeks we have ever seen.

In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, there are also cheese vendors with pickled herb-spiked cheeses, soft squeaky cheeses and really good string cheeses. Fish vendors carefully light their silvery offerings. Sacks full of rich colored spices and teas are arranged to compliment each other. Bins with numerous varieties of olives give off a briny smell.

One of our favorite market discoveries is the pickle vendor. Pickled everything is a serious business here, and we love the mixed pickled veggies with cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and hot peppers we find in various forms at most markets. Pickled beets are fresh and succulent here, without any cloying sugar sauce. On our most recent visit to the Fatih market, we tried some beautiful pickled baby eggplants stuffed with shredded cabbage, carrots and herbs. But our hands down favorite are the crunchy, addictive pickled green plums. These little snacks have the ability to make you lose your train of thought in a daydream about them. It’s morning here, and just writing this makes us want to go to the refrigerator and see if there are any left.

Aside from all the edibles, there is a big selection of new clothing and household goods for sale at the market. There is a scarf stall, and a raincoat stall. Long, form-fitting raincoats are the dress of choice for some Muslim women. All types of glassware and cooking ware are available. Recently, our friend Jordan bought an extraordinary set of leopard print pots and pans.

As the evening falls, earlier and earlier these days, the strings of electric bulbs lighting the colorful wares illuminate the patchwork of canvas tarps and ropes tenting the market, making the whole street seem more like a festival than a weekly grocery run. Wandering along, we come right against the arched stone gateways of the mosque, its minarets already gold with lights for the night. It is an extremely visual place, and one we plan to visit with cameras and grocery lists in hand today and every Wednesday.

The sign by the tower of lemons advertises a bag for one lira (70 cents.) 

Turkish Pumpkin

At the pickle vendor

Fatih Mosque in the background

Looking through the gates at the Fatih Mosque on market day

Jordan buying her leopard-print pots and pans set

Making friends with the pots and pans man

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