Thursday, January 6, 2011

Spice Bazaar

The Egyptian Bazaar, or Spice Bazaar, is one of the oldest markets in the city. Located next to the New Mosque, it is at a major crossroads in Istanbul. Here the Bosphorus meets the Golden Horn, the Galata Bridge connects the two sides of the European part of the city, and numerous ferry terminals provide the connection between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Nearly impossible to transverse on a Saturday, the Spice Bazaar is truly a spectacle. But it is not a mere tourist trap. It still has a corner on the spice trade here, as well as other necessities that bring out the natives: cheese, pickled vegetables, nuts, tea and coffee. 

Built in the 1600s from the same stone used to erect the New Mosque, the L-shaped Spice Bazaar is the covered center of a huge mercantile area that spreads through the winding streets that lead to it. Some of our favorite places are along the outside edges of the Bazaar. We bought a gigantic and fabulous pair of scissors from an all-scissor shop near one of the Bazaar entrances.  We come here to buy our Turkish coffee from the most famous vendor in the city, Mehmet Efendi. The coffee is so freshly roasted and ground that it is still warm through the paper sack. To get it, we wait in the ridiculously long line, watching the caffeine-infused workers pack the stuff at a jittery speed, only to find ourselves at the front in no time at all, without even having had time to get our money in hand and ready for the cashiers. 

Crossing the flow of foot traffic from the coffee vendor into the arched side entrance of the Bazaar, just a few dozen feet away, can take a full fifteen minutes on a really busy day. Inside, vendors volley pick-up lines in English, vying for attention. The mounds of jewel-colored spices are beautifully stacked. Display is of the first importance in Istanbul. There are also vendors of Turkish delight eager to pop a piece of the stuff into your gaping, awe-struck mouth. These same vendors are selling “Turkish Viagra,” an all-natural concoction that varies from vendor to vendor, but is basically a ball of nuts and dried fruit to big to swallow. 

The bazaar used to be just spices and edibles, but now textiles and tourist souvenirs have made inroads, and there are some lovely linens and carpets. The L-Shaped Bazaar building and the side of the New Mosque create an outdoor courtyard where the pet and plant market reside, as well as many tea and lunch tables set up under the trees. Sometimes we stop for some overpriced apple tea, an ubiquitous product sold in the Bazaar, made by infusing dried apple bits in hot water. 

Once, we climbed the narrow blue-tiled staircase to take our tea in Pandelli, the historic restaurant above the main entrance to the Bazaar. Sitting aloof from the noise of the masses, with views of the Galata Bridge, it is worth coming here just to see the gorgeous tiled rooms of the restaurant. Encircling the room is a row of signed black and white celebrity photos. We were delighted to realize that we were sitting beneath Audrey Hepburn, who had been photographed seated at our very table. 

Entrance to the covered Spice Bazaar

The hanging items are dried eggplant shells, dried red peppers, and (on the right) dried gut of some kind. All are for reconstituting and stuffing.

Cheese vendors around the outside walls

One of the many charming vendors.

Side streets around the Bazaar

Tea in Pandelli

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