Exploring Istanbul: The Bazaar District

Some of the most fascinating aspects of Istanbul are its bazaars, and once we had our breakfast at the hotel, we were set to go out into the streets and discover them.

But first, a few words about the breakfast buffet that was included in the Agan Hotel room price. In addition to wonderful, fragrant coffee, tea, and juices, we were treated to a variety of sesame-studded rolls and sweet breads; cheeses and cold cuts; roasted eggplant; sliced fresh tomatoes and cucumbers; olives of all sizes, shapes, and colors; yogurt with a couple of choices of cereal; and bowls of fresh fruit that included grapes, apples, bananas, nectarines, pears, and figs. There was also a chafing dish holding hard-cooked eggs and sausages. I was heartened to see fellow travelers, even businessmen who looked as though they hailed from other parts of Asia and the Middle East, sitting down to mounds of fresh fruit to start their day.

Once fortified, we stepped out into the streets and headed to the Spice Bazaar. It was only a few blocks away: a walk of perhaps fifteen minutes, although we took somewhat longer as we stopped and peered into shops along the way and visited our first mosque, the New Mosque, just outside the entrance to the Bazaar (I’ll be putting up a separate post with photos and commentary on the mosques).

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Outside the Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, near the New Mosque.

My first sight of the Spice Market was the gardening section. Talk about landing right where I wanted to be! There were seeds of all kinds, pots of fresh herbs, bags of potting soil mixed with bags of dog and cat food (that was my first indication of what I’d learn later in the day, that Istanbullus are absolute cat lovers), and miscellaneous gardening paraphernalia.

The smells and the sight of mounds of spices: cardamom and turmeric, anise and mint, coriander and ginger root, peppers and cinnamon, assailed us in the Spice Market. Interspersed with these spices were piles of dried figs, dates, apricots (both sulphured and unsulphured), apples, raisins, and many other unidentifiable products. Mountains of pistachios, sesame seeds, pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds beckoned. Tempting displays of glistening and sticky baklava, dripping with honey and studded with pistachios, and Turkish Delight wafting fragrant essences of rosewater, pomegranate, and citrus, overwhelmed us.

Figs and dried fruits at the Istanbul Spice Market

Figs and dried fruits at the Istanbul Spice Market

Spice Market in Istanbu

The sights and smells of the Spice Market in Istanbul assault the senses.

The intervening streets between the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar were also filled with stores and stalls. We found ourselves in one, never-ending market. We passed by hardware outlets and dry goods stores, clothing retailers and fresh fruit vendors. I had a luscious glass of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice (tart!)–my only adventure, except for a bag of hot, roasted chestnuts and samplings of Turkish Delight, in street food in Istanbul.

The Grand Bazaar was a cavernous, covered maze of stalls and storefronts encompassing many blocks. Storekeepers chatted us up as we passed, attempting by any means possible to get us into their clutches for a hard sale of whatever it was they were offering. The range of goods in the Grand Bazaar was very tourist-oriented with lots of carpets and cushion covers, some antiques (I’m not sure whether to encase that word in quotation marks or not), many embroidered silk shoes, harem pants, spice grinders, leather goods, handbags, water pipes, brass and copper work, hand-made olive oil soaps, and, again, mountains of Turkish Delight.

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Inside the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Istanbul street markets

Istanbul street markets

Cats prevail in Istanbul

Cats prevail in Istanbul: at the Grand Bazaar

Turkish carpets and kilims

Turkish carpets and kilims

Bellydance outfits and clothing

Belly dance outfits, harem pants, and other colorful clothing