A Visit to Istanbul's Spice Market
I'm probably not the only person who thought that Turkish Delight also known as locum is just some sort of super-sweet chewing gum. I got a serious education on the subject, when I visited the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul and ended up close to a sugar coma.
Istanbul's Spice Bazaar or Misir Carsisi is located in Eminonu and is the second largest covered shopping complex in the city after the Grand Bazaar.
I got there by hopping on the # 11 streetcar, which conveniently connotes Divan Yoglu, the main street of the historical Sultanahmed district with Eminonu near the Galata Bridge.
Helpfully, the stops are indicated on a notice board inside the tram and Misir Carsisi comes with the English translation, so the eager tourist who is not fluent in Turkish, will not miss the stop.
Go through the underpass and dive into the hustle, bustle and smells of one of the more than 80 allies comprising this market.
The name indicates spices and that's what you find in colorful abundance. I loved the heaps of ground powders, the strong smells assaulting your nostrils and the shouts of the eager venders, enticing you into their shops and stalls with their ever present call: “What's your name? I have best spices in world !! ”
I smoked politely and walked on because what I really had come for was the Turkish Delight.
Turn into the next alley and you find yourself in candy paradise. Ok, I knew that the main ingredients are sugar, starch, rose water and lemon juice which, quite frankly, sounds a bit boring. What you find in the usual shops are powder- sugar covered cubes in pink, green or yellow sold in cellophane wrapped boxes meant to be a 'souvenir' of Turkey.
Forget about boxes and cubes when you visit the Spice Bazaar. What you get here is the real thing.
Turkish Delight comes in an incredible variety of shapes. There are conic towers in vivid reds and greens. Slivers are cut off with a big, sharp knife and proffered to you to taste. And that's the moment when the sugar rush starts. The stuff is sweet, but has a tangy taste too, because fruit like pomegranate, mango and oranges have been added. Nothing here is bland. The green comes from kiwi and pistachio.
Walnuts, hazel nuts and almonds are ever present in Turkish cuisine and they find their way into the varieties of Turkish Delight too.
“Try Viagra, try viagra,” a heavily mustachioed vendor shouted at us. With a grin and a wink he cut off a big sliver of a green concoction and promised 'immediate effect'. Being a woman, I would not know about that, but it tasted good.
Next were the dates, filled with walnuts and then my favorite: chocolate delight, stuffed with walnuts and shaped like big sausages. Diagonal slices are cut off and everything is sold by grams. But they will gift boxes on demand, but honestly, having a sweet tooth, I wanted to take things away for myself. The same stall presents a variety of chocolate puddings which are a far cry from any supermarket offering. Melting chocolate in the middle, ground walnuts to give it a bit of a crunch and the whole thing surrounded by a super light dough. When biting into one, I did not even want to think about the calories contained in even a mouthful of these cakes and neither should you. This is about pure pleasure for the taste buds and to hell with the waistline.
Chocolates and candy are not the only 'delights' offered in the Spice Bazaar. A huge section is dedicated to cheeses and they are equally elaborate and tasty as the sweets.
Goat cheese and sheep cheese make the basis but again it's the addition of nuts, pistachios and pepper corns which give these cheeses their special twist.
After the mêlée of sweet and savory, running up and down the aisles, pushing past locals and tourists and generally taking in the impressions of a busy Turkish bazaar severely changed since it first opened in the 1700 – except for the clothes -, body and soul need a rest.
No shortage of all kinds of cafés and restaurants, ranging from sit down to simple holes in the wall inside and outside the bazaar.
After all that tasting, I did not need any food but I craved another one of my Turkish favorites: a good Turkish coffee. Outside the bazaar, heading towards the Bosporus, I found a wonderful café. Shrouded in wine leaves, wooden benches covered with plush pillows, silence restored and invited to rest my tired feet. And I got lucky, because they also made spice flavored Turkish coffee which you do not find everywhere. I chose cinnamon flavor and very little sugar and enjoyed the end of a wonderful Istanbul side trip.