Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Turkish Spice Market Delight

We arrived at Noon on a cruise ship on the Bosphorus Strait, as the Muslim call to prayer had just begun. It sound seemed amplified over the water, the breeze bringing the sound closer and closer and bringing little shivers to our skin.  It’s such an exotic sound to us as Westerners and heightened the excitement of a new adventure in an exotic culture. 

The Bosphorus Strait divides European Turkey from Asian Turkey and is a very busy waterway. Boats zipped in and out between us and the shore, a variety of boats of every size and type, all dwarfed by the cruise ship.  In the distance, you could see mosques everywhere, with the domes and minarets poking up through the houses and buildings.  It felt like being in a romantic movie some how.  It brought a shiver of excitement to us as we stood on our balcony and watched the city approach.  There might have been a kiss, or two…

The biggest landmarks seemed obvious to me, but where easily confirmed with my map of Istanbul; The Blue Mosque, The Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  Without a doubt, there was obviously so much more to see in our brief days ahead.

Day One was just a partial day to explore on our own, as we’d hired a guide for the next day.  Off we set walking from the ship towards the bridge that connected the two European sides of Istanbul.   The Galata bridge was loaded with local fisherman, each with a pole and a bucket, catching small tasty fish. All around the bridge base were fish markets, but we had a mission to hit the “Spice Market” and see the sights so we didn’t dally.  My guide book almost gave us some bad advice, and said the Spice Market was “touristy”, but on the contrast, we found the market to be mainly local shoppers that day.   

The outside area of the market was mainly meats, seafood and cheeses as we approached the inside covered aisles.  At first, we walked through without making a lot of contact with the vendors, trying not to get roped into buying things we couldn’t use.  After a minute or two, it was obvious that interaction was inevitable and desired by all.  We found the vendors in the market to be friendly and outgoing, having a chat seemed to be the primary importance after that first attempt to sell us something.  They wanted us to try the cheeses, fresh feta and Kasari, sausages and of course, Turkish Delight and Baklava. 

I know people that turn up their noses about Turkish Delight (or to those of you familiar with the USA version- “Aplets or Cotlets”).  This stuff was nothing like the overly sweet version that we know in Washington State.   I wish I could post a recipe of some Turkish Delight sweetened with honey, as I tasted so many little samples and versions that were fantastic and different.  The best seemed to be the reddish pomegranate version with green pistachios, beautiful and tasty too.  I am promising to do some research and see what I can come up with when I return home.

I lost count of how many different spice stalls there was, but almost about half seemed to be spices and teas.  Different colorful displays abounded, some in bins, some in bags, but carefully shaped into a point.  Exotic and rich colors and smells.  It was mesmerizing. It made me want to get into a kitchen and start cooking. I bought some different types that are hard to find at home like Biberi (ground hot peppers), a special salad seasoning and a smoked spice that was interesting.  Most of the guys selling spices spoke some English and loved to talk to you about each kind and what you could do with it.  Everyone seemed to want to sell you saffron, either the Iranian or the Turkish kind.  One was definitely paler (Iranian) but no one gave me an explanation on the taste differences.  I wanted to buy some, but I currently have a sizable amount given to me by a good friend.  I needed to use up what I got before investing in more.  

We spent so much time in the market, that we approached the Topkapi Palace just as they were closing the gates at 4pm for the day.  Darn it!   It was only open Monday, and closed Tuesday, our only other day in the city.   I just vowed to return to Istanbul again some day.   There are still so many sights to see…  

If you want to try my recipe for Baklava, find it here!

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