I’ve been in glorious Turkey for nearly a week. One of my favorite experiences in Istanbul is to wander through their Spice Bazar. A virtual symphony of smells, colors and textures, this place is a must on any foodie’s list while in this extraordinary city. Located only a 15-20 minute walk from the Blue Mosque, it’s a convenient excursion.
Turkey’s position at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, has long enabled the country to be a central hub for trading. For centuries the country was an important destination of the camel caravans that travelled the Silk Road. Herbs and spices brought by merchants travelling the road have made their way into Turkish cuisine. The modern day Spice Market attests to the plethora of exotic products that were brought from near and far cultures.
The Spice Market is situated near the Bosphorus in an impressive building from the 1600’s. There are nearly 100 shops inside, with an equal number spilling over into the side-streets that surround the market. Most stalls sell a mind-boggling array of spices, herbs and Turkish food products that are stacked and sacked in a cacophony of visual displays seemingly out of National Geographic. Most shops, on the other hand, specialize in certain herbs or spices. Vendors often speak some English, and many will let you taste. Below are items to consider for purchase for your kitchen, or as gifts for friends who love to cook:
- Cumin: Turkish cumin is preferred by many Michelin-star chefs. Buy the seeds, toast & grind them at home for the most pungent aromas and flavors.
- Sumac: A very typical spice in several Middle Eastern countries, this one adds a lovely tangy element of lemon.
- Cinnamon: Half the cost of that in the US, it comes in sticks and powder.
- Paprika: Some of the finest in the world, this rich and flavor-chocked version is great for adding smoky elements.
- Kefke Spice: a mixture of several different items, this is the perfect seasoning for Turkey’s ground meats/meat balls (kefke).
- Dried pomegranate seeds: called “zeresk,” these are stupendous morsels that can be added to a variety of dishes from savory to sweet.
- Dried Eggplant: one of the most dazzling Turkish dishes I have ever had was made from dried eggplant that had been reconstituted and then stuffed with minced lamb and topped with yogurt.
- Dried Garbanzo Beans: flavored with different herbs, I bought tons of these and used them in place of nuts for a simple and unusual nibbly at a party with a glass of wine.
- Turkish Delight: This is Turkey’s signature sweet. Available in every flavor of the rainbow, I especially love the pink ones (laced with rose-water and studded with pistachios).
This is a do not-miss experience even if you don’t buy a thing. The smells, tastes and people-watching are priceless.