Istanbul Spices Bazaar, the world of aromas
The Spices Bazaar is a lot smaller and of course less immense and labyrythian than the Grand Bazaar (link to the corresponding URL). However, for this very reason, don´t miss it on a visit to Istanbul (link to URL on What to see in Istanbul).
It´s just that this is, without doubt, one of the best places in the world to buy spices from the most far-flung places. That´s not all. You can also find some of the basic dressings for delving into the world of Turkish cuisine.
Moreover, on account of its location, next to the mythical port of the Golden Horn (link to the corresponding URL) and the Galata Bridge (link to the corresponding URL), this place was (and still is) fundamental to the History of Trade between Asia and Europe.
Brief History of the Spices Bazaar
The origin of the Istanbul Spices Bazaar goes back to the middle of the seventeenth century. The reason for this lies in the construction of the New Mosque (Yeni Camii) in Eminönü. Therefore, the aim of this was to fund both the works and its subsequent maintenance.
All of this was inspired and sponsored by Hatice Turhan, the mother of sultan Mehmet IV. The original idea was to sell all kinds of spices, herbs and medicinal compounds which arrived at the port of the Golden Horn in this market.
As most ships which transported these goods came from Egypt, this market soon became known as the Egyptian Bazaar.
Nowadays, behind its six doors and laid out over two main aisles, around 100 shops from a wide range of goods can be visited.
Despite the passing of time, the Istanbul Spices Bazaar remains unique. Generally speaking, the same articles are sold as they originally were, although many of them are far more developed. This is especially true when it comes to medicinal compounds.
What to buy in the Spices Bazaar
Therefore, most of the stalls in this market sell culinary products, especially spices, the most typical of which are found in typical Turkish cuisine (link to the corresponding URL). There is also high quality Iranian saffron.
Next to them, herbs, both aromatic and medicinal are of great importance. They are placed between the typical sweets (with a gummy and extremely sweet taste) and the so called Turkish viagra (which has nothing to do with that pharmaceutical product).
Also in the Istanbul Spices Bazaar one can buy gourmet produce, such as caviar, apart from all kinds of dry fruits and sauces for dressing the most popular dishes in Turkish cuisine.
Additionally, here you can find the best teas and coffees in the city. For example, those by Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, which has been making coffee since 1871, is one of the best in the country.
Finally, in recent years some of the traders in the Spices Bazaar have been swayed by the lure of tourism and have transformed their businesses into souvenir shops. Generally speaking, the articles which are sold in such stalls are of a low to average quality, but there are always exceptions.
For example, there are some traders selling pashminas, made with authentic natural silk, with beautiful designs and colour combinations. There are also stalls for tablecloths and homewear decorated with rich embroidery, as well as all kinds of decorative crafts.
Por ejemplo, algún que otro negocio de pashminas, confeccionadas con seda natural auténtica, y con bonitos diseños y combinaciones de colores. También alguna tienda de manteles y ropa de hogar decorados con ricos bordados, además de todo tipo de artesanías decorativas.
Advice and tips for moving around the Spices Bazaar
The best tip for moving around the Istanbul Spices Bazaar, and the other markets in the city, is to do so naturally, without any additional concerns or precautions. The Istanbul bazaars are very safe places where traders have a vested interest in ensuring that their potential customers feel at ease. Therefore, they tend to be highly vigilant against “unwanted” visitors.
However, traders are sometimes overwhelmingly astute and have incredible skill at approaching those strolling down the aisles of the Species Bazaar and addressing them in their own language.
Once you have been “ensnared”, you will have no option but to enjoy bartering with them provided that you have a genuine interest in buying any of the products they are selling. To do so, being “nonchalant” usually works. That is, show you are unimpressed.
It must be stressed that for Muslims, trade is one of the main means of social intercourse. Therefore, one should thank them for their hospitality (for example, by treating you to a complimentary glass of tea) and, if they offer you to try a product, to enjoy it for what it is: a gift.
As for purchases, the truth is starting prices are usually very favourable. Therefore, becoming embroiled in endless bartering is often pointless.
Moreover, many traders publish their prices on the products themselves, so it is not possible to barter unless you wish to buy large amounts of an article.
The ideal thing is not to get carried away by the initial excitement of bartering. That is, do not buy the product you are interested in at the stalls closest to the door by which you have entered, without having gone around the whole of the Istanbul Spices Bazaar. Having done so, you can then choose the best offer or the best quality products.
Other markets close to the Spices Bazaar
The Istanbul Spices Bazaar is right in the business part of the city, which is spread out in a maze of alleyways and squares from the Golden Horn itself up to the Grand Bazaar. However, not far from this area are other markets which are well worth a visit:
- Street stalls next to the Galata Bridge: the Turkish version of Street food are these stalls where one can eat fish caught in the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea either in a sandwich, or on its own. They are almost always charcoal-grilled.
- Karakoy Fish Market: with a very similar concept to the previous stalls, but located in a permanent building and on the other side of the Galata bridge. In fact, the fisheries guild was originally on this side of the city.
- Findizkade: every Friday, the streets in this district are filled with the hundreds of stalls in a market where one can buy absolutely everything. From clothes to antiques. And from food to second-hand items and electronic goods.
- Besiktas Fish Market: a far cry from the previous ones, next to the Bosporus, it is one of the most spectacular ones in Istanbul. Especially due to the design of the market itself (an open canopy which is very spacious below) and the quality of the fish sold here.
Information of interest
How to get to the Spices Bazaar
- By car. The Spices Bazaar is very close to the Galata Bridge and around 40 kilometres (around an hour) from Istanbul International Airport.
- By tram. There is a stop next to the bazaar (Eminönü) on tram line T1.
- By bus. There are stops for bus numbers 81 and BN1.
- By boat. There are various ferry lines and city boats.
- On foot. From Sultanahmet (the esplanade of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia) it is a 20-minute walk to the Spices Bazaar. Half an hour from Taksim Square.