Istanbul's Spice Bazaar may be a global tourist trap, but isn't nearly as rage-inducing as the squawking group tours inside the Grand Bazaar. Here, a remnant of authenticity lives on in this 17th century building, created by commission for Sultana Turhan Hatice.
Visually-arresting piles of spices and Turkish delight, and rows of pushy men, make for a wild afternoon of souvenir shopping and colorful conversation. Inside the Ucuzcular stall the sellers are friendly and happy to let you browse. A bag of "love tea" ensures romance in a pot.
In that vein, on my way through the bazaar, a man trotted up to me and said, "Excuse me. I think you dropped something..." I looked puzzled. He smiled and theatrically clutched his chest, "...my heart." He probably does that for all the Westerners, but I pretended it was as real as the magic in the spices.
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A Different Kind of Turkish Delight
In the streets of Istanbul and back alleys all over Turkey are mounds of Turkish delight confections. Some look as though they may have been boxed to sell back when Bekir Effendi, the inventor of Turkish delights, started up at the end of the 1700s in Turkey. Armed with a keen eye and an even better nose in Istanbul's historic Spice Bazaar, I found the grand daddy of them all—pistachio "mountains."
In huge cities of the world, it is impossible to stay on course and see everything you want to see. I have found the longer I travel, the more obsessed I become with finding local grocery stores and better yet, open-air markets. Here you get to know about the textiles, art, and cuisine of your destination quickly. One of my most favorites was the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. Located in Fatih, in the neighborhood of Eminönü, you get a wonderful illustration of Asia and Europe colliding. Traditional mint tea and rugs adjacent to Vans footwear and Beatles albums line the corridors. Arriving late, we were concerned we'd miss out, but the dimly lit chambers emptied to streets lined with fresh produce, meats, and delicious nuts. All were open late into the evening.