Shirley Barr Visits the Spice Market in Istanbul. Intoxicating!
By Shirley Barr for EE News
The first impression of the world-famous Spice Market of Istanbul?
I expect to be assaulted by fragrances of savory dried herbs like paprika and sweet spices like the Turkish Yenibhar—dried unripe berry that we call Allspice.
But the cacophony of sounds from the tourists and vendors overwhelms even the sights and smells.
My biggest surprise was not the expected bins and jars of dried fruits and spices and the mounds of fresh and dried figs and the most delicious dates I have ever tasted. The big wow was the detailed splendor of each retail booth. Carvings, rows of plates, creative signs formed canopies over each space with only one path to enter, encouraging customers to stay in the Market path in front.
Every seller declared his wares “the best in Turkey” and seemed most proud (judging by the size of the signs) of the rich yellow saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. One source said the so-called golden Turkish saffron in Istanbul bazaars is actually sunflower seeds and retailers keep the good stuff.
So I let them keep their prized spice used for fish which can sell for up to $500 a pound! A find was a Turkish Mix developed in Izmir…a wonderful blend of garlic, cumin, Turkish oregano, cayenne and cilantro. Season kabobs of lamb, beef or chicken for a memorable taste. Yum.
Basil grows wild all over Turkey and because of my enthusiasm for the Spice Market, the taxi driver stopped, jumped out of the vintage car, and picked me a bunch on the side of the street, assuring me it would be delicious on any fish. He was not joking.
No worries about bearing gifts home. The vendors vacuum-bagged my dates and figs and they rode comfortably in the bottom of my suitcase along with small wooden crates of herbs and spices packaged singly in plastic tubes. If Turkey didn’t want those gems to leave the country, the friendly folks in immigrations must have looked the other way; hooray! ##