Shirley Barr Visits the Spice Market in Istanbul. Intoxicating!

By on September 18, 2012

By Shirley Barr for EE News

The first impression of the world-famous Spice Market of Istanbul?

Istanbul’s famous spice market


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 many spices, the aromas are intoxicating.

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.

on the way from the airport in Istanbul to the Spice Market


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! ##


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About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”


  1. Shirley Barr

    September 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Thrilled EEN documented my first visit to the Spice Market in Istanbul. Editor Linda asked if everyone spoke English; pretty much so. Enough for transactions, anyway. ;0 Thanks for that “intoxicating” word you added, L. How perfect is that?!

    • Leslie

      October 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      Oh I can just smell those exotic spices and imagine what a bustling market that was. Glad you were able to get some spices home with you, too. Very interesting article!

  2. kathy mclean

    October 20, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I liked the Spice Market too but I didn’t think to bring any spices home. Did you bring home an Evil EYE? I gave all the ones I had away and now I wish I hadn’t!

  3. Linda

    October 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I am planning a girls trip to Istanbul for next year…will definitely include the Spice Market! Thanks!