Filed under: Shopping, Spice Market, top-feature, tourist attraction, Yeni Mosque
You will be hard pressed to indulge all your senses in a better place than Istanbul’s spice market, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar.
History of the Spice Market
Misir Carsisi is the second oldest and biggest covered market in Istanbul after the Grand Bazaar. It was completed in 1660 and formed part of the adjacent Yeni Mosque. The idea was to rent out market space and use the proceeds for the upkeep of the mosque.
During the Ottoman Empire, most spices were imported from Egypt and that’s why the market was also known as the Egyptian Bazaar.
The L-shaped building consist of 88 vaulted rooms, many of them with upper and lower stories. That gives you already an idea of how vast the complex is, so reserve a few hours to explore this oriental wonderland. Wear comfortable shoes too, as the floors are often slippery and uneven.
Location of Misir Carsisi
The spice market is located in Eminönü near the Galata Bridge. It’s best reached making use of the #38 streetcar from Zeytinburnu to Kabatas. Get off at the Eminönü stop, cross over to the Yeni Mosque by way of the pedestrian underpass, then walk past the mosque and enter the market by its main gate at the southwest corner.
The bazaar is open every day, including Sunday.
Spices, nuts, locum and much more
The vaulted rooms, narrow alleys and even the underpass are filled to bursting point with stall after stall offering an incredible variety of merchandise. Originally the market was meant to sell the coveted spices from Egypt and the scent of saffron, nutmeg, thyme and pepper immediately assails the nostrils. The spices are piled high in brilliant heaps of reds, oranges, browns, greens and any shade in between and the enthusiastic vendors call out to you, praising their wares and inviting you inside to taste and – of course – buy.
Nuts are an important ingredient in Turkish cuisine, particularly baklava and other sweets and therefore walnuts and hazelnuts as well as pistachios and eye catching concoctions like dates stuffed with walnuts clamour for attention in adjacent stalls. Your only excuse not to taste them is if you suffer from nut allergies.
Turkish Delight and cheeses
Before I came to Turkey, I though of Turkish Delight as rather sweet, pink, chewy cubes, dusted with castor sugar which came in a box. Go to the Spice Bazaar and get an education. Yes, cubes in boxes are in sight, but only as take home samples. The real thing comes in cone-shaped big slaps and the colors are green, red, pink, yellow or purple. That has to do with the fact that pieces of fruit, nuts and fruit juices are added to the basic ingredients of sugar, rose water and starch and make for a whole new locum experience. From tangy (oranges) to sweet (kiwi) the flavours are endless. The vendors slice fine slivers off the big cones and proffer them to the visitor to taste.
If you still crave food, go outside, turn right and walk along the perimeter of the Spice Bazaar. What you find there is a variety of the finest Turkish cheeses, some with pistachios or the ones which look like spaghetti. Goat cheese, sheep cheese and of course tomatoes and cucumbers to go with them as well as Turkish bread are all sold there.
Naturally, you can rest after all this calorie over load in one of the many cafes under the shade of trees and watch the shoppers and visitors over a glass of Turkish tea.
Photographs are author’s own.