The Spice Bazaar, or Mısır Çarşısı as it is called in Turkish, is the second largest shopping bazaar in Istanbul, right after the Grand Bazaar, built in 1660 by Turhan Sultan. Famous for its spices, herbs, dried fruits and nuts, the Bazaar gives you the feeling that you somehow travelled through time and went back to the Ottoman era.
When you enter the bazaar an intense yet pleasant scent of spices and herbs, a unique mixture, which many Istanbullians identifies with the Spice Bazaar, welcomes you. The L-shaped stone building is cool, even during mid-July when the temperature is over 30 degrees. Shops are juxtaposed on both sides of the narrow corridors and each one is more colourful than the last. You’ll be invited to step inside, offered a treat, a taste of what they are selling and if you have time, perhaps a quick conversation.
“It’s mostly tourists this time of the year, which is good for business,” a man with salt-and-pepper hair in his mid-forties who runs a spice shop tells me.
Almost all of them speak English, German and even a little French. When I ask how long he has been doing this job he says the shop belonged to his father and he hopes that one day his son will run it.
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If you are looking for a rare spice or herb or if you’re one of those people who are very particular about their ingredients when it comes to cooking, like many Turkish women are, the Spice Bazaar is just the place for you. Apart from the regulars, the bazaar is packed with tourists with cameras hanging from their necks, eagerly asking questions about the sacks of spices.
While shopping for something called relax tea, a mixture which the vendor put together himself using rosebuds, camomile, jasmine and lemon balm, I ask the Japanese tourist next to me how she ended up here.
She eagerly waves her Istanbul guidebook in the air, says she read about it, and then adds, “My friend visited Istanbul last year, she told me that I had to visit the Spice Bazaar.”
And how does she like it? “It’s fascinating!” she exclaims with a big smile on her face and walks away with a bag of herbs.