Monday, 10 November 2014

Istanbul, Turkey: Bazaar Fever and Baklava

It is true. Istanbul, with its history, beautiful mosques and palaces, is captivating. 

Sultanahmet,  Istanbul´s old town will not let you down.  A day can be spent just walking around Sultanahmet.  There is no need to feel harried here since the great Istanbul structures  are located  close to each other.

                                          The Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet

                               Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet

                                            Basilica Cistern, Sultanahmet
 In between these grand architectural and historical marvels are parks, open spaces, eateries and benches to sit on.

                                Green spaces around Sultanahmet
But here´s the truth.  What we enjoyed most about our trip to Istanbul were the bazaars and the delicious, inexpensive food.

We were in Istanbul for only three days, and because this was really more of a chill, explore leisurely and bond with friends trip we didn´t want to cram our schedule with so many activities.  But on top of our to-do-list in Istanbul was to visit its famous bazaars.

The Grand Bazaar

                               One of the five gates of the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is the queen of indoor markets in Turkey.  Even the term grand seems to be an understatement,  it being a whopping 30.7 hectares complex of shopping and entertainment.  There are five gates and thousands of shops,  which for  a shopping connoisseur, must be heaven on earth.

Truth:  I was a bit scared about the Grand Bazaar.  I have been to  a souk in Fes, Morocco and was aghast at how rude and persistent the touts were.  I was afraid that like the souk experience in Morocco, my Grand Bazaar would let me down. It however turned out that the bazaars in Istanbul play to an altogether different melodic tune.

                                  The beautiful painted walls and ceilings of the Grand Bazaar

First, the Grand Bazaar is an indoor market housed in a spectacular structure.  The ceilings are curved and intricately painted.  And while there are touts all over the bazaar, these were not the pushover types I´ve encountered in Morocco.

As they say, anything you need, you´ll find at The Grand Bazaar.

                                            Silk Scarves and Pashminas
                  The kid on the left has the most beautiful  bone structure I´ve seen!


                                Turkish tea sets

                               Ottoman style figurines

                                Turkish lamps

                                            Carpets and Beddings

The key to buying success at the bazaars is to haggle hard, something that we Filipinos, veterans of Divisoria and tiangges, are good at.  The sellers will  often give  high initial prices.  If you stand your ground and maintain your indifference to the item they will eventually lower the price into something more palatable.  Case in point, a friend successfully haggled for a silk hand embroidered beddings set from an initial price of 1500 liras to  only 300 liras (about 6000 PhP).

One can spend a day at the Grand Bazaar and still not see half of the stalls. There is however a sort of camaraderie /symbiotic arrangement between the stall vendors: Once you enter a shop and buy something, the seller would most likely gently recommend you to another shop selling other types of wares. One can also easily ask the seller for their recommended shops and they´d happily point you to a shop of their friend or relative. I feel that as long as you have great haggling skills, this setup bodes well for shoppers who might otherwise be overwhelmed by the vastness of the bazaar.

One good thing about the sellers in these Turkish bazaars is that they do not resort to hard sell.  They are pleasant and solicitous even if you don´t buy anything from them.

The Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar despite being one of the larger bazaars in Istanbul is tiny compared to the  Grand Bazaar.  And that´s sort of a good thing.  It is still the centre of spice trade in Istanbul with stalls upon stalls offering spices, dried fruits and teas.  Perhaps to cater to tourists like us, there are also stalls offering jewelry, leather goods and cheap yet pretty souvenirs.

Cinnamon, Saffron, Curry Powder, Paprika and strange unfamiliar spices are spread out in a tapestry of colours

                                           Dried fruits and vegetables, teas and  more
                               Teas and spices

                                All sorts of olives

Walking through the Spice Bazaar, one is offered free tastes of all kinds of goodies : teas, turkish delights, olives, candies, dried fruits and such.  It´s not a bad thing to try the goodies and not buy anything .  The touts don´t force you to buy and truthfully most of the goodies are delicious!  But apparently the prices of these goodies are about 20% higher if you buy them inside the Spice Bazaar building.  Outside, in little alleys crisscrossing the main bazaar building are where most locals get their spices and sweets, so that´s where we bought our stash of nuts and sweets.

Lokum and Baklava at Hafiz Mustafa 1864
Every little corner in Istanbul has a sweets shop selling Lokum (Turkish Delight) and Baklava


                               A Baklava Shop

Before coming to Istanbul, I searched the web for  a bakery where we could have great Turkish sweets and  saw  the great reviews for the century old traditional bakery Hafiz Mustafa.

 As luck would have it, our rented flat was just a few minutes' walk from the Hafiz Mustafa shop in Taksim Square.  So on our first night, after dinner, we dropped by the shop for desserts.

This well known Turkish patisserie  is a beautiful yet chaotic place. It is always full of customers but because of the gilded gold walls, the beautiful soft lights, the mountain of sweets on display,  and the pleasant service offered, this is a not to be missed experience in Istanbul.

Here are some of the goodies on offer at Hafiz Mustafa. Prepare to drool!

                              Dates filled with nuts

                                         Turkish Delights

                                         More Turkish Delights

                                         Chocolate and Nut-filled Turkish Delights

                               Baklava in various forms

                                More Baklava!

                                Rice Pudding

                        Our desserts: Pistachio Baklava, Chocolate Baklava, Lemon Turkish Delight and tea

All the sweets were delicious. The pistachio baklava while rich wasn´t as overly sweet as we have feared.  I personally liked the lemon turkish delight just because I love anything lemon flavoured but the truly unforgettable treat for us was the chocolate baklava.  Rich chocolate flavoured flaky pastry interspersed with caramelly sweetness and the nuttiness of pistachio.  It was a baklava like no other.  

At about  15€ for our orders, these are not cheap by Istanbul prices, but still reasonable considering the hefty servings and nice ambiance. Plus the fact that our leftover sweets were packed prettily in a bag for us to take home.

                                Our doggie bag of scrumptious sweets

Coming up next: Turkish Kebabs and All Things Savoury

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