Price Check: an Istanbul Shopping List
Istanbul is not the amazing budget destination it once was five years ago but it’s still far more affordable than most European cities. Sure you can go out to a swanky restaurant or a fashionable bar in Istanbul and fork out as much for a degustation menu or a silly cocktail as you would in an equivalent restaurant or bar in Athens or Barcelona.
But if you avoid the sorts of places that feature in the New York Times or are listed as guidebook author favourites – you know, the ones with long lines and valets in black that wait for patrons five blocks from the actual venue (yes, we’re talking about you 360) – and instead head to the eateries and drinking spots that Istanbul’s locals frequent, you’ll find the food and drinks to be of terrific value, and the friendly service far better than it is at the fancied spots.
Shopping for groceries is similar in many ways. Shop at the beautiful-looking stalls at the well publicised ‘markets’ and stores in the tourist areas and you’ll pay exorbitant prices. Head a few blocks down the road to the ordinary neighbourhood supermarkets, tiny mini-marts in the backstreets, and to areas bereft of hotels, where only locals shop, and you’ll find prices that are considerably lower.
We were lucky in that the location of our Istanbul apartment gave us a lot of choices when it came to where to shop for groceries and other everyday items. While there are scores of tiny mini-marts (more like kiosks) that seem to all sell exactly the same dozen or so products – cigarettes, beer, Raki, water, soft drinks, tea, coffee, milk, confectionary, biscuits, and maybe two or three other things that differ between shops – prices vary remarkably depending upon how far off the tourist trail you are willing to go.
Prices also vary remarkably in terms of the quality of products offered within the same store too. For instance, in a local supermarket in Cihangir where we shopped we paid 7.70 Turkish lira (UK£3.22) for 125grams of the worst pistachios we’ve probably ever eaten (they tasted old and half of them couldn’t be opened), and in the same store and from the same counter paid 16 Turkish lira (UK£6.70), for better quality pistachios that were fresh, firm and delicious-tasting.
The (not-so-secret) local secret when buying nuts, as well as olives, dried fruits, spices, sweets, cheeses, and cured meats, is to always accept a tasting of a product when offered it – whether it’s olives or nuts, and note the price per kilo.
We did most of our shopping in the supermarkets on Siraselviler Caddesi, Cihangir, a five-minute stroll down the hill from Taksim Square. It’s a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification, which is home to local hipsters, bohemians, intellectuals, and creative types, both young and old, and ordinary Istanbul locals.
The prices there were cheaper than the ‘market’ shops on Balık Pazarı, off Istiklal Cadessi, and in the touristy ‘Egyptian market’ across the water, but were slightly more expensive than the shops on the Asian side. But, like everywhere you pay a price for convenience. And there could be few spots more convenient than where we stayed.
|2 litre water||TRY0.50||£0.22||US$0.35|
|1 litre milk||TRY0.80||£0.35||US$0.55|
|Bottle of local wine (drinkable!)||TRY17.70||£7.66||US$12.23|
|250g coffee beans||TRY6.90||£2.99||US$4.77|
|50 tea bags||TRY4.00||£1.73||US$2.76|
|1 kg sugar||TRY0.90||£0.39||US$0.62|
|Jar of rose jam||TRY3.60||£1.56||US$2.49|
|1 loaf of bread||TRY2.50||£1.08||US$1.73|
|250g quality butter||TRY4.85||£2.10||US$3.35|
|500 ml oil||TRY18.70||£8.10||US$12.93|
|1 doz organic eggs||TRY7.10||£3.07||US$4.91|
|1 kilo tomatoes||TRY4.80||£2.08||US$3.32|
|1 kilo onions||TRY1.00||£0.43||US$0.69|
|1 kilo apples||TRY3.95||£1.71||US$2.73|
|250 g pistachios||TRY15.00||£6.49||US$10.37|
|Jar Közlenmiş patlıcan*||TRY5.60||£2.42||US$3.87|