Context’s Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, Istanbul, Turkey. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved. Istanbul market tour.

Spices, Pickles, Pastries and Sweets on an Istanbul Market Tour

This post may contain paid links. If you make a purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission.

Spices, pickles, snacks and sweets were some of the delights we sampled on an Istanbul market tour with a local expert, a Turkish culinary writer. No matter how well you know a destination, there’s always something to be gained by experiencing that place with locals – which is how we came to do an Istanbul market tour with a local food writer.

We’ve strolled through Istanbul’s markets countless times on previous trips, and while we’re market lovers and frequently shopped the souks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where we lived for eight years, we’ve never really known which is the best shop for spices or the best store for Turkish sweets in Istanbul.

Sure, we’ve noticed the shops that the locals frequent, from seafood stalls at busy fish markets where chefs from nearby restaurants inspect the catch of the day that arrived early that morning to crowds of housewives huddled around the glass counter of a popular cheese and olive shop.

But we always wonder what makes a particular shop so special, what’s the thing we should be buying there, and is it really special or is it just closer or cheaper for those shoppers? Maybe there’s somewhere better to shop and some things that are better to buy there. With time in a place, we can usually figure this stuff out. But it does take time, which we don’t always have.

However, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the years, particularly this year when we’ve put that theory to the test over and over again in each place we’ve settled into, is that the best way to hit the ground running in a place is to hire a local expert, and in this case, a local food guide. We decide to do an Istanbul food tour to do just that.

We sign up for a Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, a culinary writer and food columnist for Istanbul’s national daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet, to see how much of a difference her expert insights and local tips would make to our experience of the local markets in a city we’ve been to before.

Context’s Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, Istanbul, Turkey. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved. Istanbul market tour.

 

Spices, Pickles, Pastries and Sweets on an Istanbul Market Tour

MıSıR ÇARŞıSı

We begin our Istanbul market tour at the Mısır Çarşısı, the Egyptian Market or Spice Bazaar at Eminönü. The market is on the itinerary of every visitor to Istanbul, because it’s bustling, atmospheric, and aromatic, and it’s in a beautiful building with vaulted ceilings.

But unless you’re staying in an apartment in Istanbul you probably wouldn’t come here to go shopping. We’ve walked through the Egyptian Market dozens of times on previous trips and been so irritated by the spruikers who seemed more interested in our cash than our interest in Turkish food, that we left without going into a single spice shop.

So we were delighted to visit the Spice Bazaar with Aylin to find out where we should actually shop and what we should buy, seeing we’re staying in an apartment this trip and we’re cooking Turkish food.

KURUKAHVECI MEHMET EFENDI

While we were waiting for Aylin at the entrance to the Egyptian Market (who of course was waiting for us at another entrance!) we had already noticed the long line of locals queuing up at a shop for freshly ground coffee. So we were pleased that when she arrived she confirmed that the coffeemaker is a real favourite of locals.

As it’s the holiday season, she predicted the shop would probably run out of their excellent coffee soon. We made a note to return later, but ran out of time. However, we discovered the same brand of coffee in our local supermarkets in Cihangir. Worth remembering, if you can’t get here.

Aylin also showed us an excellent place to buy coffee grinders and brass coffee pots to make Turkish coffee adjoining the store. Perfect gifts for coffee lovers and lighter than carpets!

MALATYA PAZARI

Just inside the entrance to the Egyptian Market, we begin what will turn out to be a long morning of tastings. (Don’t eat anything before doing Aylin’s walk!) We start at Malatya Pazari, the place to head for dried fruit, especially traditional Turkish favourites such as apricots and figs.

Aylin tells us that they’re best known for their more creative takes on traditional uses of dried fruit, such as ‘Kayisi doneri’ (a doner kebab made of fruit!), and their version of dried fruit ‘leather’, an edible fruit ‘parchment’, which they make from mulberries, prunes, and apricots that they wrap around other ingredients for a fancy holiday treat.

Context’s Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, Istanbul, Turkey. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved. Istanbul market tour.

Aylin also points out dried courgettes, okra, and aubergines that local cooks reconstitute with water and stuff with minced meat and rice and serve with a yoghurt sauce. We know the dish well, but only made with fresh not dried vegetables.

Aylin recommends buying the dried aubergines, which have a more leathery texture and smoky flavour. She also introduces us to pulverised wild cherry kernels, used in sweet and savoury baking, which have an almond flavour, and saf yerli sahlep, the root of wild orchid, used in Turkish ice-cream.

UCUZCULAR

Aylin points out the shop Baharatci at #41 for its original antique fittings (old spice boxes and antique scales), but she takes us into her favourite shop instead, called Ucuzcular at #51, which will quickly become our favourite Spice Bazaar shop as well.

We meet Bilge, the owner of Ucuzcular, who stocks a colossal range of Turkish and Middle Eastern herbs and spices, Iranian saffrons, heady teas, potent essential oils, and, one of my favourite ingredients, which I used back in the UAE, rose water.

Bilge also creates a range of original herb and spice blends, which Ucuzcular has become renowned for, including the Ottoman Spice Mix (saffron, red chilli flakes, marjoram, and thyme) and the Janissary Spice Mix (farm-grown sweet red peppers, sumac, and oregano).

Terence snaps some of each up for The Dish he’s planning to make for Istanbul. (Edit: Terence would end up making spicy Turkish lamb chops with bulgur, eggplant and yoghurt sauce, using Ucuzcular’s spice mix, and that’s the recipe on that link.)

CANKURTARAN GIDA

Aylin’s favourite cheese and honey shop is absolutely jam-packed with shoppers when we drop by, but we decide to squeeze inside anyway to sample some cheeses and cold cuts.

Their pastirma (pastrami in English, basturma in Arabic) is famous here, as is their tulum, sheep cheese in dried goat skin, and beyaz peynir, a feta-like cheese. We try them all, and they’re all absolutely wonderful. If we were heading back to the apartment, we would have snapped up a bit of everything.

Context’s Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, Istanbul, Turkey. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved. Istanbul market tour.

They also sell balik yumurtasi mumli – Turkish ‘bottarga’ – which Aylin tells us that Turkish people only eat on its own, not with pasta as the Italians prefer to do. Regular readers might remember that when we were on the Italian island of Sardinia we were gifted bottarga, which Terence used in the Sardinian specialty he cooked for his series The Dish, spaghetti con vongole e bottarga.

SARAY

We leave the Egyptian Market and head for the dock to catch a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul, but not before stopping along the way at Saray, one of Istanbul’s most popular patisseries. It’s crammed with locals buying boxes of pastries for the holiday starting the next day, so Aylin runs in to buy us some tavuk göğsü, something we’d never got around to trying on previous trips.

Tavuk göğsü is a creamy Turkish pudding made of very finely shredded chicken breast, that’s said to be the ancestor of blancmange. Although we’ve spotted it in patisserie windows lots of times before, we’ve never taken time to taste it, as there’s always so many other delicious things to eat in Istanbul that appealed more.

Once on the ferry, Aylin peels back the paper and offers us two forks. It’s good. The chicken flavour can barely be discerned, it just gives the pudding a stringy texture. I like it. Terence, not so much. I couldn’t say I fell in love with it, but chicken pudding is definitely worth a try, and Aylin says you must buy it from Saray.

KADıKÖY MARKET

We continue our Istanbul market tour with a Kadıköy market walk. If you’ve only stayed in Sultanahmet, and elbowed your way through the crowded Egyptian market, or even if you’ve been to Beyoğlu and visited the busy Balık Pazarı (Fish Market), which has as many tourists snapping photos as locals shopping, then you’ll sigh aloud with relief when you arrive at Kadıköy Market.

Aylin tells us that Kadıköy Market is where the locals shop, and when we visited it was only locals. There were no tourist trinkets and souvenirs at the spice shops. Because there were no tourists. We only spotted a few foreigners shopping, who clearly looked like expats.

The fresh fruit and vegetables are absolutely beautiful. Prices for fresh produce and ingredients are also considerably cheaper than they are on the European side, making Kadıköy worth a trip if you’re renting an apartment in Istanbul and planning to cook local food.

Context’s Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, Istanbul, Turkey. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved. Istanbul market tour.

If you’re a food lover and you especially love to cook, you could spend hours browsing the outdoor stalls, admiring the produce of the fruit and vegetable vendors, fishmongers, and butchers, and visiting the specialty shops – and the latter is what we do with Aylin.

HACı BEKIR ŞEKERCISI

Our first stop at Kadıköy market walk is at one of Istanbul’s most esteemed sweet-makers, which is famous for its lokum or Turkish delight. Aylin says she also likes their cinnamon and clove sherbet sugar that can be drank like hot tea or enjoyed cold in summer.

The elegant store – complete with antique shopfront, old-fashioned glass counters, and black and white tiled floor – is crammed with local shoppers buy big boxes full of lokum in all sorts of fabulous flavours to gift to family and friends over the upcoming holiday. Sadly it’s so crammed there’s no room for us inside, so we move on.

BAYLAN PASTAHANESI

Aylin points out this famous chocolate and pastry shop, but once again, it’s jam-packed, so we move onto another kind of sweet store, making a note to return.

CAFER EROL

This historic candy shop sells every conceivable kind of Turkish sweet imaginable, including even more unusual flavours of lokum and an array of preserves and jams, including my absolute favourite, rose jam.

Context’s Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, Istanbul, Turkey. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved. Istanbul market tour.

But it’s their traditional teeth shattering boiled lollies that Aylin calls ‘rock candy’ that she says the locals come for. Lined up on the counter are tall glass jars filled with the candy so you can try before you buy.

We sample a few different kinds. They’re all very moreish, but we especially love the bergamot and mastic (pine resin) flavours. We buy a selection of mixed rock candies in a decent sized bag. It costs the equivalent of a couple of euros!

MEŞHUR ÖZCAN TURŞULARI

Our last stop is a pickle shop, and while the store also sells verjuice (verjus), vinegars, pastes, sauces, and olives, and an excellent pomegranate molasses, according to Aylin, it’s the pickles for which they are renowned.

Anything that can be pickled is pickled here! Along with the usual gherkins, peppers and carrots, there’s everything from pickled cabbage and cornichons to unriped melons and pickled beets.

Naturally, we try a few, pickles, along with their sweet and spicy red pepper pastes, which Terence buys for The Dish that he’s planning to cook back at the apartment.

 

Context’s Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, Istanbul, Turkey. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved. Istanbul market tour.

ÇIYA

Our Istanbul market tour finishes with a tasting lunch, annotated by Aylin, at one of Kadıköy’s most popular restaurants, Çiya, which is famous for its traditional Turkish buffet.

While Aylin assures us Çiya is the real deal and we have read about it before, it’s the kind of place we would normally avoid on a trip like this with a ‘living like locals’ mission – it’s in all the guidebooks, and there are two big tables of tour groups filling the tables out front, the first and only tourists we see in Kadıköy.

However, it’s a completely different experience going to an eatery like this with a knowledgeable guide like Aylin. Firstly, because she knows the chefs, and, secondly, because she knows what to order.

There’s a lot of food on display that anyone who has eaten Middle Eastern food would be familiar with – hummus, stuffed vine leaves, olive salad, and so on – and personally, we think the Syrians and Lebanese do a much better job of making hummus and muhamarra, which is far tastier in the Levant.

So we ask Aylin if we can try more traditional Turkish traditional buffet dishes that we’d never tasted before, and she rattles off a few specialties that a new to us, and dishes that are found throughout the Middle East, but she insists we try Çiya’s way of preparing those dishes.

Context’s Markets of Istanbul walk with Aylin Oney Tan, Istanbul, Turkey. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved. Istanbul market tour.

The highlight of the plate of appetisers was a delicious pickled cabbage dish in yoghurt, which was far more scrumptious than it sounds. The best was to come: the most sublime, succulent kebabs we’ve ever tasted in our lives. They were intensely flavoured and melt-in-the-mouth; absolutely heavenly.

In hindsight, had we have known how good those kebabs were, we probably would have skipped the appetisers, asked for a small buffet tasting, and would have happily had tried a few more kebabs. Trust us, these are kebabs worth flying to Istanbul for!

Our verdict on Aylin’s Istanbul market tour? Although we’d shopped Istanbul’s markets before and were familiar with a lot of food we saw and tried, there were plenty of things that were new to us, some things we’d known about but hadn’t tasted before, and ingredients we hadn’t known the uses of or knew but didn’t know which was the best place to buy those ingredients.

An Istanbul market tour with a local, particularly an in-the-know local who is a specialist in her field, certainly made a difference to our experience of Istanbul’s markets and specialist shops.

If you’re a food lover visiting the Turkish capital, we highly recommend you do an Istanbul market walk with a local – whether Turkish cuisine is new or familiar to you.

But book ahead and do an Istanbul food tour on your first day in the city, especially if you’re renting an apartment in Istanbul.

That way, you’ll know exactly where to shop and what to buy, and you can return on the second day to stock up your kitchen.

SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Lara Dunston Patreon
Advertisement

Find Your Turkey Accommodation

Booking.com

AUTHOR BIO

Photo of author
A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

14 thoughts on “Spices, Pickles, Pastries and Sweets on an Istanbul Market Tour”

  1. Love the photos and love your blog! I was in Turkey end of last year, and I simply love their local markets. But of course, I did not manage to visit as many as you did!

  2. I lived in Turkey for 6 years until I moved to Shanghai in early 2009. Your posts have made me so homesick for my old home in Istanbul that I almost can’t bear to read them. I used to go to the Kadikoy bazaars- both the sali and the cuma pazarlar. I bought many underpants there!

  3. Turkey’s markets are great, aren’t they? We were surprised at how Turkish the markets in Vienna are due to the large immigrant population. We’ll be posting those stories in a couple of days so do visit us again and take a look.

  4. Hi MaryAnne – sorry to have made you homesick… I hope it was an enjoyable kind of longing for your home…?

    Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Hello Goktug! we loved your uncle’s shop! And we’re so pleased to see you here. We will definitely let you know when we next get back to Istanbul and we’ll be sure to visit your family’s shop again.

  6. hi

    just read your blog. Cankurtaran Gıda is my uncles market and I am veryy happy that you liked it.

    wish to see you here again.

    Thanks.

  7. We just returned from Istanbul a few days ago and took the same wonderful tour. You took much better notes and I’m so glad I found your blog to help refresh my memory. Now, if only I could go back…

  8. Thanks Susan, there are two of us and Lara is a demon at taking notes as these stories often have another life in print publications – so it is our job to take detailed notes ;)
    Great tour, great city, fascinating cuisine – we love going back to Istanbul, feel very at home there.
    Cheers,
    T

Leave a comment