Known as the Misir Carsisi locally, and literally translated as the “Egyptian Bazaar”, it was named that because of taxes collected on Egyptian imports way back when, according to several guide books to Istanbul. Built in the 1600′s, beside the New Mosque complex, spices have been traded in this large stone walled L-shaped building for 400+ years! While it has become quite the “tourist trap” inside the main building, I think it is still absolutely worth a visit if you are a tourist in Istanbul. But try not to buy anything inside the building…
The building itself is imposing to look at from outside, and unless I had a guidebook in hand, would have missed the entrance. Apparently some of the revenues from the marketplace were used to support the nearby mosque. The building is filled with spices of all kinds, in mind-boggling colors, scents and volumes! There are also lots of dried fruits, nuts, saffron, cured beef, sweets, and of course, the Iranian caviar, I featured in an earlier post, here.
To say one risks sensory overload here is an understatement. I was just in market heaven. If people get their kicks from trying on a new diamond necklace at Graff or a gold watch at Patek Philippe, this was the Marketman equivalent in food… I was so amazed that I returned to this market several times in the span of a few days… I wouldn’t know what to even do with half of the spices and I was being really good by resisting loading up on everything and anything in my path…
I have NEVER seen a wider selection of nuts anywhere in my travels to date. And the varieties of pistachios alone were utterly overwhelming. And with the finest types at $20 a kilo, they weren’t cheap. But gosh were they superb, or what??? Oddly, among the fruit and nut stalls were several sea sponges for sale. The relationship was beyond me and no one explained it either. I mean, do folks eat lots of nuts and cover themselves in honey then take a bath with a sea sponge? Huh?
There was also an incredible selection of herbal teas, dried flowers, etc.
But do not be TEMPTED to part with any of your money inside the stone building. Just take it all in, check the prices, taste things… but wait until you go where the locals buy the spices, through the back doors and into the market outside and out back. Here everything is just as good if not better, and the prces are some 25-35% less! It is back here that I loaded up on nearly half a suitcase of pistachios, almonds, walnuts, figs, dates, apricots and spices.
In the outdoor alleyways behind the market, there were olive vendors with a selection of say 40-50 different kinds of olives, a coffee guy grinding beans to order with a line of 20-30 people waiting their turn, mountains of wonderful dried and fresh fruit… And a local friend of Mrs. MM told us that many people in Istanbul still come to this market to load up on spices, nuts and fruits… it absolutely has the freshest and widest selection of produce to choose from.
But a strong word of caution to the casual spice buyer… don’t get fooled into buying “local saffron,” their kasubha equivalent that is NOT the saffron you think you are buying. You must be careful in this market, in the same way you should be at Divisoria market as well… I will do a separate post on the saffron that I got at the Spice Bazaar. Overall, this was a wonderful experience and market addicts should definitely visit the Spice Bazaar if you have the opportunity to do so!