“Egyptian” Spice Bazaar, Istanbul


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!


26 Responses

  1. This place looks absolutely mind-boggling! I wouldn’t know where to start first! The sheer variety will drive me bananas and the attractive arrangements make them near irresistible. MM, did it smell really strong inside? Coz when i enter the Assad Indian store in UN Ave., I have to step out after 5 mins coz all the spices just get to me and I get a little bit overwhelmed and dizzy.

  2. Yes, oriental bazaars can at times be disorienting.

    For those who now find food for the gods all too down to earth and prosaic, cooking dates can be heated and softened then buzzed to a paste and used as binder for roasted nuts such as pistachios or walnuts and rolled into much smaller cylinders (say two inch dia.) than the gigantic one showing in the top picture. Chilled and sliced into coins, it’s a much healthier treat than the traditional perfumy Turkish delight.

  3. I loved the spice bazaar too Marketman, especially at the back alleys is one of the most famous coffee makers in Turkey and one of the best places to buy pasturma, the cured beef ham. I cannot remember the name of either unfortunately!

  4. i smell granola in the making or perhaps, sticky date bars with lotsa nuts…yum. i stock up on cans of mixed nuts myself (but not the kind you got from turkey- mine is only from the local walgreens- deluxe kind). you are so lucky to visit these places i can only dream of- maybe, someday. thanks for sharing though!

  5. some of the best natural sea sponges in the world are still found in some of the more remote greek islands and off the coast of turkey…. maybe part of the reason why they are for sale at the market?

  6. this market looks amazing, hubby has been to Istanbul on biz trips quite a few times already but he’s never been in this market. all he was able to find was a bottle of saffron. I’ll ask him to go next time with a long shopping list. thanks for the tips.

  7. Great shots of the market. Sensory overload is right – and probably not advisable to go there if you are prone to migraines!

  8. Oh, the wretched smell of mingling spices will kill me! MM, did you leave the bazaar wearing a new scent ;)

  9. Too many colors, too many smells, too many beautiful things to see, too many foods to taste…

    Ah a spice market! one of the first stops I vow myself to make if I reach that part of the world.

    It’s like being in Baguio’s Public Market-Vegetable section, you want to buy everything so pretty even if you don’t know what to do with it hihihihi!=)

    The compulsive buyer in me.=P

  10. By the way MarketMan, are those on the right-side of the top most picture pistachios in perhaps honey or some sort of sugar mixture? Similarly done like a praline or our local “panutsa”?????

  11. Alexena, there were several sweets made of honey and nuts, sometimes cooked until they are a chewy consistency when cooled… I didn’t even get to try 5% of the things I should have…

  12. I have seen the white one before on tv and have been hankering to taste it eversince.

    Nuts in sugar is one of my favorite things to eat, it must have been hard for you to only pick a few out of the many varieties they offer.

    I know I would have in such situation=)

  13. I can just imagine the aroma of the spices in the air – what an amazing market – looking forward to your saffron post next – thanks!

  14. hey marketman~ lovely post! i went to istanbul pretty recently. totally did not realise that there were back alleys! omg! also, every single shop in the spice bazaar appeared to be selling ‘turkish viagra’! which is apparently made of figs and apricots. really really funny!

  15. it is fantastic and MM is right in informing us that look at the goodies inside, check their prices but buy them outside. What is also amazing is that these turks are linquists, weren’t they. soon as they know where you come from they will speak in your language. including tagalog.

    Anyone who can plan a trip, check turkey, it’s really a secret country but lots and lots of history to discover and we all will be given a recall of our history.

    They are so good at preserving their culture.
    Good on yah, MM……….

  16. Loved this article re Spice Bazaar! I am based in US and We just came back from a 2-week vacation in Turkey. The Spice Bazaar was truly one of the highlights of our trip. Just came across your website today and thought it’s wonderful!



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