The Other Side of Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar
One of remarkably few downsides to travelling with my son is, well, markets.
I like nothing better than wandering around local markets looking at what’s for sale and buying (typically) whatever new fruit I can find, and veggies should we have a kitchen, plus perhaps some lurid underwear and/or age-inappropriate vest tops.
But, for me, markets are primarily about gawping, about scents, colours, curios and, sometimes (as in Daraw) a window on the culture.
And Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar is tailormade for gawping.
Now, Zac has what I can only term a pathological aversion to markets, in particular any with a seafood section, and especially anything with a seafood section that includes live critters, especially fish.
He has quite Catholic tastes.
Jade shops, yes. Tourist tat shops, yes. Markets? Nuh-uh.
Yes, not even spice markets.
This was a bummer when it came to Istanbul. There are two markets on most people’s sightseeing schedule (and, if I’ve learned one thing while travelling, it is, as this post makes clear, don’t knock the obvious stuff): the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Bazaar.
Both of them are historic, wonderful buildings, with covered, cross-vaulted arcades along the lines of the markets in the Old City of Jerusalem. They now cater (forgive me!) almost exclusively to tourists.
Which didn’t mean I didn’t want to see them.
Now, Zac actively enjoys shopping where there are presents to be bought. And my aunt, who we’ll be meeting in Greece, was about to turn 60, so that, plus the promise of baklava, had him almost enthusiastic about the prospect.
For all his intermittent sophistication, Zac likes nothing better than a small, fluffy animal.
So as we headed down the side of the Spice Bazaar, he suddenly disappeared.
Well, unbeknownst to us, we’d wandered into the Istanbul Animal and Flower market.
AKA, a giant pet shop! (The animals looked well-treated to my inexpert eyes, though this reporter had doubts.)
You can buy everything at the Istanbul Animal and Flower Market.
From rabbits, to puppies, to turtles, fish, aquaria and parrots, to cages and mix-your-own pet foods!
Also, umm, leeches?!
The salesmen scoop them out of the bottle with bare hands, flicking them off in a cavalier fashion, and were doing a roaring trade, largely to older men.
While leeches are occasionally used to reduce post-surgical swelling in the UK, here they’re sold against cholesterol, stroke and heart trouble.
The Istanbul Animal and Flower Market is properly known as the Istanbul Flower Market. And a particular favourite on the flower front seems to be these kitschy, brightly coloured cactuses.
Though you can buy every fruit and veg seed under the sun, not to mention glorious, multi-coloured chilli plants.
And, in all honesty, the colours and magic and overwhelmingly foreign clientele of the spice bazaar was a bit of comedown for both of us.
I’m pleased, though, that Zac eschewed the fruit teas, and, for that matter, the henna, and went, unerringly, for the single most expensive item in any spice market anywhere in the world.
My auntie’s 60th birthday present?
No, not the “Turkish saffron” at 20 lira for 100 grammes.
But a tiny packet of “true Iranian saffron”, a spice that comes close to costing its weight in gold, for a cool 30 Turkish lira, or ten of my British pounds.
“Jesus,” I say, fumbling optimistically with the wiry, dark red filaments, and putting one on my tongue in a pseudo-knowledgeable fashion. “I hope that’s the real thing…”
Miraculously, it appears it is.