When I visited the Spice Bazaar (a.k.a. Spice Market) in Istanbul last October, I quickly succumbed to its many sensory overload-inducing attractions. Located at the southern end of the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn, it was built in the 1660s and commissioned by the mother of Sultan Mehmed the Fourth to promote Istanbul's spice trade.
Everywhere I turned there were dried fruits, nuts, teas, herbs, sweets, spices, Turks, tourists and tchotchkes. And that was just the first shop. Only 85 more to go!
Since the majority of spices were once imported from Egypt, the Turks refer to the market as the Egyptian Bazaar. Back then, it was known mostly for its natural remedies.
Turkish Delight or lokum is Istanbul's ubiquitous candy. You can buy boxes of it cut in small cubes and dusted with powdered sugar or by the pound as shown here. Made from a sugar and corn starch base, it comes in many flavors, but my favorites had pistachios or hazelnuts. I brought back a box with walnuts and fig rolled in coconut, and no, I didn't share.
These figs stuffed with walnuts are just one variety of what they call Turkish Viagra. Must be why the men at the Spice Market can shop for six straight hours.
Henna is not only used for hair color, supposedly in the countryside, young women stain the palms of their hands the night before they get married. Don't ask.
The Glutton/Germophobe's Dilemma: to eat free samples that have been sitting out and fondled or not to eat free samples of the sitting and fondled variety. The glutton won and no harm done. See, germophobe? Don't be so uptight. It all worked out in the end.
Addendum: Spice Bazaar, Istanbul, Part 2 can be found here.