Turkish Delight (Literally) at Istanbul’s Spice Market:
Confession: We bullied our Istanbul tour guide into adding the Spice Bazaar to our packed Turkey itinerary. “Come ON,” our travel blogger pack cajoled. “We’re right here anyway, and it’s one of the most famous sights in Istanbul! We’ll make it worth your while… We’ll buy you a Turkish Delight! Or three?”
With that, our guide grinned and led us into the 350-year-old building. The “gifts” we found in this bazaar were profound, touching not only our hands, but our hearts as well!
The Spice Bazaar has More than Spices
It was key to have a guide in the bustle of the Spice Market, because our guide led us right to his favorite store out of the 85 shops that line the long building. Did you know that the Spice Bazaar is actually only 5% spices?
The other 95% of wares include all sorts of things I wanted to stick into my mouth immediately, including baklava, dried fruit, and more flavors of Turkish Delight than I knew possible.
Oils, Soaps, Herbs, and More
For the body, Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar offers fragrant oils that glisten in their rounded glass bottles, and chunky soaps filled with herbs and infusions to make a gal’s skin gleam.
Samples of Candy at the Spice Bazaar
“Want some food samples?” the store’s jolly owner asked, and our blogger group swooped towards him like piranhas. One by one, the owner pulled the different delicacies from the wall, slicing off pieces for our grasping hands. My favorite was the pomegranate Turkish Delight!
What IS Turkish Delight?
For those who don’t know, Turkish Delight is the tempting treat many Americans first heard of in the famous children’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It features a sweet gelatinous base that is dusted with powdered sugar, and sometimes contains embedded goodies like nuts and dried fruit.
History of the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul
So what is the history behind the Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar? This famed spot was constructed in the 1660s as part of the funding plan for the “New Mosque” (oh-so-new when construction was started on it in 1597), because rent from the spice stalls funded the mosque’s upkeep.
The New Mosque by the Spice Market
Let us draw our eyes away from the food for a moment to peek outside the Spice Market and see the New Mosque in its current glory. Look familiar? James Bond had an epic motorcycle chase around it in the opening of Skyfall, speeding right through the middle of the Grand Bazaar, which is the market next to the Spice Bazaar, and arguably one of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions.
The Spice Bazaar was on the Ancient Silk Route
Back in the day, the Spice Market was the final stop for camel caravans completing the Silk Route from faraway lands like China and India. All of this great architecture and food would sure be a welcome sight for a tired camel, eh?
Turkey Connects Asia, Africa, and Europe
In Turkish, the name of the Spice Bazaar translates as “Egyptian Market” because construction of the complex was originally funded by taxes from Egyptian imports. As I emphasized in my first Turkey article and shall say again, for centuries, Turkey has been a connecting central point between Africa, Asia, and Europe. In many ways, it remains so today.
Gifts or Window Shopping at the Spice Bazaar?
Back into the Spice Market we go. As my fellow travel bloggers began buying up boxes of Turkish Delight, I cozied up to a hot glass of Turkish tea. One of my secrets for budget travel is to refrain from buying too many gifts (which is a cinch for me since gifts are not my “Love Language” — though I do enjoy mindful gifts), but I can see how the Spice Bazaar would be a gifter’s dream!
Shopping Brings People Together
As I wandered up the store’s steep ladder to a room lined with ornate plates, I thought about what brought our group to Istanbul. Yes, Turkish Airlines had gathered 29 top travel bloggers to tour Turkey (and I was tired as a mother, so I gladly went), but with the world as it is now, it became clear to me that this wasn’t just about tourism: it’s about positive diplomacy.
The Greek or Turkish Baklava Fight
What brings people together across cultures, religions, ignorance, and anger? Food! “See that Baklava?” our guide had asked us, smiling. “Greece and Turkey have a big fight about who has the best baklava style, but it’s a fun fight! We all laugh about it. It’s a lot better than other fights that are out there.”
Turkish Tea at the Spice Market
I went back downstairs and began admiring the teas. There were teas for everything! “Relax Tea,” “Energy Tea,” and… others I cannot print. The multicolored, multi-shaped dried flowers and leaves that made up each tea snuggled together comfortably to create the beverage’s magic.
Similarly, the Spice Market swirled with visitors from around the world who were all seeking deliciousness. Together, we all created our own mixed spice of hungry, happy humanity.
Food Unites Humanity Across Global Lines
As I ate my last piece of pomegranate Turkish Delight, a Saudi Arabian couple came into the store at the same time as a blond pair whose accents suggested Texas. “Welcome!” proclaimed the store’s owner, handing a sample of baklava to all four visitors. All four ate and smiled.
The Magical Spice Market
So that’s what I got at Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar: The magical sight of humanity’s oneness in the face of good food and fun shopping. What would YOU have gotten?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!