Backpacking

Istanbul’s Wonderful Outdoor Markets – A Photo Essay

separator
Posted on / by Alex Berger

Outdoor Market in the Snow

Outdoor markets are fantastic.  Eclectic mixtures of goods. Vibrant colors. Strange plants and creatures on sale. The chaotic roar and hubbub of people hustling to and fro seeking goods and services.  I find the whole experience intoxicating.  So, you can no doubt imagine how excited I was to have arrived in Istanbul – a city known for its wonderful markets and home to the Grand Bazaar.

Market Snowball Fight

Unfortunately, the weather was brutal.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I arrived in the midst of the worst winter storm Istanbul (and the region) had seen in more than 25 years. The entire city was covered in snow and a lump quickly grew in my throat.  With poor weather conditions, what would I find?  Would the shop keepers close up their outdoor stands?  Would the city come to a standstill?  I needn’t have worried.   The store keepers braved the cold weather, and even paused to have some fun with it.  The entire city devolved into one massive snowball fight.

Market Snowball Fight

Some were more obvious than others opting for conventional snowballs.  While other shop keepers presented the guise of stoic calm, eyeing passerby’s casually, all the while evaluating how antic-friendly they were.  Then, with a perfectly timed but ever so subtle poke of a broom they would empty an avalanche of snow from their shop’s awning onto a passerby.   The look of smug gleeful-happiness as a snowballer scored a successful throw quickly turned to alarm, and then ever so briefly frozen terror as waves of damp snow left them covered from head to toe in fresh, damn, wet snow.  That brief look of terror never lasted long, as everyone nearby burst into laughter and the unlucky victim leapt into a comical dance trying to empty the snow from their shirt.

Fish Market in Istanbul

While the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market are the two most popular outdoor markets for tourists, the city is awash in streets dedicated to various types of goods.  These streets and semi-permanent outdoor markets offer everything from rugs and pipes to antiques fresh fruit and fish.  As a periodic fisherman and someone who had the childhood dream of being a marine biologist I always find fish markets to be one of my favorite type of outdoor market.

Fish Market in Istanbul

As I explored Istanbul my favorite market district was located on the Asian side of Istanbul in the Kadikoy district.  While it lacked the age of the Grand Bazaar and uniform structure, I found it to be a much more authentic marketplace with vendors selling real goods, at real prices to real Turks.

Fish Market in Istanbul

The fish stalls were particularly impressive boasting a wide assortment of fresh caught fish creatively displayed. In many instances the fishmongers had taken extra time to flare out the fish’s gills exposing them like a red neckerchief. While somewhat morbid when written here, the visual effect when viewing the stands in person was quite impressive.

Eels in Istanbul

Just how fresh were the fish? I think this goose-bump instilling photo of these slimy eels gives it away.   Perhaps it is their snake like appearance, but I’ve always had a hard time with eels.  I don’t mind eating them when cleaned and cooked, but seeing them alive in the wild, dead on a vendor’s stall, or even smoked or cooked whole sends a shiver down my spine.

Fish Market in Istanbul

Unfortunately, the hostel I was staying at didn’t boast a kitchen so purchasing fresh fish for dinner was off the menu.  Given the opportunity during my next visit, it’s definitely something I hope to remedy.  As I find myself sitting here writing this post, and looking back over my photos I can’t help but find my mouth watering.

Spices in Istanbul

The markets also boast wonderful herb stands wish shop-fronts overflowing with massive bags of fresh herbs and spices.   I often found myself pausing in front of these stores as much to enjoy the rich scents that surround them as to peruse their wares.

Outdoor Market in Istanbul

Fans of Mediterranean food won’t be disappointed, you’ll find stands overflowing with large tubs of different flavored grape leaves, dolmas, just bout every type of pickled vegetable you can imagine and other similar foods.

Olive Market in Istanbul

Then there are the olives stands which boast a veritable rainbow of different colored olives. After the fish stands, these are probably my favorites. Presentation is a key point of pride among many of the street vendors and it really shows in the care and thought that goes into many of the stands. It has always amazed me, especially when one considers that they set up and break down the displays every morning and evening.

Food Stand in Istanbul

While most of the stands in the area were dedicated to selling raw food and basic ingredients, there were a few that offered pre-made treats. These included things like Dolma and pickles, but also often included one of Istanbul’s local delicacies – fresh mussels stuffed with flavored rice and some of the other regional treats which were delicious, but I dare not even begin to speculate on.

While I’ll only mention them briefly in this post, two other must visit destinations are the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market (see footage from both in the video above).  The Grand Bazaar is a warren of small covered streets (more than 60) that boasts some 3,000 shops and dates back to the mid 1400s.  While the Grand Bazaar is heavily touristy, it is still possible to find some great antique shops and a fun venue for a bit of shopping.  In response to heavy demand and traffic the Bazaar has slowly taken over the surrounding area where you’ll find slightly more affordable shops, small eateries, and wonderful chai tea houses.   These market streets stretch down and toward the old Spice Market and the market sprawl which has sprung up surrounding the Yeni Mosque.   While significantly smaller than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market (also called the Egyptian Bazaar) is a long L shaped building which dates back to the mid 1600s.  It serves as home to a number of traditional spice vendors with multi-colored spice displays, as well as a number of dessert and lamp stands.  You’ll find that the Spice Market is fun to walk through, but tends to be extremely pricey and feels somewhat touristy.

Carpet Market

Istanbul is an incredible market city, overflowing with vendors and a wonderful mixture of goods. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find a street market in Istanbul with vendors eager to share their wares with you. Make sure to set aside at least a day or two to explore the city’s wonderful markets and as you do so, make sure to venture beyond the main markets and into the city’s more authentic districts.

Enjoy your visit! Amazing scents, sights, and sounds await!

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

18 Comments

  • Emily in Chile
    April 23, 2012

    I love markets too, so I’m glad the snow didn’t ruin your plans!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      April 23, 2012

      Thanks! It was definitely very tempting to stay inside and hide from the weather. Really glad I pushed through, layered up (and still froze), and went for it!

      Reply
  • Filip Demuinck
    April 23, 2012

    Lovely market, strange to see snow in Istanbul.
    Greetings,
    Filip

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      April 23, 2012

      Thanks Filip! It really was unusual and very different from any of the photos I had seen before the visit. A fun (if freezing) contrast!

      Reply
  • Miruna
    April 23, 2012

    Wonderful! I have a passion for all kind of markets.

    Reply
  • Jennifer Dombrowski
    April 23, 2012

    Great post! I loved the spice market and was so sad when I used up the last of my loose leaf teas. Glad the snow didn’t put a damper on your market explorations!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      April 23, 2012

      That sounds delicious. Unfortunately, I didn’t try much in the way of specialized teas, just the usual chai that was served everywhere. They looked and smelled amazing though!

      Reply
  • Joy (My Turkish Joys)
    April 24, 2012

    The neighborhood markets and especially the pazars are my favorite places to shop in Istanbul. Love your snowy photos too!

    It’s fun to wander around the small side streets around the Spice Bazaar in Eminonu. I buy nearly all my baking goods around there. And my favorite spice shop is No. 51 Ucuzcular – a family-run shop. Bilge, the owner, always treats me well!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      April 26, 2012

      Thanks for the kind words about the snowy shots! The small side streets are so much fun. Just such an awesome jumble of humanity! The baking goods in the area looked fantastic. Fresh and full of flavor I imagine! Thanks for the info on No. 51! Great tip!

      Reply
  • Nate
    April 25, 2012

    Great photos, Alex. It’s rare that I come across pics of Istanbul, when it’s snowing. I find it a little deceiving, as Istanbul is so warm in the summer time. Will follow along with RSS, you have a great blog here!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      April 26, 2012

      Thank you so much for the kind words and subscribing! Yep, as cold and brutal as it was it was a rare and fantastic opportunity to see a side of the city which isn’t normally available to visitors. It was a bit comical looking at my phone and seeing that Iceland was warmer than Istanbul.

      Reply
  • Kate
    April 26, 2012

    I love how their produce still look so fresh despite of the weather!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      April 26, 2012

      I know, right!? Mouth watering – even with snow on the ground. In particular, I loved the look of the lemons and oranges covered in snow. Made them look even more vibrant than normal.

      Reply
  • dinçer salih kurnaz
    April 30, 2012

    Hi Alex
    Lovely photos and great tips 🙂

    Reply
  • Natalie
    May 25, 2012

    I love all markets but I have to be in a good mood to deal with the banter!! You have captured really good images here, especially the fish as i like fresh fish markets. More so like in Fethiye where you choose it and they cook it!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      May 26, 2012

      That sounds fantastic! When they cook it well, that is always one of the best ways to get fresh seafood!

      Reply

Leave a Reply