Istanbul: The Bazaar

Columns | Mina Nacheva | February 2011

Once in downtown Istanbul, Asia seems closer than ever. It takes a 20-minute ferry ride over the Bosporus and there you are – in a different world.

Coming from the port, we make our way across the main road and enter the Kadiköy market from the side. The moment we walk up the narrow street, a strong smell hits our senses. To our left there is a stand with fried muscles, but we realize the smell has nothing to do with seafood. Several steps later, however, we get our answer – kokoreç, or innards, for the ones with poor knowledge in Turkish (which includes us, for that matter) – the insides of dead animals. Charming!

As my two friends’ attention is drawn by the pile of ‘remains,’ I slowly move away until I reach a major spot of interest. On my left – a fish hut, to my right – a vegetable one. Both places attract many customers, and both places seem to have very friendly owners. Or something like that.

The man from the fish place cannot stop peeking over my shoulder and into my scribbled notes, while the one from the vegetable hut would look at me, smile vaguely and scream an intimidating "Aiaiaiaiaaai." I try to smile back. Seconds later, however, I am convinced that this man has already added an "Aaiaiai Ali Baba aiai" to his repertoire of friendly sounds, so I figure that this market in the middle of Oriental Istanbul is not the right place for a girl to walk around on her own.

With a swift and what turned out to be a very convincing hand gesture, I force my friends to catch up and we move on together. We pass a number of stands luring us with the welcoming smells of fresh vegetables, baked bread and brewed coffee. Others have placed wicker baskets out in the street full of sun-dried fruits, olives, nuts and the richest variety of spices that I have seen so far. It is a combination of different fragrances, tastes and colors – a little bit of everything for our senses. And it goes on and on.

A sharp turn left and all of a sudden, all is quiet. We are finally able to hear each other’s voices; we have ended up in one of the side streets. Rest is good, but as much as we like it, we realize it’s nothing but a short-term escape. There is only one way back to the port and we know it. With a deep breath, we dive into the mass again and quickly become one with the hurrying crowd.

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