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Istanbul spice market


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I dunno about Istanbul, but I can tell you that I get better cumin and peppercorns in Cairo than I can get here in the States. I generally buy cumin, peppercorns, and nutmeg over there. I sometimes buy coriander seeds there, but when I do I make a point to freeze them when I get home: one year my whole bag went buggy (eeww!) and I heaved the whole batch into a very hot fire for pest control.

I'll be interested to know whether Turkish saffron is a good thing. I've given up buying saffron in Egypt because I can't find it whole. The ground stuff that passes for saffron there is something like dried marigold petals (not sure of the flower) - okay for color, worthless for flavor.

Oh, you may be able to get blocks of tamarind pulp there, too. I don't know that it's any better over there than here, but the price and availability may be better.

Best of all...whether or not you buy anything, make sure to just stroll through and savor the aromas. Ohh, the spice market. Ahh, sweet pungent memory. :wub:

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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I have a pile of big plastic bags of Turkish bought spices in my kitchen right now filling my house with glorious scents!

I think you should get the cheap big quantities of the good quality semi-red paprika, red pepper flakes, cumin, black cumin (which is a kind of onion seed) and the really nice "köfte" (meatball)-spice mix which is excellent in many dishes, not only in meatballs.

I don't know about saffron, if bought at a marked place. Try to ask the seller for you to smell, and ALWAYS request whole threads (allthough there's fake thread too. not very smellable though)

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I don't know about saffron, if bought at a marked place. Try to ask the seller for you to smell, and ALWAYS request whole threads (allthough there's fake thread too. not very smellable though)

Yeah - you see a friend gave me a big bag of saffron that she bought for next to nothing somewhere in the middle east a while ago. It LOOKED like saffron - maybe a little lighter in colour, but it was in threads - but it had no flavour whatsoever. She thought it was a fabulous bargain. I thanked her and never used it. I suppose I could have thrown it rather lavishly into chicken broth etc. But I know there's some stupid saffron out there.

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The Istanbul spice market is indeed a marvel to visit and stroll through and you will find many beautiful examples of fine spices there. When it comes to saffron, however, take great care for much of what is sold is not at all the real thing.

Keep in mind if you do decide to buy that the stigmas should average about 2.5 - 3.5 cm in length, the color should be a uniform bright orange-red and should not have either streaks or white patches. When smelled the saffron should have a strong pefumed aroma and your nose should pick up a clear hint of honey. The very best way to sniff saffron is to break off a tiny (and I mean truly tiny) piece of a single strand, to pinch one nostril closed and to inhale the speci forcibly through the open nostril much as you might cocaine (we've all seen how that is done in the movies, haven't we?)

An honest dealer will prepare a small cup of boiling water for you and will allow you to drop a single strand into that. If genuine that should be quite enough to color the water appropriately and to give it a slightly bitter but distinctly honeyed flavor.

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Here is how I learned to use safflower stigmas or poor man's saffron aka haspir in Turkey: Make sure the threads are very dry, then press them through a fine sieve into a small pan or skillet of sizzling butter or oil and quickly pour in swirls over hot soup

THe stuff gives off barely a whiff of aroma and little taste but it imparts a visual excitement to a bowl of yogurt soup. You could never use real saffron to get that effect because it would overwhelm the dish.

As well as the spices mentioned above, I would add kekik or oregano, Maras pepper and sumac berries to your list.

THere are many kinds of kekik so rub a little between your fingers before buying to be sure you like the aroma and flavor. It should smell and taste like the best dried oregano you've ever had.

The Maras pepper is similar to Aleppo pepper but to my mind, more flavor.

Here is how I learned to use sumac berries: soak in hot water for about 30 minutes, strain, and add to a stew or soup for a unique tart-fruity flavor.

Edited by Wolfert (log)

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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My dad brought me back saffron from Istanbul. (Long orange-red strands, and it passes the Rogov smell test :wink:) It was cheaper than here but still not cheap. It would certainly be worth checking out if you are going to be there. I don't know if this is true of turkish souks, but in Lebanon the spice merchants are often also homeopaths, so it can be interesting to check out different folk remedies.

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I bought saffron in the Spice Market in Istanbul and it is from Iran. It much better than what I bought in Spain. If you go to a reputable seller, they will show you the difference between a variety of saffron. It is not cheap, but I prefer spending a little more for quality.

I also bought apple tea. There are different types. I bought the dried apple tea without added sugar.

And I bought dried eggplant, and turkish chopped pepper for kofte.

Edited by Swisskaese (log)
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And I bought dried eggplant, [snip]

Interesting! I didn't know they dried eggplant. What do you do with it?

Which reminds me, I have two more "necklaces" of dried okra, which I find superior to the fresh as they are not at all slimy and have an intense flavor. It would be worth keeping an eye out for that sort of thing.

Oh, I also love the mixed wildflower teas, they smell nice and look pretty in a glass teapot. I got that in Lebanon but I'm sure they have them too.

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I've seen the dried eggplant used to make a rice-stuffed dish--don't know if they're rehydrated first, then filled, or filled up and then stewed... (Ate them at Çiya, that awesome resto in Kadiköy that Paula Wolfert tipped us to--don't miss it. The market around the resto is great--less crazy than the big central ones, but gorgeously stocked. Look for the gorgeous honey vendor...)

Look for whole sumac berries too--the flavor lasts longer than getting the already-ground stuff.

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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Ohhhhh... And whole Cardamom pods... and dried Kafir Lime Leaves...

Sure do wish I was going! Have a great time!

Paula

"...It is said that without the culinary arts, the crudeness of reality would be unbearable..." Leopold

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Hi,

You don't say when you are leaving; I hope my reply is not too late!

Spices: I think the Turkish peppers are wonderful. There are various types; the typical red one is Pul Biber (flake pepper). There are both oiled and unoiled varieties, I think the oiled are better. They have a unique smoky flavor; every time I visit friends in Greece I have to take half a kilo to them... It is fairly hot but nothing like a capsicum. Another pepper is "isot" which comes from the area of Urfa. It's a dark maroon colored pepper, also oiled, with an incredible aroma and flavor.

Another thing to look for is "sumac" (sumak). It's the crushed dried berries of a type of sumac tree, used as a souring agent. You can use it on grilled meats, soaked in the cooking water for the stuffed dried peppers/eggplant mentioned by one of the other contributors below (a specialty of the southeast), and as a refreshing drink (soaked in water, strained and sweetened).

Another common souring agent is Pomegranate syrup (Nar ekshisi). You can get this in the US as well, but many of the brands I've tried there (coming from Lebanon) are too sweet for my taste. Try it instead of or combined with lemon in salads.

For spices, don't limit yourself to just the spice market. There are some good shops outside the market. As you face it from the water side, there is a big open area to the right. Go there and you will see several spice shops, some nearly empty, but one in particular that is always mobbed. They have very fresh spices, great variety, and good prices.

The spice market and the entire area around it (Eminönü) is great, one of my favorite places to shop. Beyond spices, you can find all sorts of interesting cheeses, dried fruits (try the huge golden "besni" raisins (besni üzüm) with the seeds in), and the jujubes that are on the market now ("hünnap"). The small ones are more expensive but much better than the cheaper golf ball sized ones.

Make sure also that you try pastirma, though you can't legally bring it home. It's the original pastrami (the word comes from the turkish "bastirma" meaning something pressed). It's made from the entire filet of beef, salted, pressed, and coated and cured in a spice mixture. There is a popular börek made with it and kashar cheese, called "Paçanga" (pachanga) that you can get in many of the meze/fish restaurants.

Have a great trip!

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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Oops - was going to mention also in response to one mail below that spice dealers in Turkey also tend to sell lots of medicinal herbs as well. Also from the spice market, if you go across the big square and follow the exit from the parking area between the very old buildings there, there are a couple of fascinating shops on the left that sell a huge variety. One is owned and run by a really sweet woman from Azerbaijan. I don't think they speak English but it's worth going in for the atmosphere and the amazing smells.

Also, I second the suggestion of Çiya restaurant in Kadiköy, amazing place, even though it's gotten a bit more expensive lately. Make sure you get a plate of the salads, the thyme salad and muhammara are wonderful. They also have a very different take on hummous; haven't figured out how they do it....

Last suggestion - Ramadan started on the 5th, and will last a month. There are a couple special foods around this month. One is güllaç, a dessert made with thin starch wafers soaked in milk and filled with chopped nuts. You'll see it most of the pastry shops these days, it's the wrinkled white stuff in trays with pistachios sprinkled on top. You can also buy the dry wafers (nobody makes them themselves) to take home. The other is Ramazan pidesi - the special flat bread made during the season, sprinkled with black nigella seed.

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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And I bought dried eggplant, [snip]

Which reminds me, I have two more "necklaces" of dried okra, which I find superior to the fresh as they are not at all slimy and have an intense flavor. It would be worth keeping an eye out for that sort of thing.

Is this the kind that looks like very small stalks put like a necklace?

Bought some stuff like that, it didn't look like okra much, but it could be a very tiny variety. If it is.. how are you supposed to cook it? treat it?

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Bought some stuff like that, it didn't look like okra much, but it could be a very tiny variety. If it is.. how are you supposed to cook it? treat it?

That's exactly it. When I moved to the US I was surprised that people let the okra get so big. :smile: In Lebanon they keep it small and use the whole pod, the idea being, if you don't split it open it doesn't get all slimy. Since I can't get fresh baby okra here, the dried stuff is a good substitute.

I use it mainly in middle eastern-style stews -- in which case there is enough liquid to reconstitute the stuff. But I have also used it in indian-style fried dishes, you just need to use a little extra liquid and cook it a little longer. Basically, same as you would use normal okra but with a little extra time and liquid. Well, I don't think it would be good deep fried though, the big pods are good for that.

Oh, you can initially keep the okra on the thread, so that if you want to stir the pot you can pull up the okra and avoid breaking it up. Then remove the thread once everything is cooked, obviously.

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Great suggestions Behemoth. We are leaving on the 16th - Sunday and will be in Istanbul for a week. Then traveling around Turkey for another 1-1/2 weeks. I had heard about the Ramadan bread, but not the other wrinkly white thing. I'll definitely look for it.

Is it too early for the olive harvest? Just wondering because someone else mentioned being able to buy fresh oil from stalls along the road sides. Will definitely try the restaurant you mentioned.

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Olive harvest: I have already seen buckets of green olives (only, so far, but that's only what I've seen and I haven't been out that much lately!) in the markets.

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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  • 4 weeks later...

Back from our trip - it was every bit as wonderful as I hoped (and I had high hopes). I think Turkey is my new favourite country. Great people, fabulous food, gorgeous things to see.

When I got home, friends asked me - excitedly - what I bought. Leather? Jewelry? Belly dancing costumes? It was then that it occurred to me that most of my purchases were food. (Well, and a couple of carpets.) I came home with wonderful wonderful pul biber (where has this fantastic spice been all my life?), kofte mixture, pomegranate syrup, Turkish delight from Haci Bekir (sp?) near Yeni Camii, fabulous double-roasted pistachio nuts that I will have to hide from myself, a box of delicious figs, and quite a bit of saffron. I got one little packet of a very special Iranian saffron that the dealer measured out for me practically one strand at a time (this will be saved for special occasion), and then I also got several plastic packages of regular Iranian saffron for what I think was a good price. Did not buy Turkish saffron. I also picked up a can of Sirince olive oil in Sirince.

For anyone going to the spice bazaar in Istanbul, here is a tip: the stalls and vendors OUTSIDE the actual covered bazaar have much (much) better prices than the ones inside. There is a whole row of stalls along the outside wall of the bazaar where they sell a lot of cheese etc. That's where I found the packaged saffron for 6 lire as opposed to 12 inside, and the pomegranate syrup - beautifully fresh. Also look along the street that runs off to the side of the bazaar for nuts and dried things. The same pistachios that were 14 lire per kilo inside, were selling for 10 outside.

Could not bring myself to try gullac. Sorry, sazji. There is something about a wiggly white dessert that just didn't appeal to me. The breads, however, were something else altogether. Turks make delicious bread - who knew? And the yogurt!! And what those people can do with an eggplant...

On the whole we ate wonderfully well everywhere we went. Found that as long as we stayed with relatively simple, inexpensive restaurants, we were able to eat really well for very little money. More expensive restaurants did not necessarily deliver proportionally better food.

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I love the Spice bazaar too. Did you see the sweet shop that sells foil-wrapped chocolates for weddings, and little crunchy chocolate bits that tast like cocoa puffs?

A word of advice - don't save your spices - special saffron either - for a special occasion, they lose their potency so just enjoy.

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The last day I was at the Spice Bazaar it was the eve of Seker Bayram so everyone was going absolutely looney. It was a wild scene there - especially at the candy shops outside the covered bazaar. My husband showed up at the hotel later in the day with a huge bag of actually quite terrible chocolates that he couldn't resist buying. They are in a bowl in our den right now and no one will eat them.

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I was at the spice bazaar on the eve of Seker Bayrami! It is a zoo, isn't it... Who knows, I may have stepped on your foot! :unsure:

Anyway, I'm glad you had such a good (and delicious) time! The breads are good...though the average stuff you get in restaurants in Istanbul today is a far cry from what it used to be like before the inflation that drove the price of a Lahmacun from 150 lira to 350,000 in 10 years.... (They went to 1.5 million before they finally lopped off 8 zeroes...) But you probably had the good stuff elswhere. Good that you bought your spices outside the bazaar (toldja!). Sirince was also a good choice for the olive oil; the commercial stuff here is overall not all that good unless you pay an arm and a leg.

Have to take issue on the güllaç, it is not wiggly! :shock: Just sorta limp. Still, you didn't miss a whole lot, and the pastry shop versions tend to be a little soggy anyway.

Pomegranate molasses...someone in another forum mentioned eating sucuk (sujouk, soujouk) with pomegranate molasses. Tried it finally. Oh Jeezus... I may need to make an advance reservation at Chez Cardiac...

Edited by sazji (log)

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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The last day I was at the Spice Bazaar it was the eve of Seker Bayram so everyone was going absolutely looney. It was a wild scene there - especially at the candy shops outside the covered bazaar. My husband showed up at the hotel later in the day with a huge bag of actually quite terrible chocolates that he couldn't resist buying. They are in a bowl in our den right now and no one will eat them.

True - the chocolates barely taste like chocolate, they're all sugar and no flavour. But they are beautiful.

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