Everyday, in a suburb somewhere in Istanbul, a weekly street market is being held. One of the one of the many traditions brought to the big city from small towns and villages, vibrant, crowded, noisy Turkish markets persist, despite the increasing number of supermarkets opening up every year. Trucks loaded with produce criss-cross the city before light to take up any parking spaces available. Ropes are slung over handy light poles, nearby balconies and shop front grilles so canopies can be raised overhead. Underneath, stall after stall piled high with fresh produce line the streets, and the neighbourhood becomes a frenzy of housewives doing the weekly shopping.
At a Turkish market you buy by the kilo and not by the piece. Everything is seasonal and almost all of it is grown in Turkey. There are plump ripe peaches from Bursa, gorgeously juicy oranges from Demre and brilliantly red tomatoes from Çannakkale. My favourite season is spring where for a brief six week window I can buy brilliantly shiny red Napoleon cherries for only a few dollars a kilo. Strawberries are equally cheap and I still get a thrill when I swing my bag of sweetness from side to side on the walk home, knowing I can gorge myself silly and then go back for more.
The vendors at Turkish markets vary from smiling fresh faced youths to surly older men dirtied by stubble and years of handling the soil. “Don’t touch” they’ll bark if your hand hovers too close to delicate fruits but they’re quick to offer you a slice to try. “It’s fresh” they’ll say, “It’s cheap” they’ll call, “Buy it now” they’ll yell, vying for the business of women who will pounce when there’s a bargain but hang back if the price is too high. Everywhere you look the colours dazzle, and the cries of the vendors mix with the pungent smell of fresh fruit, vegetables, homemade pickles, spicy pastes, dried fruits and nuts. As you walk along, distracted by what’s on offer, you have avoid men rushing past swinging trays of tea, old men offering to carry your shopping for a fee and an army of trolley wielding shoppers. It’s exhilarating and exhausting and not to be missed.
If you want to experience more everyday life in Istanbul and Turkey, read my book “Inside Out in Istanbul: Making Sense of the City”.