Thursday, July 23, 2009
Overlooking the Galata bridge which crosses the Golden Horn in the Bosphorus, linking Eminönü to Beyoğlu in Istanbul, sits the spice bazaar, an ancient spot where traders on the spice road set up shop. The current structure dates from the 17th century, and is called the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Market) in Turkish, because the first merchants there came from Egypt (supposedly). Inside the displays of pyramids of peppers, curries and teas are dizzying. You can also find towers of lokum and helva, both of which look like jewel-studded precious stones and come in every possible flavor. There are also long strands of dried okra, eggplant, and peppers, for stuffing with rice and simmering in stews.
As I walked the length of the spice bazaar, shopkeepers placed bits of lokum in my mouth, shoved pungent loose pomegranate tea under my nose, and tried to entice me in Spanish and French. (Apparently I'm not very American looking). I replied in Turkish with "yok teşeker" (No thank you).
I bought 100g of Aşk çay (Love Tea) at a shop near the entrance. It has rosebuds, pomegranates, hibiscus, lemon, dried apple, dried sour cherries and camomile in it and made everything in my suitcase smell delicious. When he scooped it out for me, the clerk asked me how many "darlings" I wanted to lure with the tea, 10 or 15? I settled for a modest 5- no use provoking a full-on assault. He also insisted that I purchase some lokum to serve with it because Turkish Delight is supposedly an aphrodisiac. I was a little miffed- did he really think I needed such devices? But I bought both, and gave the lokum away.
At Arifoğlu Natural Products, I sniffed four types of rose essence, made up of roses from Turkey, Syria, and Iran. I chose a tiny dram of Attar of Roses and after I paid the (cute, young) shopkeeper proposed to me even though I hadn't offered him any of my Aşk çay. When I politely refused him for the seventh time and went to join my parents, he saw them and after striking a comical deal with my father (he promised to throw in his sister), finally stammered that he was only joking. Too bad, because I was already planning my life as a spice-bazaar shop-keeper's wife.
The Attar is very strong- only a quarter of a half of a drop is needed. But it is 100% natural and blends very well with my favorite Parisian perfume (an extravagant gift from one of my 5 or 6 darlings), adding a little warmth to a very unobtrusive light incense scent.