Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Turkish Delight on a moonlit night...

I have loved all sorts of markets, farmer's markets, fish markets, flea markets rife with antiques and junk, since I can remember. Spice Markets are mysterious, compelling places, exotic and full of possibility that move you on the most elemental level, places of healing and nourishment.

Great, inventive cooking is a rather mysterious thing to me anyway, adding to the overall thrall of being there. Living in Dubai has taought me the joy of such places: I can go to the Spice Souk and with a word to the Iranian merchants, lay my hands on fabulous saffron, intriguing curries, unusual teas, a wealth of culinary experiences from around the world. It's an inexpensive way to travel even beyond the places you've gone far to reach.

Perhaps there is a spice with one of these spice merchants to be discovered that will finally transform me into a Domestic Goddess.

It's a long shot, I know.

The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul was built in either 1660, or 1940, depending on which source you believe (history is like that). Either way, there has been spice trading at that spot for hundreds of years. Beneath an L-shaped hallway of high arches the marketplace stretches out over the stalls, promising treasures and adventure. A perfect place to visit when you're in Istanbul.

We went to the Spice Bazaar first thing in the morning, (not on a moonlit night, one can't have everything) so that we were among few tourists. Most everyone else was local, and that's how I like markets...Pike Place in Seattle is the same way. Go early, grab a $10 bouquet and a pound of Rainier cherries, enjoy the paper and a nice cup of coffee, and then, well, run away before everyone else gets there.

I should think most folks living near such markets do the same thing.

Outside the bazaar there is a plant seller's section, which demonstrates exactly how wonderful it must be to be a gardener in Turkey. Everything from tulips and begonias to hibiscus. There was also the truly, to my mind anyway, bizarre:

Mmm. Leeches. Stick two of these on and call me in the morning...or something.

I'll pass.

I mean, yes, medical leeches have their uses, but over-the-counter ones?! From what looks like a pickle jar?!!

Maybe it's just me.

Inside the richly redolent Spice Bazaar the shopkeepers were arranging their wares for the day. Besides the spices there were innumerable varieties of olives and meats hanging:

and huge wheels and blocks of cheeses

all sorts of souvenirs, beautiful turkish tiles and cups, heaps of nuts, and just about every variety of loose leaf tea imaginable. We sniffed and tasted and looked and photographed, which made me quite happy.

I couldn't resist selecting some lavender tea (not that I tried all that hard) and we'd been asked to pick up some apple tea for a friend back in Dubai. Bethy and Thomas had apple tea in its distinctive tulip-shaped glass, with the enchantingly diminuative spoon alongside, everywhere in Turkey. I also bought a Turkish Tea shirt that tickled the fancy of many a Turk whenever I wore it thoughout the trip. Smiles and greetings...that's what I like when I travel.

Thomas and apple tea

Then there were the ubiquitous piles and piles of Turkish Delight. We'd already figured out that some Turkish Delight candy is delectable, and some, well, it must be an acquired taste.

For those of you who have never tried any, Turkish Delight is essentially a firm sort of jelly cut into squares and dusted with powdered sugar. Sometimes it is flavored, mint, cinnamon, sometimes in interesting colors or shapes. We all agreed that the enjoyment factor is increased exponentially with the addition of nuts, possibly thanks to having grown up with the Washington State version, Aplets and Cotlets. God help me, I do love those.

I know, I know what most of you will say: I'm welcome to them. So that you know that I have some standards, I can't understand the appeal of Fry's Turkish Delight bar (sold in the UK), which is a rose-flavored chocolate covered version. With apologies to those who love it, and I'm sure someone must or they wouldn't sell them, gack.

Now, sitting out in the open really doesn't improve a confectionary, nor does it help the spices, which look beautiful in their piles but tend to lose their pungency. The Turkish Delight is better bought in boxes, and the spices unground or from the middle of the pile at the very least.

If teas and Turkish delight don't do it for you, well, you can always try this one out:

Um, pass. No, really, we're good. Thanks anyway.

The merchants were beautifully laid back, neither barking at you nor chasing you down the hall or trying to bodily drag you into their shops. In fact, they were quite helpful, even recommending a nearby outdoor cafe for a nice latte.

Drinking a latte in the morning sun, purchases secured, photos taken, birds wheeling in unexplainable lazy circles around the nearby mosques...well, that is a darned good way to start the day. Not to mention the comfortable awareness of having all our luggage packed and ready to go for the plane that was going to take us in a few hours to our next destination...Cappadocia.


*Paula* said...

Oh Natalie, how I love Leeches? Eeek! And I'm seconding the disdain for Fry's turkish delight, or even Cadburys. That said, I've never had the *good* stuff -- I'll just have to take your word for it that it can be delectable!

*Paula* said...

Ack! Somehow part of my comment got deleted. Actually it looks pretty funny now that I'm reading it. What I had said before it got removed was: how I love your travel tales. But leeches? eek! I guess it works either way LOL

dorothy said...

Sigh....I second the british turkish delight opinion - nasty! But the good stuff? Heaven!

Mumsey said...

Piles of Saffron? Given that here in the U.S. it costs more than gold and a thread or two comes in a large bottle so you buy it unaware,thinking you've got a bottle only to find it's a single stamen, indeed, you were in spice heaven.

Natalie said...

Should I bring you home some saffron, Mumsy? The "good" stuff comes in containers, of course, but if you're making, say, saffron rice, then yeah, you use a scoop.

Mumsey said...

Oh please do so. It won't add much to your luggage. I love saffron rice.

Meagan said...

I absolutely loved reading your post. I spent four months in Istanbul, and although we didn't part on the best of terms, it's nice to be reminded that there were things I really liked.
Like apple tea.

AC said...

Sand in my latte. Hee hee ;)