We were walking through the Spice Market in Istanbul, dodging people and carts, when I noticed what looked like an alleyway leading away from the market lane. Chantal was hesitant, but I said â€ślet’s exploreâ€ť, and she warily followed me in.
After a short walk, the narrow alleyway opened up into a sort of courtyard, which was cluttered with a lot of junk. This was definitely not a tourist destination, and I couldn’t help but think about stories I’ve read about foreigners being led off the beaten path and robbed, or worse. At the far end on a balcony a man was standing and looking very carefully at us. Being closed in like this made me a little nervous and of course, Chantal wanted to get out NOW.
But I thought to myself, what could happen here in broad daylight, so I waved to the man and he smiled and waved back, and I took a few photos.
As a street photographer, I really love markets. I love Kensington and St. Lawrence, but the Spice Market in Istanbul is a market like nothing I have ever experienced. All 5 senses were exercised to the fullest, and even a 6th sense (fear?) as mentioned above. There are over 20 million people living in Istanbul, and it felt like many of them were here in the Spice Market. There was not a square inch that was not being used or human occupied. Yet, there were no beggars or homeless people there, or kids chasing after us trying to get stuff. Everything was quite normal.
The market seems to go on forever and itâ€™s like a maze, but there are signs leading to the way out, so you wouldnâ€™t really get lost. At one point, we saw a large number of people lined up at a stall and acting quite aggressive, kinda like the way people line up for everything in New York City. We went over to explore, and learned that this was a coffee shop â€“ not where you buy a cup, but where you buy coffee beans and grinds to bring home. It must have been good coffee, because the people were acting like this was the last coffee on earth.
Turkish coffee isnâ€™t a type of coffee bean, but actually the way itâ€™s made. They just boil the grinds in water over a barbeque. No filter, so the coffee is strong and flavourful, but very gritty. I found that later, when I had a cup on the street, the grinds get caught in your teeth, so itâ€™s like a refill, long after youâ€™ve finished the cup. We bought a small bag at this shop, but when I tried it in my French Press at home â€“ not so good.
At one point, Chantal had a craving for Baklava, which we were seeing everywhere. Of course, now that we wanted some, we could not find it, but after much wandering, we found a little place where they had at least 20 different kinds and even a cozy little seating area. She bought a small selection and we sat down to eat. Suddenly the place was crawling with kids, but we were able to relax and enjoy the Baklava, which was perhaps the best Iâ€™ve ever had.
During our visit to Istanbul, we dropped into the Spice Market several times. Not sure Iâ€™ll ever get to Istanbul again, with all the shit thatâ€™s going on in the mid-east now, but if I do, then the Spice Market is definitely on my list.
[Click on a photo for slideshow]