When one thinks of shopping in Istanbul, there’s one particular place that usually springs to mind. The city’s most famous market, the Grand Bazaar, is nothing less than a thing of legend. But in reality it’s actually just an overpriced ancient shopping mall full of seedy men bribing you with tea while trying to rip you off on an overpriced Turkish carpet that will probably never even leave your suitcase anyway. Thankfully, though, there is a goldmine of markets to choose from in Istanbul, ranging from the incredibly cheap to the downright strange. Spread out over the city, they can be slightly daunting for the first-time bazaar-goer. Here’s a handy guide to get you started – you’ll be humming the tune to this in no time.
Best market for fruit and vegetables: Tarlabaşı Pazarı (Sundays)
One of the best things about living in Istanbul is the sheer amount of incredibly fresh produce on offer. My favourite place to get my weekly groceries in the city is the Sunday Tarlabaşı Pazarı. A few streets and a million miles away from Taksim and Cihangir, the area doesn’t exactly have a great reputation among Turks. But come Sundays thousands of people descend on the market that snakes through the suburb’s narrow streets. It’s always loud, always exciting, and always dirt cheap. You can get every fruit, vegetable or legume under the sun at Tarlabaşı – providing it’s in season, of course – as well as meat, poultry and olives and basic household goods. It’s no longer the hidden secret it once was – you’re almost as likely to hear people bartering with French or German accents as you are Turkish, thanks to the plenty of Erasmus students looking for a good deal. But it’s popular for good reason: you won’t find better value than here.
Best market for Kitsch clothing: Bakırköy Pazarı (Saturdays)
Sitting by the E5 towards Atatürk airport is the Bakırköy Pazarı, one of Istanbul’s largest markets. Stretching for kilometres, it’s also one of the busiest. People come from all over Istanbul to get their fill of discount clothes, fake designer handbags and some of the kitschiest fashion you will ever stumble across. Want a necklace made from Atatürk’s signature? This is the place to find it. How about a onesie with “SWAG” emblazoned on the front? You’ll see that here too (I may or may not own one). There’s a plethora of off-cuts from European brands, Converse for 25 TL and more fake designer logos than you can poke a tavuk şiş at. Obscenely crowded, it’s overwhelming and intense, but can make for a hilarious day out. Even if your fashion tastes are a little more…discerning, the Bakırköy Pazarı is worth it for the spectacle alone.
Best market to pretend to be a local: Salı Pazarı (Tuesdays and Fridays)
From Yabangee’s resident Kadıköy expert, Katrinka Abroad:
It doesn’t have the tourists or the atmosphere of Tarlabaşı, but Salı Pazarı in Kadıköy does have something special– it is purely local. This twice-weekly market has everything from produce to fabric to kitchen supplies to kitschy junk, but the best thing is that the market-goers come primarily from Kadıköy and the surrounding neighbourhoods. There is an extra layer of friendliness at this market. Whether it’s the olive vendor who goes out of his way to let you try every flavour or the man hawking cutlery that helps you choose the best kitchen knife, this market had an incredibly local feel. Some expats might even get away with pretending to be Turkish – until you open your mouth, that is.
Best market for organic produce: Feriköy Organik Pazarı (Saturdays)
There’s not much competition when it comes to organic markets in this city. Thankfully, though, the Feriköy Organik Pazarı has carved itself a niche and got the formula down to an organically-produced T. Situated in the car park of the old Bomonti factory, the Feriköy Organik Pazarı is a much more civilized affair than most of the markets in Istanbul. Refreshingly, there’s no-one shouting BUYURUN or GEL at you while you peruse the large selection of organically-grown produce. It’s not just fruit and vegetables either; the market has organic honey, eggs, soaps, bathroom essentials, washing detergent, pasta, baby clothes and even underwear. Even the gözleme at the resident café is organic. But beware; organic shopping comes at a price. A friend went to buy some face cream, only to be told that it was 150 lira for a small tub. Fortunately, though, the fruit and vegetables are still on par with what you’d pay at your local Carrefour, and you get that warm fuzzy feeling of helping the planet absolutely free. On Sundays the space turns into an antique market, which is also worth checking out just for the sheer amount of STUFF on offer. Rumour has it that if you ever have anything old stolen in Istanbul, you can come to the antique market the next day and haggle for a good price to get it back.
Best WTF? market: Edirnekapı Kuş Pazarı (Sundays)
Have you ever thought to yourself: I really need a pet pigeon? A bird may not be on the top of everyone’s shopping list in Istanbul, but if the desire to have a feathered companion ever arises, then look no further than the Edirnekapı Bird Market. Nestled amongst the old city walls on the edge of Fatih, the Kuş Pazarı has every type of domesticated bird available, from pigeons to budgies to roosters and chickens. Apparently people flock from all over Turkey (see what I did there?) to purchase the rare breeds, and prices can range from 150 TL to over 2,000 TL. Some of the ways the birds are kept are bordering on cruel, but resist the urge to buy them all and set them free – legend has it the sellers have trained them all to fly back to the market so they can be resold the next week. With Twitter now blocked in Turkey, I’m predicting that the carrier pigeon industry in Istanbul is really going to take off.
As a westerner accustomed to having everything at my fingertips in a supermarket, it took me a while to realize that shopping in the markets of this city is not only cheap, convenient and fresh – it can also be a ton of fun. There are hundreds of bazaars in Istanbul, and I’m sure there are plenty of great ones that I missed. What’s your favourite market in Istanbul? Put your thoughts in the comments below.
Additional reporting by Katrinka Abroad