If you love produce it’s safe to say that any market in Turkey will be a delight for the senses. Mounds of green peppers gleaming like emeralds, piles of pomegranates bursting at the seams, and a panoply of green olives that would make Pantone blush share the stage with citrus of every hue, sliced and quartered, with signs that command : Önce Ye! (Eat First!) Add to that the cries of the vendors, all of them somewhat different, like exotic birds, repeating one phrase over and over again, or good-humoredly joking with one another or simply bursting out into song, and you get the sense of a veritable paradise on earth. Abundance, joy, and bustle, commerce, breath and song, labor and need well met — there is something ancient about the joy of markets here. And the Beşiktaş market does not disappoint. On Saturdays the parking lot facing the Beşiktaş Evlendirme Dairesi is transformed into a two-tiered marketplace, with fresh food and produce on the ground floor and clothing and household goods on the upper deck. The greengrocers’ wares are bright and varied; chard, spinach, and perky heads of lettuce share space with their more exotic (for Turkey) cousins basil, cilantro and even fresh fennel. Fruit is diverse and of good quality; grapes, persimmons, juicy pears, and the best avocados (regarding ripeness/cost ratio) that I’ve seen in Istanbul. And of course, you can’t beat the ease of already peeled artichokes floating demurely in plastic tubs of lemon water, or unwieldy pumpkins sliced, packed, and ready to be cooked. Wander through the artistic displays of pink and white radishes against a backdrop of chlorophyll-rich spinach and you’ll find vendors of cheese, fish and nuts. The vendors themselves look picturesque amidst heaps of artichoke leaves, cradling tiny tulip-shaped cups of tea in their thick glove-clad fingers and teasing each other relentlessly. They all have their regular customers, from the fish vendor to the perfume vendor upstairs, and if you develop a steady relationship with them they will tell you what’s good that day.
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Speaking of upstairs, here the vibe is more civilized and less entertaining. But the space is double that of downstairs; a triple lane neighborhood of deals on everything from men’s sportswear to kitchen goods. You’ve got your baby clothes, your sexy women’s underthings, your leather bags, your curtains, your bedsheets, your shoes, your makeup and your mountains of women’s apparel (most of them slightly imperfect) to wade through to find that amazing faux fur vest or corduroy blazer for 10TL.
There are also tempting vendors of famous brands, like Desigual dresses for 80 liras and Moncler coats for somewhat more. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of these products but, if nothing else, they seemed like good knockoffs. If you get tired you can take a breather in two upstairs gözleme shops that also feature a whole buffet of homemade goods like stuffed grape leaves and trileçe (Turkish tres leches). On the day I visited, a mother-daughter team at one of the shops was even giving out samples of delicate looking mantı in paper cups. All in all, there’s no reason not to make a lovely day of shopping for the entire week at the Beşiktaş market, but beware the crowds once the weather gets nice!
All images courtesy of Colin Craig.