Picture this: Shopping (and eating) all day long with two shopaholic friends in a very hot and humid day at The Grand Bazaar, where there are 4000 shops with most of them ranging between 2-3 sq. meters and crammed with people inside, pushing and poking while shopping like crazy. Oh and you hate shopping. Well, hate is a big word actually. Let’s say that unless it is Williams Sonoma or Dehillerin or A l’Etoile d’Or, it takes me 10 minutes to look around and see if there is anything I like and then comes the feeling of being trapped inside a box with overly attentive sales staff who I never seem to get along with.
I must say that The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul has never been a favorite spot for me. As you can guess, the thought of 4000 shops and a billion items in these shops makes me dizzy. But when you think about the fact that it was constructed even before the discovery of America, you can not help but pause and admire the historical significance of this bazaar. Also, if you happen to have two Grand Bazaar experts with you, it is a lot more fun.
My friends Ayşe and Murat are exceptional shoppers. They both have an eye for what’s best. Their typical pit stops in Grand Bazaar include the watch shop on the left handside of the Nuruosmaniye entrance, a couple of bead shops (God knows in which streets; I have a very poor sense of direction), ancient jewelery shops, Afghan and Turkmen embroidery shops, Abdulla (towels, soaps, etc.), restaurants… Who am I kidding? Pretty much every shop.
Given the circumstances (hot weather, thousands of small shops, a billion alternatives, unstoppable shopaholics running in front of me) I think I performed pretty good this time. I actually stayed in one of the bead shops longer than both of them! And that is quite an achievement.
You can easily spend a whole day at The Grand Bazaar. And when you get tired or need a bite for the energy to go on, there are very good alternatives. How about a 10 minute break and a nice Turkish coffee? Fes Cafe is the best option. Their cappuccino isn’t bad either.
If you’re hungry, try Havuzlu Restaurant – half a century old Ottoman restaurant offering generous servings of traditional Turkish food. I always order Döner over Hünkar Beğendi (eggplant puree).
You’ll have a chance to see the daily menu on display before you’re seated.
Back to shopping…
In my usual days, I’d have started whining at the second shop visited and they’d have given up after the 5th shop and we would sit at a cafe sipping our Turkish coffees. But that didn’t happen yesterday. Our first stop was Abdulla, a shop at the very heart of Grand Bazaar (on the avenue of carpet merchants) selling all kinds of natural products like soaps, towels and clothes.
As soon as we were finished, we started walking down to Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar). On our way down the hill, a small stand in the middle of the street caught my eye. This guy was putting a vine leaf on a plastic device with some couscous in the middle and with a back and forth slide he was forming a perfectly shaped dolma (stuffed vine leaf). I couldn’t believe my eyes. The quality of the material used to manufacture the device will never make its way to the shelves of Williams Sonoma, that’s for sure, but the idea behind it was worth the few dollars I paid for it. Now I need to find a good recipe to try it.
Update: I already did. Here’s The Ultimate Dolma Machine and a recipe for Stuffed Vine Leaves.
Our final stop was a kitchen supplies store Ayşe mentioned and it turned out to be great. I managed to find very cheap and good quality cake molds, gelatin sheets (believe it or not they are not available in any of the supermarkets; I had to order from Amazon recently), eclair and macaroon cases, and many other small items. I can’t wait to put them into use.
Cenk, I’m totally fascinated by this place – I MUST visit one day, could you take me there maybe on a not-too-hot day… your pictures are really beautiful (and the dog is sweet, of course), I’m glad you found the moulds too – looking forward to seeing your lovely creations with them 🙂
Hello Keiko – I’d be very happy to take you there and give you a tour. Grand Bazaar is really fascinating and the pictures you see in this post doesn’t even cover %1 of the bazaar. I am currently experimenting with a few recipes using the moulds. Nothing worth showing yet. Take care.
I get so freaking homesick when I read your blogs! I love Grand Bazaar, I love Fes Cafe….. and, of course, I love you. I thought a lot about you when I wrote my blog today. I could just see you going “I knew it!” hahahaha.
Cenk, great photos! I loved the bulldog:) I’d really like to know where that store is, so I can visit (not now unfortunately but next time I’m in Istanbul) to spend some money;)
The store is called Nüans and it is very close to Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi (the famous Turkish coffee brand) store in Eminönü. I don’t know the street name but if you ask anyone there they’ll guide you to the store.
Happy shopping! Cenk
This place looks magical! I’ve never been, but my mom spent time in Turkey last autumn and brought me some amazing spices and textiles. I need to visit!
Do you have to be THAT good in everything you do?! I mean your sense of taste (in just about everything) and undeniable talent in cooking were things which came in the package of your joyful, precious friendship and what do I see next:this talent in photography?!!! This is soooo unfair.
Thank you for your kind words. Although I don’t see myself THAT good in everything I do, this compliment sure does encourage me to take better photos (or at least sit down and read some tutorials to figure out all the features of my new machine).
I have just discovered your site. it is fascinating. I tried to make dolmas but they loooked awful.even though nice. I am thinking aobut buying the little contraption you show in your post. And this post here is wonderful. Can I add a link to your site on mine? It is really fabuolous.
Thank you Valentina. You can surely add a link to your blog; I would greatly appreciate it. Grand Bazaar is truly fascinating. It is a must see for anyone who plans to visit Istanbul.
HI, just found your site as I was searching for bead shops in Istanbul. Is there any way you can tell me where they are? Im going there in January. Your photos make me want to go NOW!!! Even the soaps look wonderful!!
If you`re looking for authentic and semi-precious beads, then Grand Bazaar is the place for you to visit. I can not pinpoint the exact spot of the bead shop I photographed above but ask for Fes Cafe when you go there and many bead shops (including the one above) are located two blocks away from the cafe (on the street of merchants from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). Ask the shop of Habibullah (the once above); it is the best and has many varities. Also, never settle on the original price. Always bargain hard. There is at least 10-15% room for bargaining at these shops, if not more.
Hope this helps.
Hi.I just stumbled upon your blog when I was looking for a shop I went to in Istanbul last summer. Still can’t find it but I found this. Love it and missing The GB and Istanbul in general. I hope to come back this summer. Abdulla is indeed amazing. Fez Cafe has now a bigger brother and an Abdulla shop (of course) just outside the bazzar entrance that you reach via the mosque. It has a nice bar and much roomier. Say hi to the owner, Metin for me when you go there next time.
Hi Alicia – Thanks for your lovely comments. I will definitely say hi to Metin. In fact, I am going there tomorrow!
I went to the Grand Bazaar back in 1993. It was fascinating, but I was too young and silly to really appreciate it, I’m afraid. I’m really looking forward to going back there one day, as your pictures have brought back lots of lovely memories..
I loved this trip down memory lane … thank you.
I was looking for a recipe of Dolma. A kind Turkish friend is teaching me how to make it today.
i’ve been wanting to go to turkey for sometime, and i’ve also read your blog before, but these two things together are not good for me unless i actually get to go to turkey because reading this stuff really makes me wanna go! i will let you know, because i’ll be needing plenty of restaurant suggestions, as that’s my main draw for going, love your blog!
If you are looking for a true grape leaf rolling machine, I have one. Basic model with 4 operators can roll up to 20 grape leaves per minute.
Where can i buy grapeleaves rolling machine?
where can I buy grapeleaves rolling machine ?
or how can I contac with you?
i need know price of your product
where from u?
Wow, the photo of the sun beam on the Turkish flag with the potrait of Ataturk takes my breath away. You have an amazing eye for beauty.
I love your website. I feel as though I’ve been to the Grand Bazaar and not sitting at my computer. Wish I was there instead of here.
Merhaba Cenk! I’m reading through all your Turkey-related posts for our upcoming “homecoming” trip later this month! I’m so excited I can’t wait for it to begin. Is Nüans the kitchen supply store you mentioned in the last part of the post?
Mrs Ergül – Yes, but I’ve found a much better kitchen supply store. It is in Kasımpaşa, called Doğanay Gıda. Here’s their website. Have a great time.
Thank you very much for the update Cenk! I’m checking out their website right away!
I am thinking of taking a trip to Istanbul and Athens in the near future. Looking at your pictures of the Grand Bazar made me wonder how they feel about taking pictures of their merchandise. It kind of reminds me of the market places in Guadalajara where sometimes they expected you to pay for taking photographs. Is it similar?
Tiffany – Not at all. You can take as many photos as you like 🙂
Hello from Vancouver, Canada Cenk! My husband and I are jetting to Istanbul in a couple of weeks. The trip comes as a bit of a surprise, so I have been madly researching blogs, reading historical fiction novels and actual history to soak up all I can and determine what to do in the few slots of time we have available. I am wondering if you have any personal recommendations for those offering foodie tours or “shopping tours” of the Grand Bazaar. We are not in the market for carpets(!) we just want to make best use of the limited time we have to experience Istanbul and what it has to offer with wide eyes, open hearts and a fun guide!
Christine – Sure. I highly recommend Istanbul Eats.