Each time I walk through the covered and bustling streets of a bazaar, I feel like my day-to-day experience in Turkey is put in fast-forward: the streets are abuzz with locals gathering their weekly groceries and determined to find the best deal. The produce appears to be fresher. The scent of fish seems to be more potent. The colors are more vivid. The chatter and bargaining seem more passionate.
I love bazaars. There are delicacies and treasures hidden among cheap shoes, name brand make-up and trendy bags. The olives, fruits and nuts sparkle under the strings of lights, while darkness descends throughout the city. The dirty tarps create a low ceiling, but offer a much welcomed refuge from the rain outside.
The Gultepe Bazaar is a perfect way to start the weekend. I jumped off the bus in front of Kanyon (in Levent) and wandered past the back entrance, and into the lively neighborhood that surrounds the growing metropolis. The bazaar is hidden in the back streets, but easy to find as you wander down the main street. I collected several types of cheeses, a collection of olives, nuts and dried fruits, kitchen supplies and some potted plants for less than 25 lira. They became the heart of our breakfast on Saturday.
The Gultepe Bazaar is held every Friday and spans almost a half of a mile down the narrow back roads of Gultepe. I arrived at 4:45 PM, and found the streets full of people. When my hands were full with special purchases and an eclectic mix of bags and packages, it was time for me to leave. However, crowds of people were still descending into the covered market as I made my exit around 6:15.
The word for Sunday in Turkish is ‘Pazar’. Thus, the bazaar is a weekly event in most Turkish neighborhoods and towns. People from all over the area come to the local bazaar for produce, fish, nuts, cheeses, clothing, spices and household goods. It is a lively and overwhelming experience to many foreigners, but a part of everyday life for most Turks. The bazaar is where you find the best deals and the freshest produce. A normal back street is transformed into a lively market space. Vendors yell the price of their goods, and attempt to lure you to their stands. Large and small busses change their routes to bring people to and from the bazaar. The streets are covered with plastic tarps, and the products are carefully arranged. You can find almost anything in the neighborhood bazaar: bras, honey, shoes, head scarves, eggs, pickled vegetable, special sauces, socks, cheese graters, cutting boards and more… It is a vibrant experience that excites all of the senses.
Unfortunately, as the number of supermarkets and malls increase throughout the city, the neighborhood bazaars have slowly declined in number. Bazaars no longer occur solely on Sunday. Nor does each neighborhood host a bazaar of its own. In Istanbul, the major bazaars are spread out throughout the week.
It proved to be quite difficult to find an English schedule for the bazaars throughout the city, so below is my attempt to create one. It is not a comprehensive list, but highlights some of the most popular bazaars, as well as some of my personal favorites…
The Istanbul Bazaar Schedule
Wednesday: Fatih and Yesilkoy
Thursday: Akatlar and Erenkoy
Friday: Findikzade and Gultepe (Levent)
Saturday: Bakirkoy, Besiktas and Ferikoy (the organic market!)
Sunday: Gulbag (Mecidiekoy), Kosuyolu and Tarlabasi