Thursday, July 2, 2015

One thing you should definitely do in Istanbul

            Open-air farmers’ markets never fail to put a huge grim on my face. Back in Southern California, whenever I am stressed for exams, grants or break-ups, my remedy would be to head to a nearby farmers’ market for a retail therapy. I just absolutely adore walking among occasional sweet-smelling whiff of fruit stands, freshly baked breads, sampling different varieties of cheese, jam, honey, oil, and whatever that seems edible. With a dust of luck, I would sometimes bump into a grocer who really likes to share his knowledge and love for the produce. Then, I started to learn a lot, and also end up buying a lot.
            Istanbul, despite its towering skyscrapers and stunning religious and cultural monuments, is also home to some of the greatest open-air farmers’ markets I have visited. Of course, if you are visiting Istanbul, you might be tempted, and quite justifiably so, to be consumed by the check listing off those tourist destinations. Don’t get me wrong. These historic buildings are breathtaking, but I just feel that a trip to Istanbul can never be complete without diving deep into at least one of its open-aired farmers’ markets. Food is pretty much the core-glue of the Turkish culture. I cannot help but notice how Turkish people’s eyes just light up with surprise and excitement whenever I take much interest in their cuisine like a five-year old kid at a magic show. Their genuine appreciation for food exudes proudly in farmers’ markets, and luckily, I happened to live close by to the second largest weekly outdoor market in Istanbul.
            Every Friday, literally hundreds of grocers would flock up to Findizade, a neighborhood I stayed at while in Istanbul, flooding up many of the streets, all the way down to small alleys. I should be used to the scene after almost three weeks in Istanbul, but every time I was overwhelmed by massive varieties of products, ranging from spices, fruits, vegetables, nuts, pickles, cheese, meat, fish, bread to clothing, and daily necessities. I still cannot wrap my head around how they keep vegetables insanely fresh without the constantly sprinkling water over them as in the States. Especially, tomatoes are massive, with ruby-red flesh. With gorgeous tomatoes like these, I just slice them up thick, sprinkle with coarse salt and drizzle proper extra-virgin olive oil. I may sound like a drama-queen, but it’s true that I will truly miss the almost orgasmic moment whenever I close my eyes, and take a bite of those juicy red tomato steaks. (I am eating tomatoes exactly like I just described as I write this article).

            As someone used to Western’s prices, I was utterly shocked by how affordable all the products were in Istanbul markets. Cherries are 5 lira (about $1.8) for a kilo (about 2 lbs.), tomatoes 1 lira per kilo, herbs about 10 cents per a bundle, cheese 10 lira (about $3.7) for a kilo. I almost felt like I was stealing from them. However, besides the prices, for me, the best parts about these markets are Gozeleme (Turkish pancake) stands scattered throughout the alleys. For 5 lira, you get a massive sheet of pastry folded and cut into a long strips, filled with eggplants, cheese, potatoes, spinach and minced meat. I honestly feel that there are few more pleasurable moments than strolling among the bustling market streets, sampling different food, with a pastry in my hand. As far as I am concerned, there is no guilty pleasure. The only time one should be guilty is when one ignores to take full pleasure in little things in life.

Pickled olives are an important component of Turkish food.

Look at how gorgeously ruby-red these tomatoes are.

Pickled vegetables in any shape and form you can imaginable.

Puny and cute-sy okras

This dude’s facial expression!

About 10 dollars for more than two pounds of salmon? Hubba hubba

The eggs here are extremely delicious. The best part is you can choose your own straight out from the basket.

I splurged on cherries while in Istanbul. There is no reason not to when they are less than 2 dollars for more than 2 pounds worth.

A turkish woman making Gozleme (turkish pancake).

Gozeleme has got to be one of my favorite turkish foods - a quintessential comfort food.

The color green always soothe my eyes and soul.

Look at those round zucchini. They will make a great dish presentation.

Spices in buckets.

Infamous turkish saffron. But, be aware that Spanish saffron is far superior. 

I love how garlic here is so fresh and pungent.
Of course, the best part of shopping at open-air markets are warm smiles of the grocers who are proud of their produce.
Golden yellow artichoke hearts in lime water.