The Spice Market, or as it is known in Turkey, Mısır Çarşısı (meaning Egyptian Market) in Istanbul greets you before you greet it. Tossing aside that my first association of Turkish delight came from the White Witch bewtiching Edmund, one of the Narnian children, with the candy in C. S. Lewis’s fantasy fiction, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
In fact, I was musing about how my connection at a young age with Turkey could be attributed to the delectable and curious descriptions in the book of a sweet, and that too, the part of the book which was set in a fictional land. I was particularly addled by the fact that even Narnia subscribes to real life notions of where sweets could be manufactured from, I was stopped in my tracks by the Spice Market.
You see, there is something about Turkey which is well hidden by cart vendors attempting to sell you kebab around Sultanehmet and Taksim. In the Spice Market, the magic doesn’t need to be pointed out to you- it exists simply by being. Huge gates lead into large awnings and wide ceilings, and endless rows of colorful sweets, powders, turkish delights, ground pistachios in one corner and rose petals titled as love tea in others. The intricacies of scents are followed by a whirlwind of people aiming to attract your attention to their wares.
Seventeen hours into Istanbul, I was mesmerized by the transformation in landscapes, just by crossing an hour away from the flight I had taken in the night before from Athens. The layover was unforeseen, but upon finding that a college friend who was getting her MA in Geneva at the same time I was in Budapest, was spending her spring break in Istanbul, and that a quick twist of itineraries made an inevitable research trip I had to take to India equally affordable when layovers in both Greece and Turkey were added to the mix, I chose excessive, instead of limiting choices.
And I’m so very glad I did. Built in 1660 from the revenues of the Egyptian Ottoman elayet, this wonderful space brings to alive a cultural understanding of food which is both palatable and mesmerizing. After the hustle and bustle of the touristy spots of Sultanehmet, as mesmerizing as they may be, even the walk to the spice bazaar provides a wonderful journey through the various influences of a city that has stood at the crossroads of it all, with Byzantine buildings and structures crisscrossing comfortably with minarets and tiny crowded alleyways and vendors selling pomegranate juice. The vendors are friendly and you can try wares and be delighted, because this is where delight is defined.