Bargaining at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar


Istanbuls’ Grand Bazaar, or Kapalıçarşı (meaning ‘covered market’) speaks directly to every Indian’s heart. Over 550 years old, this market has over 3000 shops inside a large covered area. Everything that a tourist needs – or doesn’t really need but will buy anyway at great cost – is to be found here. Carpets, silver jewellery, tea, spices, lamps and kandeels, souvenirs, leather goods, and ceramics, among other things. And Indians, with their love for bargaining, will find themselves right at home here.




Competition is fierce among the sellers and they employ all kinds of techniques to woo customers. They make jokes – many of them inappropriate but it is difficult not to laugh with them because they have such a pleasing manner and enjoy their own jokes immensely. For example, the shops selling tea – many nudge-nudge, wink-wink references to the sexual prowess some of these teas are believed to impart. They proudly advertise their ‘Turkish Viagra’ and display signs for ‘genuine fake watches’. It is futile to resist those who are happy to laugh at themselves this way.



Like in other countries like Egypt, the minute they know you are Indian (and oh, believe me, they can identify us very easily), they launch into long discussions about our movies. And of late, Katrina Kaif in particular. They offer refreshment (oh, the apple tea!), discounts that seem attractive and lots of reasons why you must buy that item and from that shop alone. Listen to them patiently, banter with them and start from half the quoted price. They enjoy the bargaining and bantering more than you do and will probably be disappointed if you pay the asking price. If you are planning to buy something expensive, like a carpet, then it is best to do a bit of research before you enter the bazaar. Me, I stick to cheap souvenirs and tea – the varieties and fragrances of Turkish tea!


You can easily spend hours here, browsing, bargaining and buying – with stops for coffee and lunch in between at one of the numerous cafes inside the bazaar. Whether you want to buy that pair of lovely silver earrings or a set of six ceramic bowls with the whirling dervish motif, or even a belly dance costume as a souvenir to take back home, the grand bazar is the place to shop at in Istanbul. Hang on to your patience, sense of humour and your wallet (watch out for pickpockets) and you will have a great experience.

Friday photo: Istanbul

I’ve been there twice and it remains one of my favourite cities (see, this is the second time it’s been on the Friday photo series) – I wouldn’t mind going back. To Istanbul. Apart from all the glorious attractions like the Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque and a ride on the Bosphorus, Istanbul is enchanting for the everyday contrasts it presents.

Like this one…


Also see: Friday photo series

And all my Turkey stories here…

Turkish beauty

The women of Turkey must be among the most beautiful in the world. Unlike their brash men, the women are simple and graceful and shy. Some of them initially come across as gruff but if you persist and manage to wrangle a smile, then you will see their face light up.

Turkey is a patriarchal society and according to some reports, the country ranks second in Europe, just after Russia, in abuse of women. (But then you can argue that both countries are as much Asia as they are Europe, perhaps in reality more Asian than European, although they would like to believe otherwise).

Like many other things in Turkey, the contradictions here too are stark and startling, especially in the urban areas. You see women in veils and women in short skirts. Istanbul has some of the most happening night clubs in Europe as well as a high rate of honour killings.

That shy exterior hides women of great mental strength and courage, says my guide Shukran. And if her countrywomen are anything like Shukran, I believe that. More power to them.

Here are some of my favourite faces from Turkey – I particularly love the last one – it took me a good while to even get her to look at me – and then more time for that smile. But totally worth it, you will agree.

In praise of the Dondurma

Turkey has no paucity of desserts – the gooey chewy Turkish delight, the crumbly Kadayif, the sinful irresistible Baklava. But the most interesting of them must be the Dondurma, the local ice cream.

Dondurmasi, ice cream vendors can be found on all the streets of Istanbul, usually playing tricks on their unsuspecting buyer. Wikipedia tells me that Dondurma means ‘freezing’ in Turkish – Two qualities distinguish Turkish ice cream: texture and resistance to melting. Inclusion of the thickening agents salep, a flour made from the root of the Early Purple Orchid, and mastic, a resin, impart chewiness.

For, the Dondurma is that kind of ice cream – a trick dessert – thick and adhesive. The Dondurmasi takes out a scoop, puts it on the cone and then begins the fun and games. He turns the cone upside down, he takes it close to the buyer’s face, he rotates it round and round – and the ice cream just sits tight. He sometimes takes the entire stock of Dondurma out on a stick – it comes out like a lump of well-behaved dough.

Invariably, by that time, a crowd has gathered to watch. The audience is delighted. The buyer is bemused. A good time is had by all. Almost all.

Taste-wise, Dondurma is nothing to rave about – that sticky chewy texture needs some getting used to. But for entertainment value, nothing can beat it.

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