“Get me a Turkey towel from Turkey.”
This was the most asked sentence before we left for Turkey. Turkey’s special cotton thread used for its fabrics has caught everyone’s eyes. Those who drink tea in Turkey won’t return without buying a cup. Recently after a few famous Turkish series on Netflix, many asked me about those beautiful teacups. There are spicy secrets behind delicious Turkish food to Carpets, you can go shopping wide and wild.
When I go shopping, I look for the item’s origin. Because I don’t want to buy a “Made in India” dress in Thailand. When an authentic, aesthetically pleasing, affordable item is available in one of the oldest covered markets in the world amidst those narrow alleys filled with vibrance in Turkey, shopping becomes an experience of a lifetime. Istanbul and Cappadocia are sure to allure even a non-shopaholic. With some homework beforehand, you can shop better and save more. When you are in a country for a shorter time, the Bazars and local markets give you a glimpse of local life. So shopping in Turkey is an experience everyone must do.
Here is the mini shopping guide in Turkey.
- Why Istanbbul is the Second Best shopping place in the world?
- Markets other than Grand Bazaars and Spice bazaars in Istanbul.
- Things you shouldn’t buy in Istanbul Grand Bazaar
- Shopping tips – the art of haggling
- What did I buy and where in Turkey?
- What are the expensive things you may consider buying?
Why Istanbul the Second Best shopping place in the world to me?
The Grand Bazaar was built in the 1460s, making it the world’s oldest covered market. 30700sqm in area 4000+ shops and 60 alleys, very likely you get disoriented (in a positive way). Istanbul Grand Bazar was our first ever “Bazar” experience. So everything looked exciting, and our hearts pounded with amusement while we wandered 3km inside the Bazar.
The vaults with paints on the ceiling, the Turkey flags and other national flags, sellers calling out customers in multiple languages, tea sellers making their way through the crowd with their kettle – Ah! It is the chaos that I love most. The way the shopkeepers keep calling out customers loudly in a particular tone is something you must listen to for five minutes. The aroma of spices in a few streets, the smell of fresh Turkish tea in others, taste of delicious Turkish delights tickled all five senses.
Care for a Golden Hijab?
The lamps and Turkish teacup shopkeepers take it another level apart from the beauty of their items. One of them dropped the teacup from 3 feet above the ground, slightly stamped on it and said, “See, this is good glass, not weak and not made in China. I pack it for you well so that nothing happens to it even when they throw around your luggage at airports” – He was true! Not even one crack – neither on the glass lamp nor on the teacups.
Getting Lost in Grand Bazar is the best thing to do in Istanbul
Did I enjoy it because it was the first Bazar I ever went to in my life and what do I think of it now?
I still feel the same!
But, the “Best Bazar Experience” now goes to Isfahan, and the second place goes to Istanbul. Unlike in Egypt’s Khan-El-Khalili, we saw few local Turks shop at Istanbul Grand Bazaar. So it isn’t made for only tourists – You find everyone. I carefully look for the “Made in XYZ” tag everywhere iI go. Fortunately, I managed to buy only “Made in Turkey” items, while I saw very few Ceramics made in China.
Our Istanbul BnB host Ali does shop for spices from the Grand Bazaars. Turkey imports a few spices like Cinnamon and ginger from India, Sri Lanka and Egypt– Thyme, White poppy seeds ( Khaskas), sesame seeds are best grown in Turkey.
And some fake brands too
List of a few Markets other than Grand Bazaars and Spice bazaars in Istanbul.
In the evening, we arrived at Ali’s house in Istanbul; it was a deep conversation with Ali and his wife. It revolved around his German origin, how his ancestors came to Turkey, where he goes shopping for vegetables and meat every day. So here is a list of a few markets Ali suggested-
- Inebelu – That is where Ali picks Vegetables Every Sunday. Cornbread, olive oils, eggs, flowers, herbs, and grains arrive from Anatolia on Saturday night. A culinary carnival is better experienced before breakfast, preferably with your host.
- Casamba– Wednesday market in Fatih. We stayed in Fatih but not on Wednesday. Ali suggests that the tourists must go here with a local. The market is bustling as it is only once a week, and the chances of tourists getting ripped off and theft are more.
- Sahaflar- for second hand Book bazar.
- Yesilkoy- Wednesday Bazaar for clothing, spices and food
- Egyptian spice bazar– open seven days a week.
- Grand bazar– Closed on Sunday and shuts before 5.30 PM.
And you must buy slim waist Turkish Teacups from any of the above markets
Things you shouldn’t buy in Istanbul Grand Bazaar
Carpets, Sultanate stone and Ceramic wear are the three things you should not buy in Istanbul Grand Bazaar. Here is why –
Carpets – If you are looking for a carpet from Turkey for cheaper rates(like 3000 INR AKA 20 TL), Grand Bazaar sells you tons of them. By haggling, you can get it to half of the price that the shopkeeper quoted. Still, you will never know if the rugs are made authentic Turkish way and possess all the finest quality a Turkish rug must-have. They might even be imported from Iran, Uzbekistan and India. So to buy an actual Turkish carpet, you need to know about the types and uniqueness. This article on Forbes may help you to understand more.
Don’t fall for the brokers or drivers trying to take you to a fancy Rug shop. Research a lot before going to Turkey, shortlist a few shops. Visit all or a few of them, compare and then only buy. The authentic carpets may be as expensive as 25000 INR (160TL). It was way out of budget. So we didn’t buy any Turkish carpet.
Sultanate / Zultanite and other precious stones – There may be shops selling real Sultaenete and other precious stones in Istanbul Grand Bazar. Unless someone you trust confirms that the shop sells a real Sultanate and you are sure of it because of the research, don’t spend your fortune on Sultanate in Grand Bazaar. Like carpets, the chances of getting cheated are very high when it comes to these gemstones. The shopkeepers sell you the Turquoise and Sultanate for 100 TL (1700 INR). The real ones with certification start from 600TL (10000 INR).
Ceramics – The ceramicware at Greece and Istanbul Grand Bazaar looked very similar. The quality was not that great. Few of them had “Made in China” stickers too. Try outside the Grand Bazaar, or the best place is Avanos near Cappadocia. You can witness the Ceramics in the making by the artists themselves. The ones in Cappadocia were much thicker and of better quality.
Turkey Shopping tips – the art of haggling
Haggling is not new to Asians. In fact, on my way to work every day, I bargain with an Autorickshaw driver not to charge more most days. As an Indian, I thought I excelled at bargaining at markets until I went to Grand Bazar. Bargaining is easier when you know the seller’s language and you are familiar with the place. The streetsmart (and Handsome) Grand Bazar shopkeepers know their way to sell you things at an overpriced tag cleverly with all smiles and love without making you realise it.
Not only in Istanbul Grand Bazaar, bargain for anything you shop for anywhere in Turkey. Whether it is an Onyx factory or a ceramic shop, you must haggle. The sellers may seem to be friendly and sweet. They will tell you,” Just come have a look, where are you from? Oh, India, I love Shah Rukh Khan. Have a seat. Let me get you a cup of tea” You will be overwhelmed by their hospitality. The seller knows what he is doing. Enjoy the hospitality and talk with them, but don’t hesitate to ask for half of the price!
If they say No, politely walk out smiling, saying that you don’t have that much money. When we did it, the seller came behind us for further negotiating most of the time. Staying calm and friendly and being firm is the key. We have paid at least 40% less than what the seller asked us to pay. At the end of purchasing, the sellers were still friendly and offered us a second round of tea.
Walk away smilingly, 99% times, the shopkeeper calls you back offering lesser price.
What did I buy and where in Turkey
- Mosaic Lamps
- Teacup & Cutlery
- Turkey towel
- Turkish delights
- Hand made Onyx artefacts
- Wooden book stands
- Apparels – bags, purses and shoes
- Souvenirs – Darvish dancers miniatures, Evil eye wall hangings
The Turkish Lamps
There is something magical about these glass lamps. When you see the colours glittering through the glass’s Mosaic patterns at the Bazaar, it takes you back to the Royal Ottoman era. The metal stand and the formwork hold a glass globe with colourful handmade mosaics. They say that these lamps have a history of 5000 years and is manufactured in Turkey, especially in Istanbul. The metal framework and glass may have been done using machinery. However, those tiny pieces of mosaics placed are still handmade. You can make out by those tiny flaws and irregularities the beauty of handmade stuff. The lamp I bought cost 2500 INR(150 TL). Specify that you need extensive packing in case you are travelling further by flights and trains. Remember that the kind of bulbs you need to use for these are may be different from what you get in your country.
Turkish Tea cups
I am a coffee drinker, while Ashrith loves tea. So no wonder why he sipped almost 8 cups of tea a day while in Turkey while I admired the slim-waisted teacups. Whether you love tea or not, it is good to get home the “Signature cups” – Turkish tea sets. Turks are particular about their tea taste, and they judge it by the colour too. So Most cups you find are plain glass while some are decorated with paints. If you are ready to spend more, you even get Silver inlay work on the glass cups.
Most of us have used “Turkey Towel” at least once in our life. Usually, it is thick, soft and takes too much time to dry. Many don’t prefer it because it stinks if not dried under the sun. When we told our parents about us going to Turkey, my FIL asked to get the “Turkey Towel” for him. Fortunately, while strolling in the Grand Bazaar, we came across a shop selling towels. It was one whole” WHAT IS TURKISH TOWEL LESSON” by the shopkeeper there. He spoke good English and explained a lot in detail about Turkey towels to us.
What is a Turkey towel?
Turkey Towels are Lightweight, flat and large – dries faster, making them ideal for traditional Turkish Hamams. They are handwoven with high-quality cotton grown in Turkey whose fibres are longer than usual. Most of the towels are white-based. The ones we use at home and in hotels are not thinner! Why are few Towels heavier?
Because of GSM ( just like we have for papers) Grams per square metre, Higher the GSM, heavier and durable, the towels take more time to dry after use. If you want to buy the ones similar to Hamams, but a towel of lower GSM.
The Jelly sugary, chewy cubes are “Any time of the day” snacks that last at least 15 days from the date of manufacturing without refrigerating. In contrast, Baklawa doesn’t last that long. You find sugar powder-coated plain coloured cubes and also some with dry fruit /rose petals sprinkled. I say try everything, check what you like and buy a combo of multiple flavours. Mt favourite remains raspberry and the one with rose petal sprinkles. Ashrith’s favourite is Plain Pistachio ones. We found these shops near all touristy areas in Istanbul, rarely in Cappadocia and Pamukkale. So Istanbul is the best place to buy Turkish delights. I am sure each Istanbul person will have a particular shop and particular flavour as their favourite. So take your host’s opinion if you don’t have time to try out different shops.
Scraf and shawls
Who can make a better scarf than middle eastern guys? That too Turks being fashion conscious and no compulsion on Hijab is very particular about the scarf on their head whenever they wear it. Most prefer solid coloured ones, while few are non-floral prints, unlike Iran. So if you are looking for good quality cotton and synthetic scarf, any city in Turkey will sell you the good stuff.
After 3 hours of standing, walking and exploring inside Hagia Sophia, we wanted to rest our feet for a while. The cafe with a book store selling souvenirs was an ideal place. The usual fridge magnets and bookmarks were all over the place, while a collection of scarves with beautiful prints of Hagia Sophia stood there in a corner. The first thing that came to my mind was, “I can wear Hagia Sophia whenever I want”, Though the price ( (1000 INR / 65TL) for a 1.5mx0.5m scarf seemed to be unworthy, I couldn’t resist. Interestingly, I nowhere find similar scarves in any of the Grand Bazar shops later. Definitely, it isn’t “The Only Piece in the world” but “Few of its kind.”
Hand made Onyx artefacts in Turkey
As an architect, the two materials I love most are Mother of Pearl and Onyx. Onyx being fragile and expensive, is not commonly used in houses. Still, their translucent properties with a source of light amuse me most. So the Onyx lamps and lamp covers create magic with the layers of their strips of different colours. Cappadocia is the place if you want to buy these translucent stone artefacts. We visited the Ozler Onyx factory at the end of the Green route tour. The flowing brown and white lines on the smooth surface of the subtle green handmade stone bowls had to go on to my shelf.
Wooden Book stands & wall hangings
While walking to Galata tower from Sultan Ahmet square, there were a series of shops selling wooden craft items. Apart from the wooden stands for holy books and wooden craved wall hangings, they sold crazy wooden frogs – The ones that make noise when you rub it with a wooden stick on top!
Turkish Apparels – bags, purses and shoes
I loved cheaper local “Brandless” floral printed shoes and bags for 20 TLs ( 300 INR) more than the fake brands. The quality is worth the low price but not meant for rough use.
Souvenirs – Miniature Darvish Dancers, Evil eye wall hangings and the rest
Darvish dance shows are supposed to be soothing. Many travellers consider it an “a must to do” thing while in Turkey. In that hope, while we checked for the shows and price, our heartbeat paused. It cost around 4000 INR (270 TL) per person! We let it go with our limited budget and decided to carry home the tiny statue of dancers from Cappadocia. The traditional motif that you find in Israel, Greece and Turkey is “Evil Eye” On a T-Shirt or gold jewellery; these motifs are omnipresent on every item possible. Most famous are the metal hangings with the motif at the centre.
What are the other things you can buy in Turkey
The other expensive and rare things you can buy in Turkey are
- Gold jewels
- Precious stone, especialy Sultanete and Turquoise
- Shisha AKA Hookah bottle
- Spice powder
- Clothing with ” Fake” brand stickers
- Turkish coffee powder (which I don’t recommend)
This may seem nothing for those who have roamed in God Souq of Dubai. For us, this was the first-ever Souq or Bazaar vibe. Seeing this much gold in one single place was totally new. The designs start from small and elegant pendants to highly intricately woven neckpieces and even a Hijab! There are plenty of Gold shops in Grand Bazaar, but I wonder how many of these are of good quality. Yet again, don’t purchase in random shops. Check for the national purity certification before buying to save your fortune.
Turquoise and Zultanete
I am obsessed with Turquoise colour. The curtains and cushions at my home are Turquoise. It was shocking to learn at Cappadocia jewel shop how the French named the gemstone “Turquoise” as it was brought to Europe via the land of Turks from Iran. Plus, Persian Turkish colour used this stone a lot in their buildings. So Turkey and Turquoise are related to an extent. Though Turkey is not the only nation to get these gemstones, it is one nation that sells good quality Turquoise stones. As usual, you must do extensive research in advance not to get ripped off and buy coloured beads in the name of “precious stone” for your hard-earned money.
Spice powder and Perfumes
You can’t make an Indian buy spice anywhere outside of their country unless there is something unique. But we love the aroma in the air and the heap of spice powders arranged is a feast to eyes. So we make sure we visit Spice Bazars everywhere possible, ask the seller rates, and compare the prices to India. If you are a spice lover from a non Spicy nation, Turkey’s spice bazars are your treasures. Some spices are grown in Turkey, while the rest are imported from Iran, Egypt, India and other Asian countries. More than the raw spices, I recommend you to buy spice powders – A blend of multiple spices powdered into one at Spice Bazar in Istanbul.
Perfumes: History proves that the Ottomans were fond of fragrance like any other middle eastern Kingdom. From branded International perfumes to the authentic Turkish perfumes” Scent of Sultans” and the tiny bottles of local perfumes for people like us, there is a wide range of Perfume galleries in Grand Bazaar.
Little mud Fairy Chimneys at Cappadocia
I was surprised equally when I saw the actual fairy Chimneys at Cappadocia and the artist’s miniature chimneys. The attention to detail is impeccable. The heavy ones are handmade with clay, while some lighter ones are POP moulds. If your budget and luggage limitation allows you, these can be the fanciest thing at your home’s corner.
Unlimited Fake Brands
Do you want Fendi? Prada? Louis Vitton? There is a whole market for fake brand shopping just outside Istanbul’s Grand Bazar. From far, you can’t say those are real, but once you touch and feel them, the flimsy handles and poor stitching is evident. Still, you can get one for a dirt low price if you bargain. Shoes, bags, purses, jackets – This place outside Grand Bazar totally reminded me of Devil wears Prada. Some were of decent quality, while the other’s brand stickers could be easily removed. If you are good at bargaining and don’t mind a fake one, this must be on your shopping list.
Do you also feel Bazars are the best place to go shopping? Let us know in the comment section below.