Grand Bazaar and Surrounds

When I mentioned that I was looking for some traditional oya lace, our guide for the food tour recommended Sivasli Istanbul Yazmacisi in the Grand Bazaar. Since we wanted to see the bazaar anyway, we made this our first destination for the day. It was an easy tram ride from Sultanahmet Square to Beyazit and one of the main entrances.

The Grand Bazaar, or Kapalıçarşı, is arguably the oldest and largest covered market in the world. It encompasses 61 covered ‘streets’ and over 4000 shops. The building of the market started in 1455, and it has been in continuous operation since then. Merchants of particular types of wares tend to cluster on a street, such as textiles on Yağlıkçılar Caddesi, which was our destination.

All our our guidebooks talked a lot about how much hassle we should expect from vendors. We were certainly greeted by many of them, but no one was overly aggressive. A simple “no, thanks” with a smile generally did the trick. Some of the more enterprising sellers did have some good tricks to try to get our attention: “Barack Obama! John Kerry!” “If you drink Pepsi, you’ll be sexy!”

The shop was pretty easy to find; the signs inside the bazaar are helpful. There is a truly stunning number of covered streets, small alleys, tiny passageways, and shops and stalls ranging from small to minuscule. The market area spills out into the surrounding neighborhood on all sides of the bazaar. 

I succeeded in finding some nice strings of oya, and after that we headed through the market and out the other side. We were hungry  for lunch, so Dan checked recommendations for good places nearby. We tried for a while to find the one he thought looked good, but when we got to where the GPS said it should be – no luck. We asked a nearby security guard, and a couple of vendors for directions. None of them had heard of the place, but asking invariably got a friendly response. Several guys asked around to the other sellers nearby, genuinely trying to be helpful. One seller of jeans asked again after trying to help us: “don’t you want to buy some jeans?” and laughed when I said “it’s too hot for jeans!” That was all it took to step outside of the typical tourist/vendor roles and find the simple human kindness and connection that is one of the very best parts of traveling.  

By now we were very hungry, so we decided to go with the next place we found, which was a small kebab shop at the end of a quiet alley of one of the larger market streets, Kilisli Kebapci Ali Usta. We ordered lamb and chicken kebabs, which were served with a tasty salad of mostly tomatoes with some cucumbers, parsley, and pomegranate molasses, and perhaps cumin. The kebabs were amazing: meltingly tender, just the right amount of spice, perfectly cooked. The restaurant was very simple – four tables in the dining area, and plastic chairs – but the walls around us were covered with framed photos and magazine clippings. We had unwittingly stumbled across a local’s favorite and a fantastic meal.

Our visit to the Grand Bazaar was a pretty fun experience. It was nowhere near as oppressive as the guidebooks suggested it would be. Either we were there at a very mellow time, or those writers have never tried to fend off taxi drivers in the New Delhi train station.