We have mentioned our local market in Reşitpaşa before. By market, we don’t mean the usual supermarket or corner store, but a wonderful institution that we have enjoyed many times during our visits. On a regular basis, usually once a week, a town closes down a street, spreads awnings over the street, and vendors come to set up tables to sell a wide variety of items. Usually these are food or food related (vegetables, fish, cheese, olives, etc.), but there are also vendors of miscellaneous items like tea glasses, stove burner rings, clothing and nutcrackers. We have been going as often as possible during the fall, and this week we brought a camera to try to capture some of the mood of the place.
We have been going in the afternoon, when it is quite crowded, active and noisy. The biggest noise comes from the vendors, who are competing for the shoppers’ attention. There are usually several similar vendors close to each other, so the vegetable vendors are trying to lure you to their tables. Calls of “Mandalina, Portakal, Ayve,” (Tangerines, Oranges, Quince) and “Beş lira, beş lira, beş lira!” (5 lira…) ring out from all sides. We have been fortunate enough to catch the vendors singing from time to time, and once saw one dance a bit behind the table. Judging from the responses of the other shoppers, this is not the usual market behavior.
The prices are startlingly low, compared to a farmer’s market in the US. Imagine high quality tangerines for 1.5 TL per Kg. [ok, we’ll translate. At current rate of $0.42 per TL, and 2.2 pounds per Kg, that’s about 29¢ per pound. Probably won’t find that in Whole Foods.] We bought cauliflower for 2.5 TL/Kg, and a head of cabbage for 1TL. We definitely felt spoiled.
Even with low prices, we could often get samples, especially of fruit. Melon in the summer, and quince in the late fall were offered as a way to get us to stop and collect some more fruits and vegetables.
In addition, all vendors seemed to spend enormous time each market making sure that their goods were displayed artfully and attractively. The large stacks of fruit would be perfectly symmetrical, and often feature a decorative element–a half a pomegranate on top of a pile of oranges, or piles of grapes as decorations as well as for sale. It’s remarkable that all that setup is done for one day of sales, but is clearly a point of pride and salesmanship. The variety in the market goes from soup to nuts (well, the makings of soup…). In addition to normal vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, leeks, etc.) and fruits (apples, oranges, pomegranates, pears), there are interesting varieties of radishes and turnips that we haven’t seen elsewhere. Several vendors of nuts (walnuts, pistachios, peanuts) also usually had a wide variety of spices available as well. Fish vendors sold locally caught fish from big to small. Cheese vendors usually sold olives alongside, and had a dozen varieties of each. One of the more interesting items were related to grains–on the tables selling bulgur and rice, there were usually several varieties of mantı (a tiny ravioli-like filled pasta) and yufka, which is a bit like phyllo, but thicker and easier to work with. After trying the yufka, we marveled in both it’s versatility (wrap almost anything in yufka, fry it up, and it’s delicious) and the happy bounciness of the name. The yufka is all hand-made, by rolling out and stretching wheat dough.
There’s a tradition in Istanbul, according to several of the sources we’ve read, to display fish in wide bins with as many lights above them as possible. One of the food writers calls this “one thousand eyes”. This probably enhances the sense of a shiny eye, which indicates freshness. In addition, all of the fish are prepared in a way that allows you to see the condition of the gills at a glance (very red means very fresh). On preparing for this trip to the market, we had assumed that getting photos would require a bit of artfulness and tried to be unobtrusive. You’ll see a few photos above that were just vendors doing what they do. It was interesting how many people, when they spotted the camera said “Çiç, çiç…” and started to pose. To be a vendor in a market, it seems one must be a bit of a ham. Given the kind of verbal competition and the need to connect quickly with customers, that must go with the job.
One of the goals of the vendors arranging their goods is to create the sense that there is plenty to buy. Piling up the vegetables, giving you a big container to collect your purchases, asking you to reach over to pay (or to put the money in a small fish net on a long stick as we saw one vendor operate) all create this sense. It makes us think of a trip to Costco, except as practiced for hundreds of years. We certainly felt that we had plenty to choose from, and were often surprised at how well the vendors understood our dismal Turkish. The market was always a highlight of the week.