How to shop, Turkish style – and bring home some fantastic memories, as well as some amazing presents
Sure, you can find Turkish products in your home country as well as in other lands, due to the confluence of cultures down through history. But there’s nothing quite as fun as shopping for them in Turkey – what with all the bargaining and the tea – and you will doubtless find excellent prices and quality, too.
Olive oil soap
Turkey can lay claim to centuries-old olive trees, allowing it to produce some of the best natural and handmade soaps in the world. Pick up a few of these appealing green bars the next time you’re in the country. The all-natural ingredients are gentle on the skin and can even be used to wash babies. Try Derviş in the Grand Bazaar.
Kese hammam mitts
Anyone who’s been lucky enough to experience the relaxing-squeaky-clean joy of a hammam will have benefited from a rub down with a kese, a traditional exfoliating glove with a coarse texture. Used for centuries – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it – it makes your skin feel baby smooth and soft as it naturally exfoliates, removing dead and dry skin cells. It’s also — and here’s the rub — good for boosting your circulation. Browse Abdulla in the Grand Bazaar.
A sure sign that someone’s been to Turkey is the ownership of a blue-glass evil eye, as the nazar boncuk is known in the country. It adorns every kind of trinket, from necklaces to key rings. The power and the colour of the eye are said to ward off adversity and so you’ll see them nationwide, on doorways, in the walls in houses, and on babies’ clothing, as well as attached to horses and on the rear-view mirrors in vehicles. Have a look for elegant examples in branches of lifestyle store Pasabahce.
Backgammon has been around for thousands of years — the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all played forms of the absorbing board game. Bringing back a hand-crafted set from your trip to Turkey is the perfect way to transport a little history and culture in the name of serious entertainment. Intricately detailed wooden details make this an appealing addition to your coffee table or the perfect present for that (annoying) friend who has everything…
Turkish tea and glasses
Incredibly portable (which means it’s easy to carry in a cabin bag), neatly stackable tulip Turkish tea glasses are an everyday symbol of Turkish culture. Turkey’s tea — or çay — culture is steeped in hundreds of years of tradition and tea is consumed all day long, starting from breakfast until bedtime. Offering tea and drinking tea together is a gesture of friendship. As well as looking pretty, the uniquely curved shape helps keep the tea warm, and your glass is usually handed to you on a colourful little saucer. Browse a branch of Pasabahce.
Turkish mosaic lamps
Inspired by the vivid decorations of the mighty sultans’ palaces, Turkey’s mosaic lamps display the colours of Ottoman cultures. Exquisitely handmade, they combine Turkey’s centuries-old tradition of glassmaking with the pre-electricity era of oil lamps. They can hang chandelier-style or be table- or freestanding. So attractive are they that Louis Comfort Tiffany returned from a trip to Istanbul and set about recreating his own, now world-famous version of the Turkish classic. Take a look at the many options sold by Tuncer Gift Shop (Taya Hatun Sokak 1) on the street that runs alongside Topkapi Palace.
Lemon cologne or kolonya has been a key element of Turkish hospitality since the days of the Ottoman Empire. This refreshing citrus multi-tasker is sprinkled on guests’ hands in homes, after meals at restaurants, during bus journeys and on many other occasions. Refreshing in the intense heat of a Turkish summer or when sprayed as a perfume, the cologne also functions as an effective hand-sanitiser, helping kill bacteria and germs. Ask about the fine brand Eyüp Sabri Tuncer in perfume shops.
The charcoal-burning samovar, or semaver in Turkish, is a traditional and usually very ornate tea urn used in the preparation of high-quality black tea. They are handmade by craftsmen, often in copper, and the metal affects the quality of the tea as well as its aroma. Now mainly used for larger gatherings, more contemporary two-tier electric versions have become the day-to-day utensil of choice. Try Tuncer Gift Shop (Taya Hatun Sokak 1) on the street that runs alongside Topkapi Palace.
Hand-Painted Iznik Ceramics
If you’ve ever seen inside an imperial mosque, you will no doubt have seen the beautiful dark red and turquoise hues of the ceramics on the its walls. Iznik tiles enjoyed their heyday during the centuries of Ottoman rule, yet the tradition continues to this day, and there are only a few places that sell real hand-painted Iznik ceramics. Drop by Iznik Art in the Grand Bazaar to get your hands on some genuine hand-painted examples.
The Turkish bath is a ubiquitous spa treatment in the world today, as are hamman-related products such as peshtemals, those thin hammam towels, and olive-oil soap. However, it’s only in the Grand Bazaar that you can find the all-natural products sold by Abdulla, including hand woven peshtemals from a blend of raw silk, linen, and cotton, and handmade natural soaps.
Baklava for pudding
Baklava is a dessert popular across the Middle East and beyond — you’ll find it in countries from Iran to Greece. When in Turkey, cross to Istanbul’s Asian side to buy Bilgeoğlu’s amazing kuru baklava, made with pistachios from Gaziantep and clarified butter. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place when you see the window filled with displays of syrup-oozing, green-speckled baklava.
Textiles for your bedroom
Turkey is not the only country famous for beautiful textiles, but it is the only place you can find Tulu, an amazing shop with myriad exceptionally colourful goods. From bedding with swirly patterns and curly prints of vivid flowers, to soft and shapely kimonos and pyjamas, the store is a beacon to lovers of all things bright and beautiful.
Turkish coffee is another product sold internationally these days, but only in the vicinity of the Grand Bazaar are you able to stock up on produce by Nuri Toplar, a brand established in 1890. Basically nothing has changed since its founding — the excellent coffee that Nuri Toplar roasts using a wood fire gives it a truly exceptional taste.
Jennifer’s Hamam is a top stop for covetable fluffy towels and peshtemal made from organic cotton. Find it in a busy street beside the Blue Mosque. Established by Canadian-born Jennifer Gaudet, the store is proud to work with some of the last families to maintain the tradition of Turkish hand-weaving.
Classic Turkish carpets
As any tourist will tell you, Turkey is famous for its carpets — and you’ll find some of the best examples in the country at Ethnicon and Dhoku, two stores under the same management. Whether you want a traditional design or something a bit modern, the two stores right across from each in the Grand Bazaar have been around for years, adding a very Turkish touch to homes all over the world.
Travel back in time for your Turkish Delight – to Hacı Bekir, the Sultanahmet-district store that doesn’t seem to have had anything done to it since it opened in 1777. Resplendent in deep mahogany, lined with classic displays of Turkish candy, it’s a great place to browse. Don’t leave without a bag of mixed Turkish hard candy (try Akide brand) as well as pistachio or almond marzipan, and, of course, a big box of Turkish Delight.
Jo Fernandez-Corugedo contributed additional reporting to this article.
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