If you check out any guide book about Turkey, you will inevitably find that visiting the local bazaar is on almost every must-see list. This is because Turkish bazaars provide locals and tourists alike with wonderful opportunities to stock up on fresh goods while interacting with one another at these age old meeting places that are popular in one form or another throughout much of the world. Especially if you are visiting Turkey for the first time, experiencing their version of the people’s marketplace, known as ‘pazar’ in Turkish and literally meaning ‘Sunday’, is a great introduction to Turkish life and social interactions. Although some tourists may be hesitant to visit a Turkish bazaar for fear of either being ripped off due to their ignorance about local prices or being overwhelmed by pickpockets and other petty thieves, most Turkish pazars are safe places (thanks to the crowds of people and a concentration of police forces, especially at the more touristy marketplaces) where bargaining for a good price is part of the experience and to be expected.
What sorts of items can you hope to find in a Turkish bazaar aimed at tourists?
As the historical marketplace for most towns and cities in Turkey, you can find practically anything in a Turkish bazaar - if you know where to look. Popular tourist bazaars that are highlighted in the guide books, like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, are great places to pick up high quality souvenirs like Turkey’s infamous handwoven carpets and rugs whose unique designs reveal exactly what region of Turkey the product comes from. You can also find several vendors of other cloth materials like cashmere and silk in the form of scarves, clothing, and basically anything else you would like. Tea is a popular item at tourist bazaars as well, since no tourist wants to leave the land of tea without some to take home. At many bazaars you can also find antique metals and metalwear, artwork, and typical souvenir items like T-shirts and bags.
Are bazaars that focus on local clientele much different?
As a matter of fact, Turkish pazars that are aimed at local clients are usually much less flashy, sell many less typical souvenirs, and are often a bit cheaper than the average tourist bazaar. These marketplaces may not be advertised like the more well known tourist spots, but this doesn’t mean they are not worth a visit. In fact, if you are short on time, I would recommend visiting a local bazaar filled with locals over a better known tourist hotspot. These local pazars will provide you with the best of local food products and street food (after all, this is where the locals themselves go!). Make sure to try handmade, freshly fried gozleme - a traditional savoury Turkish pastry made of hand-rolled dough that is lightly brushed with butter and eggs, filled with various toppings, sealed, and cooked over a griddle, often accompanied by pickled vegetables and tea.
Visiting a local bazaar will not only allow you to sample great local delicacies but will also provide you with one of the best people watching opportunities of your trip. You can learn a great deal by simply attending a local bazaar and observing how the vendors and the buyers interact, how their bargaining exchanges work, and what items a typical Turkish person picks up on the regular. If you enjoy meeting locals during your trips, this will also present a wonderful opportunity to chat with some down-to-earth Turkish locals over a steaming cup of tea in sight of the many stalls and business transactions occurring all around you at the bazaar.
On your next visit to Turkey, don’t shy away from either the local or the tourist bazaars. Instead, embrace Turkish culture and explore these historical meeting places that for centuries were the centre of town life around the country. Beyond this cultural immersion, you will be able to find some great souvenirs and tasty food that you will not soon forget!
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