You know my excitement about Kadıköy market which I regard as the best food market of Istanbul. But here is the news – there is another thrilling place to shop in the area with the limited window of opportunity. That window being Tuesday. Not sure what took me so long to visit the Kadikoy Tuesday Market (Kadıköy Salı Pazarı), a gigantic open-air marketplace dragging the housewives of the broader Kadıköy area for food and clothes shopping. My sally a few weeks ago was nothing like I have experienced before in Istanbul.
In Turkey you find two types of markets. One is a commercial quarter with small stores lined up along the narrow lanes. This is where you can get things done. Repair a watch, apply for mortgage at a branch of a major bank, get a haircut, find matching shoes and accessories for the newly bought dress, get your papers notarized and shop for groceries. More than a mere marketplace such markets (called çarşi in Turkish) are the centers of the neighborhoods: this is the place you invariably pass by or you meet old friends to catch up.
As far as the food is concerned specialized stores at such markets may not boast the convenience of a supermarket but then offer highest quality of a carefully sourced product. At the regular Kadıköy market I make at least 7 stops on a given shopping trip: fresh fish from my fish monger, minced meat from a butcher, fresh kaymak (Turkish clotted cream) from the dairy specialist, vegetables from my greengrocer, fresh yufka (Turkish phyllo dough) from a store that specializes on the home-made items, grains and legumes at another specialist and this is not to mention a spice vendor, Turkish delight specialist and baklava maker for the particular occasions. And this is not including the two kitchen utensils stores which I check now and then. And my favorite coffee shop to savor best Turkish coffee in Istanbul before jumping on a tram and getting back home for cooking. 2-3 hours passed with pleasure! Yet your commitment of time is generously repaid by the market vendors – they provide the most comfortable shopping environment ever. As your order is being prepared you are sipping tea and engaging in a friendly chat with the owner and then leaving the store with a few freebies, discount and smile.
Now while many established neighborhoods in Istanbul have their markets (Galata, Kadıköy, Eminönü, Fatih, Beşiktaş) many also have weekly markets held at a specially allocated space where you can hunt for great deals in food, household products and clothes. The vendors of those are the nomads of trade: they do not have any retail presence besides the stalls at the weekly markets and roam from a neighbourhood to neighborhood (and sometimes from a town to town) – Tuesday to Kadıköy, Wednesday to Fatih, Saturday to Besiktas and so on. Because they don’t need to maintain physical stores which reduces their cost significantly they are able to offer rockbottom prices. So fantasizing of those I headed out to the Kadıköy Tuesday Market.
I arrived in the afternoon when many shoppers were already leaving the market with the sense of accomplished mission and 3-4 bags in each hand. The closer I was getting to the entrance the harder it was to grope through the crowd of the leaving. I felt I was late and the ladies had probably devastated the stalls already. I was relieved as I entered: there was plenty to see and buy – the market looked like a bottomless horn of plenty. And like a flashback: I was again 14 years old taken by my mom or grandma to shop for the new season’s clothes. One and half decade back in Russia this was the only way to shop for clothes: to get on one of those open air weekend markets where the products were brought from Turkey and China. Along with the products brought were the Asian approach to trading – large stalls serving both as storage and a display, cries of the vendors to attract your attention and determination of the shoppers to spend the whole walking around and haggling over a good deal.
The Kadıköy Tuesday Market was no different. Take that stall – size of a small store – with the male underwear organized in the neat piles. For only 5 TL you become a proud owner of seamless boxers and – what a luck! – eventually you can chose solely based on your brand preferences (Bjorn Borg, Armani or Calvin Klein) because they have the same price and look. Then even larger stall with hundreds of t-shirts piled up: you should dig it to strike the gold or a cool branded print for 3.5 TL.
After the t-shirts I moved to the busy stall where a dozen of well dressed ladies were inspecting fake Prada, LV and Gucci bags. I took vivid interest in one, lifted it to examine and inquired the price. “60 TL”, replied the stall owner. “It is not leather, is that not?” I attempted to initiate the haggling. “I have a leather one too“, he was quick to respond.”It’s the exact copy, including the serial number” He picked up a package from under the stall and proudly presented a well done bag. “200 TL“, he announced after demonstrating all the features. Thankfully right then I recalled the fake Gucci scarf I bought from the Grand Bazaar for the heck of it and never wore. So I put down the bag and headed out to the produce stalls.
The fakes and export rejected apparel and bags mystically neighbor with the highest quality seasonal produce coming in the fairytalish sizes. Leeks come in a child’s hight. Chard leaves could be used as large fans. Cabbages may pass as the weights for heavy lifters. Pumpkins could easily become a Cinderella carriage and are cut with a saw. When I was choosing one the seller asked me if I needed it peeled and I wondered if anyone declined the offer and ventured to deal with the tree-bark-thick rind at home.
It was time to hide the camera and start shopping. With the price so low, bunches so huge and opportunity to pick up your own from a pile I stuffed my shopping trolley like a fat fat dolma thinking how much it would heart to pay 2-6 more for the same at my greengrocer at the Kadıköy market.
Yet as opposed to my “native” Kadıköy market where I am treated as “mahalle kızı” (local girl) I was a foreigner here. And so was everybody. I did not see any single pleasantry exchanged between the sellers and the shoppers so typical for the smaller markets I go to. Kadıköy Tuesday Market was a perfect venue for a primal shopping, mere buy-sell stripped down of all the complexities. Vendors don’t care to be polite or accommodating because their irresistible deals give them the confidence you will shop from them. The shoppers don’t bother to be polite either – neither to the vendors nor to the fellow shoppers: you elbow to pick up the firmest tomatoes, you push as you get through the stalls. As if someone fired a gun at the start you rush ahead to be the first in the shopping marathon. You lest your instincts speak: they make you throw yourself in a crowd and quickly fill in your shopping trolley as you devastate the stalls. Then you emerge at the exit as a winner – exhausted but fulfilled. You did not get the LV bag but the leeks you bought are the deal of the year.
Directions to the Kadıköy Tuesday Market: From Kadıköy ferry pier take a metro to Ünalan; or metrobus to Uzunçayır. Both from stops you will be able to follow a line of shoppers heading to the market. The marketplace is signified by the gates with yellow writing “Kadıköy Kent Meyhanı’.