Shopping Trolley

Istanbul Food Markets

Shopping trolley

The very first one I saw – a tall and voluminous shopping bag mounted on a frame with a handle and two wheels – appeared a manifestation of my new lifestyle I was going to embrace in Istanbul: shopping from the best food market in town and then walking back to my neighborhood as I am pulling my shopping trolley on the paved sidewalks. Or maybe getting on a tram – called “nostalgic” which it may be for most but not the passengers taking it every day to Kadikoy for shopping and such and then back to their neighborhood with the paved sidewalks.

Shopping trolleys are not a solely Turkish phenomenon. My Russian grandma owned one: she used to sell beautifully arranged flour bouquets and excess of the seasonal produce from her garden and the trolley was convenient to ferry her products to the market and then fill it with the purchases she’d make at the end of the market day. In Istanbul it also seems that you have to be in your middle ages to use the shopping trolleys – the younger crowd has got cars and shops far away from home so that taking a shopping trolley on such a tour would not make sense.

Well, I have no ambition to own a car in Istanbul and I have strategically chosen to live close to Kadıköy market so I can shop there. To supermarkets I prefer the opportunity to source higher quality items with traceable origin from the sellers I know. Fantastic homemade tomato paste from Gaziantep, olive oil from Iznik, Turkish coffee roasted daily and so-ons are my staples and I dread using their commercial versions. So I have designed my life to be able to shop like that before I get to my middle ages. What a luxury!

And then at the market you need a shopping trolley. I can’t imagine shopping without one: for me it takes a only minutes to accumulate kilos of purchases even on a regular market trip – too many kilos to carry on your back in fact.

When I first went looking around for a shopping trolley I found – to my great surprise – there are pretty much two types available at the market: a bulky cuboid frame with a matching sack fitted inside and a frame with a bag perched on it. Neither looked promisingly robust or practical so I went for aesthetics – my first Turkish shopping bag was milk chocolate with motley polka dots. It served me well for half a year carrying food for my cooking classes, many bottles of wine,  sacks of flour and sugar. Until one day the ‘tyre’ of one wheel got broken: I was gazing at it I could not believe that such a feather-like piece of white plastic could carry all that weight. Until a certain point at least.

For a while I was without any shopping trolley – still not sure neither how to repair the broken one nor how to find a reliable replacement. Until a few days ago when I,  anticipating a whole week in Istanbul, ventured to the Tuesday market. Well, if the Kadıköy market the proper is so wonderful why do I make a trip to the Tuesday market? That’s the question I’ve asked myself a lot.

Things are way cheaper at the Tuesday market but then the time and the trip offset the gain. I go there for seasonal produce as I believe the folks at the Tuesday market are closer to the farmers when the Kadıköy greengrocers buying from wholesalers. And as I am choosing the produce I am always spotting a few gems: village bulgur from Malatya renown for its bulgur as much as for its dried apricots, or fantastic kaymak and goat cheese from a farmer, or whole wheat bread from Adapazarı. Finds like that make my week and this is why I go to the Tuesday market.

So I decided I’d buy a new shopping trolley right there, at the market: it must be sold somewhere at this labyrinth of stalls offering anything from a tricky hairpin which ties your hair into a perfect bun and 5 lira t-shirts to the “exact” copies of Louis Vuitton bags.

As I got out of the metro and joined the crowd marching to the market I was wondering why so few women (yes, 90% of shoppers at the Tuesday market are women) actually use shopping trolleys. Do they come all this way to buy just a few t-shirts? Or it is a good fun to carry a dozen of bags home? Or does everyone takes taxi back (hm, does that not sound like an idea?!)

Apparent lack of shopping trolley demand resulted in me going around the market for an hour and trying to find a single shopping trolley on offer (ok, I have used the time to have a look at some of the clothes stalls too but still). Eventually I was in luck and found a vendor selling a wide assortment of useful household items which included the shopping trolley. They did not look very robust but for 18 TL (about 10 dollars) I could not complain – not for too long at least.

I promised myself to be gentle with this newbie and not to overload it. But I could I keep the promise? “Shall I make it 5 tl?“- asks me a seller hardly visible behind a pile of oranges he is trading and suggesting he adds a few more fruits to round up the bill. “Why not!” Oh, and these pomegranates are beautiful (and the season is finishing)! “Abla, would you like some lemons?” – asks me a seller of herbs as I am paying for my few bunches. – “They such a thin skin“. Before I know my shopping trolley is full and pulling it becomes harder and harder. This is how I know it is time to go home.

Metro line from Kadikoy to the Tuesday market sounds like the best news of the last year but only if you have never tried the route. Since the market is located at a major junction there are two pedestrian flyovers separating the market and the metro station: up and down and then up and down again to cross over one highway and then over the other. I have not realized how much I have fitted into the trolley until I tried to lift it which appeared nearly impossible.

So started pulling it up slowly – one step at a time. 5 steps later a helpful young man offered his help and carried it all the way up and then – all the way down. Now I had to take back my words about how not courteous Turkish men are: or course I am not talking about husbands, brothers, other relatives, friends – your own, your husband’s, those of your family plus men trying to chat you up. What makes me so harsh with my judgments? Well, it is simple: never ever I was offered help amidst some of the suitcases accidents I had on the streets of Istanbul. Which is shocking given I am coming from a country where men open doors for you and even in the Moscow rush and craze there is surely going to be at least one man who’d volunteer to carry your heavy suitcase up the steps. And I have not forgotten that even after I lived in Norway where women are taking up 40% of the parliament but cannot expect a silly door being open for them. Not even after a year in India where accepting any kind of help on the street can get you in trouble.

I started feeling apologetic about being so prejudiced about Turkish men when at the second flyover a middle-aged man addressed a younger passerby to help and they lifted and carried my bag. And it was not the end: escalator going down in the metro was switched off so two security employees at the underground helped me carry the shopping trolley down the steps.

This market trip could have been a great tribute to the courteousness of Turkish men and it was until it became an obituary for my newly purchased shopping trolley they all kindly helped me carry. As I got out of the metro and was crossing the road to take a tram (the nostalgic one) I realized that Istanbul sidewalks rarely have gently sloping edges for baby strollers and shopping trolleys. I pulled the trolley behind me it had a hard landing on the road – its frame cracked and the wheels felt apart. Here I was – still far away from home with unliftable shopping bag full with goodies. Fortunately it happened at the place where a dozen of taxis passes every minute and – again with a courtesy of yet another Turkish men – I was delivered to the door of my apartment from where working out things became possible.

I spent rest of the day googling and thinking. As I am ordering one of the fantastic Rolser shopping trolleys I am wondering why it is so hard to find a shopping trolley in Istanbul – even at the actual market? And why nobody in Turkey, a country with such a strong tradition of weekly markets, nobody had bothered with producing shopping trolleys that can survive at least 1 market trip? Why the public infrastructure in Istanbul (escalators, stairs, sidewalks) is not tuned in for the shopping trolley owners? And finally – am I the only one concerned about the Turkish shopping trolley misery?

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Marina February 6, 2013, 1:09 am

    On the Princes’ Islands, where I live, shopping trolleys are the norm: the absence of cars and the abundance of hills makes them a necessity. This doesn’t mean, however, that the trolleys people use here are consistently sturdy. Most appear to be bound for the same sad fate as yours.
    I’ve seen some nice (and even hip!) examples here—no Rolsers so far—but the most sturdy budget version is a simple contraption with a metal frame and fitted with a woven polypropylene bag (think: post-Soviet shuttle traders of the nineties). As for me, I rely on my old sturdy bike… and, if all else fails, I guess I can always solicit the help of a passerby. 😉

  • Mrs Ergül February 6, 2013, 7:21 am

    Awww I feel so sorry about your shopping trolley plight. 4 years ago, I bought my first shopping trolley and it has lasted me till now. The frame is metal and the bag is some kind of fabric. The wheels are rather strong and it has served me well. But I must say we don’t have the same “terrain” as in Istanbul – I am referring to cobblestone walkways. I wish you luck in finding the right one!

  • Memi February 7, 2013, 6:19 pm

    What did you work with in Norway? (while living there)

    I think Mrs Ergül made a point. The reason why there could be so few trolleys in Istanbul is because the pavements can sometimes be uneven, have high edges etc, and make it more of a hell to drag a trolley behind you. And in very crowded areas, as can appear in parts of Istanbul, I would find it easier to carry bags, not having to worry about the trolley’s wheel to run over someone’s foot. But to save my shoulders, arms and hands from aching, I would prefer a trolley.

    • Olga Tikhonova Irez February 8, 2013, 1:05 am

      Hi Memi. I did my masters at NHH (business school) in Norway. And I go for saving my shoulders, definitely)


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