Istanbul in 24 hours: Spice Market and Best Breakfast Ever

24-hours-in-istanbul-spice-market

Berna and I wake up in the morning after 4 hours of sleep with the same exact thought: we cannot have breakfast right now! Last night while having meze after meze at dinner we made a perfect plan: wake up, walk to a nearby café for breakfast, take a taxi to local market to get some Turkish delight, baklava and coffee, then take a bus to the airport. We didn’t think it through: our dinner was finished at 2 am and the amount of food the two of us had was actually enough for four.

Morning brings a change of plans: market before breakfast and we are going to walk there. This way we will burn at least some calories plus, hopefully, in a couple of hours we will be able to look at food and maybe even eat it.

Streets of Istanbul

A walk to the market takes no more than 30 minutes. The city is still sleepy with very few people outside.

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There are plenty of cats, though, looking very proud, full of themselves and very much like they don’t give a damn. Some are having breakfast.

Istanbul cats

Some are enjoying morning sunbathe.

Cats of Istanbul

Some are just lying in the middle of the road because why not?

Istanbul street cats

We stop before crossing Galata Bridge to take the first and only selfie in 24 hours…

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Then we cross the bridge and find ourselves at the famous Istanbul Spice Market – Misir Carsisi.

spice market Istanbul

Brace yourself and do not read further if you are hungry. So much food it hurts my eyes! The fact that I only have 20 kg limit in my luggage is the only thing that stops me from buying a little something from every single shop. Vendors don’t make my life easier. They talk to me all at once, mostly in little Russian they know. I continue wondering what is it that gives me away. Once I pass for a German, but 9 out of 10 vendors guess my origins correctly.

The famous food market in Istanbul

The minute you stop by a stall for a second your hands quickly fill up with samples of cheese, sweets, and nuts. The plan to work up an appetite failed: the amount of samples we tried can make a pretty decent breakfast. 

Misir Carsisi spice market

The most colorful part of the market consists of shops selling Turkish delight in all possible colors and shapes. Turkish delight, or rahat lokum, is made of starch and sugar gel that binds together chopped nuts like pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts. 

Turkish spice market

Some are cut into cubes. Some are shaped like Japanese rolls.

Turkish delight at the spice market Istanbul

But something I haven’t seen before is Turkish delight doner as I called it – no idea what the official name is, but it reminds me of those huge chunks of meat on a pole used to make kebabs. Only this is sweet.

Istanbul spice market

Turkish delight varieies

Then there’s cheese, all kinds of it: soft cheese, and semi soft cheese, and string cheese.

Spice market of Istanbul

Cheese is called peynir in Turkish, so you will see this word a lot.

Turkish Peynir

Nuts and dried fruits…

where to shop in Istanbul

Best Istanbul market

Nuts at Istanbul Spice market

Spice market in Istanbul Turkey

A dozen varieties of olives…

Olives at the spice market Istanbul

Grape leaves which are used for stuffing. 

Grape leaves at Istanbul spice market

Each leave is filled with a mixture of rice, currants, pine nuts, dried mint, onion and rolled up. Stuffed leaves are boiled in a pot of water mixed with lots of olive oil until water fully vaporizes. Usually when your mom or grandma makes it at home they would also add some minced beef, then it will be served as a main dish with a side of curd. But stuffed grape leaves can also be served cold as an appetizer to go with drinks – in that case beef is usually omitted. 

There’s tomato paste which I absolutely had to try because there’s nothing like it according to Berna. On the picture below it is covered with plastic wrap.

Tomato paste at the spice market Istanbul

I chose sun dried tomatoes paste and spicy tomato paste which was successfully utilized for one typical Russian dish I made at home. I can swear you will feel the difference. Regular tomato paste and Turkish one are not even comparable. Comparing the taste of the two is like comparing knowledge of a kinder gardener and a Harvard student.

Where to buy spices in Istanbul

There’s a small coffee shop Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi – and I mean a shop making and selling coffee grounds, not a place to have a cup of joe – that I remember from my last trip to Istanbul.

Turkish coffee at spice market Istanbul

You can see how it’s made and packaged through the window, although I should say it’s not as easy as it sounds. There’s always a long queue to this shop but it moves so fast that while the cashier served 6 people in front of me I hardly had enough time to take the wallet out of my purse, let alone take some pictures.

kurukahveci Mehmet efendi Istanbul

kurukahveci Mehmet efendi

Since I got some Turkish coffee I need a jazwa now to brew my coffee the right way. Jazwa is a Turkish coffee pot that can be made of copper and look very pretty, or it can be made of stainless steel and look just normal. I, of course, set my eyes on a copper one, already imagining how I will take some gorgeous Instagram-worthy pictures with my new beautiful jazwa.

Turkish jazwa

But Berna said that copper darkens quickly and requires regular cleaning. Plus stainless steel will serve longer. So no way will she let me get a copper one. If Berna says stainless steel, stainless steel it is. In the same part of the market you can find traditional Turkish tea cups.

Markets of istanbul

Food market in Istanbul

Dishes painted with traditional Turkish patterns.

Turkish spice market in Istanbul

We finish up exploring the market at the shop selling baklava. I haven’t tried many Turkish sweets, just the most famous – Turkish delight and baklava – but between the two baklava is way ahead! By the way, baklava shop is the only place where you don’t get samples for free, you can buy a piece and try it.

The famous spice market of Istanbul

We do try it and while I am rolling my eyes, chewing loudly, oohing and aahing – as much as I can with my mouth full of sweet syrup and nuts – Berna says that’s not it! She can’t let me leave Istanbul with this baklava. But she knows where we will get the best one.

Baklava at the spice market Istanbul

As fast as we tried to make decisions it took us 2 hours to cover the market. Now we have to grab a taxi in order to get to the café for breakfast and buy baklava on the way.

Istanbul streets

Istanbul views

The taxi driver knows perfectly well the name of the shop, apparently everyone in Istanbul knows that Karaköy Güllüoğlu is the place to get baklava.

Gulluoglu baklava shop

We have just enough time to jump out of the car, run into the shop, fill one box with enough sugary goodness to be considered a dangerous weapon against people with diabetes, then jump back into the car screaming “go, go, go!” in the best traditions of Hollywood action movies.

Gulluoglu baklava at Karakoy

Gulluoglu baklava at Karakoy Istanbul

I tried the sweets after coming home to Russia, and yes, it was that good and totally worth the extra effort.

Now to the most anticipated part of my 24-hour stay in Istanbul – breakfast! The reason it was so important to me is that on my first trip to Istanbul I had the best breakfast of my life. I still remember every single dish and the way each of them made me feel. Not before, no after have I had anything quite as good. So this breakfast had a lot to live up to.

Van Kahvalti Evi

Van Kahvalti Evi is a cute spacious café with an outside patio serving traditional breakfast of a little Turkish town called Van. Two things I love about Turkish breakfast: bottomless tea and so many plates on the table you can’t really see the table itself. Tea is served right away when we sit down and replaced throughout breakfast. They don’t pour more tea into your cup (the way coffee is refilled in American diners) but instead your empty cup is replaced with a new cup of hot tea.

Breakfast in Turkey

As for the many plates, all you need to say is “breakfast” and they start to appear before you. First comes bread. As in case with meze we had for dinner last night, pretty much everything on the little plates goes with bread. Two types of olives, acili ezme or tomato paste, curd mixed with herbs, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Though, I am too smart to fill up precious space in my belly with vegetables when there’s a whole table full of cheese, olives, and all kind of dips.

Traditional Turkish breakfast

Fried eggs is the only thing we have ordered separately, all the other plates come with your breakfast order.

Breakfast in Istanbul

There’s a plate with 4 different types of cheese.

Breakfast turkish style

There’s a Van specialty called murtaga (on the right side of the plate) made of eggs cooked on a pan with flour and butter. You can have it with honey or jam on top.

Murtaga at Turkish breakfast

For dessert there are several sweet plates with melted Nutella, jam and the best of the best: kaymak with honey! All jokes aside, this is one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.

Kaymak at Turkish breakfast

Kaymak is a thin top layer you get when you boil milk. These layers are placed on top of each other making a creamy melt-in-your-mouth goodness that is eaten with bread and honey on top. Honey here has particles of ground up honeycomb. In one word it is heaven.

Traditional Van breakfast

When late breakfast comes to an end it’s time to grab our bags from the apartment and head to the airport. I have two more flights to catch before I arrive home. My one day in Istanbul feels like a quick date with a lover. Last minute call, uncomfortable timing, just a few hours to spend together, but I wouldn’t change it for the world so enjoyable it was.

Mısır Çarşısı Spice Market

Address: Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey

Hours: Mon – Sun: 8 am – 7.30 pm

Karaköy Güllüoğlu

Address: Mumhane Cad. No:171, Beyoğlu/Istanbul, Turkey

Hours: Mon – Fri: 7 am – 11 pm, Sat – Sun: 8 am – 11.30 pm

Van Kahvaltı Evi

Address: Kılıçali paşa mah, Defretdar yokuşu 52/A, Istanbul, Turkey

Hours: Mon – Sun: 8 am – 5 pm

AUTHOR: YULIA DYUKOVA
Yulia is a Russian food and travel blogger who found home first in Sri Lanka for 3 years, then in Brazil for a year and is currently based in Austin, Texas. She is the kind of person who starts a research of the new country by googling “what to eat in…” instead of “what to visit in…” Yulia is a self-proclaimed “food nerd” who will spend hours reading on the origins of pecan pie before trying it and who doesn’t consider waiting in line of 50 people to get a cronut a waste of time. She finds it hard to keep her delicious findings to herself and that is the reason why this blog exists.

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