One of the most common topics when discussing Turkey is of course, food. Most everyone I know who has visited or lived in Turkey, always highlight how the food is so good. As a New Yorker for the past 6 years, I’ve had the world at my doorstep, trying cuisines from all over the globe. As a city boy, you learned the “cheap eats” as well as the higher priced reputable establishments, tasting the highs and lows of diverse cuisines.
Growing up in a Greek restaurant, under the tutelage of my Greek immigrant parents, one whose ancestral lines trace back to Izmir, ingrained a strong connection with food. My mother is an expert in cooking and creating some of the most amazing Aegean cuisine, from imam bayildi to mousaka, from pastitsio to ekmek kadayifi. Thus, when I’m in the Aegean, it becomes a culinary playground, and the food bazaars are no exception. But rather than talk about all the amazing cuisines, I will highlight the basics; fresh food.
The one thing I noticed first was the freshness of the food. In my neighborhood of Izmir, a food bazaar opens up twice a week, where all the local farmers and distributors. When you enter, the vastness of the market looks endless, filled with shoppers getting their fill of the week. If you’ve never had this experience, well, buckle your safety belt. It’s a crazy ride…
Men shouting from the depths of their gut, shout out “buyurun” 10 times back to back without a breathe in between. The markets are filled with all sorts of fruits and vegetables, which many times, look different from the steroid-filled foods we eat in the US. Strawberries are small, bright red pieces of heaven, that melt in your hand when you touch them. Bananas are small, dull yellow in color, but are filled with incredible flavor. Potatoes, fresh from the local farms of Odemis, are great for making French fries (çips), or roasting with meats. The variety of eggs maybe the most amazing (at least for me). There is always an array of different eggs, including “çift yumurta ikizi”, which are double-yoked eggs. How this is done or figured out is beyond me, but they are amazing. The yokes are dark yellow, sometimes orange, which is always the sign of a healthy egg.
Carrots, beats, celery roots, tomatoes, cucumbers; all the foods that make the body healthy are at your feet. Now, the second point to make is how affordable the food is. A bag of tomatoes, mandarins, oranges, can most likely run you between 2-3 lira, equivalent to $1-$2. Currently back in New York, I see the same foods run about $5-$6, with stickers starting with the number #4. (When looking at stickers on fruits and vegetables, the #4 means that the food was grown “conventionally”, most likely with pesticides and chemicals. If the number starts with a #9, then it’s certified organic). Understanding that the foods at the bazaars are all local, smelling and tasting quite different from the #4 options we commonly buy in the states, one can’t help but feel a bit better.
Recently, the big craze in Izmir is juicing. Whether in the new outlet malls or old-fashioned bazaars, the juicers are on display, marketed as the next technological advancement in health. As someone who does normally juice, I can only dream of how good it must be with the local harvests.
If you’re visiting Turkey, or living as an expat, I strongly advise you to indulge in the natural foods of Turkey. They are delicious, plentiful, affordable, and most importantly, healthy. Traveling through the local bazaars, you have a unique cultural experience all at the same time!