Although very few locals seem to ever shop at the Spice Bazaar, I thought that going to the bazaar was one of the most fun things that we did in Istanbul, largely because the salespeople can be extraordinarily entertaining.
To be clear, you’re almost assuredly not going to get a deal on buying anything at this bazaar. In fact, for a lot of the things they sell in the building, I saw the exact same things at half the price if you only ventured right outside of the bazaar (and not into the Grand Bazaar either, just out into the side streets). So know that you’re paying for the experience and not just the goods. (Hint: Turkish “saffron” isn’t actual saffron; it’s safflower, which is why it’s so cheap)
As we walked through the bazaar, we were offered free samples of Turkish delight and I was bombarded with misguided “konnichiwas” (I am Asian, after all, and all Asians look the same). Numerous salespeople came up saying things ranging from the innocent, “Come inside just for a little bit; you don’t need to buy anything”; to the playful, “Try our Turkish Delight; no sugar”; to the blunt, “How can I separate you from your money today?”; to the wonderfully cheesy, “You dropped something… my heart”.
Eventually, one salesperson was smart enough to offer a sample of something that was a bit different and not as sweet. We all thought it was delicious, so this salesperson, Ibrahim, offered my friend his arm and we went into the stall. From that point forward, the show was on. Ibrahim plied us with sample after sample, flirted unabashedly with my female friends (and even a little with me), joked around, and generally entertained us for over half an hour in the stall.
Part of what I found remarkable about the experience was that the salesman later said that he had only learned English from working at the bazaar. He was incredibly personable and quite funny, which is hard enough to do in your native language, let alone a language that you pick up from working on a job, and he wasn’t using any of the cheesy recycled lines that were shouted out by the other salespeople. I wonder whether he would thrive in a corporate sales environment, as he definitely has the tourist one down to a T.
We did end up buying some things from Ibrahim when all was said and done, and they were probably about twice the price as we could have gotten elsewhere. But the end total wasn’t all that much (less than $20 USD), and we were thoroughly entertained for half an hour and will keep this memory for a long time, so I definitely think it was an efficient use of money.
We actually liked him so much that my friends and I made Ibrahim a card, and we returned to the Spice Bazaar the next day to give it to him. On this return visit, he made us tea, we sat down in his stall, and we talked about what it’s like to work in the bazaar, his thoughts on the recent protests, fasting during Ramadan, and his love of photography. Overall, it was a rewarding experience and I’ll definitely seek him out whenever I return to Istanbul.
If you’re curious and want to meet Ibrahim yourself, he’s located at stall number 46 in the baza. In fact, if you’re planning on going to the Spice Bazaar when you’re in Istanbul, I highly recommend that you seek him out and talk to him and at the very least ask him to show you his photo collection.