One of my most favorite activities is going to the local markets where ever I am, and discovering new ingredients, or different varieties of the food stuff that I love and use often. Every culture has a different relationship with food. When you are somewhere completely new, it is a kind of a shortcut in education in the local culture.
In Turkey, we shop the local green market whenever possible, whereas in the U.S. green markets are just becoming more common because convenience has been a more important aspect of home cooking in the recent past. A national debate about eating a healthier diet, obesity, environmental sensibilities and even food as a new trend, among other reasons, have brought the importance of green markets, food co-ops, and locally grown organic food in the center of the discussion. Now, “organic food” is a new thing here in Turkey and not much regulated and has a long way to go to be properly established. There are a lot of so-called organic products in the market, and in my opinion, the “organic” label is mostly used as a marketing gimmick.
When I was growing up, we just shopped the green market every week for fruit and veggies (and a plethora of other things from clothing to small appliances but that’s another post), and but the rest of the stuff we shopped the neighborhood market. Today, we have many options for supermarkets, but I think we still shop at the green market for our fresh veggies and fruits whenever possible. The quality is almost always better, and my goodness, is it a feast for the eyes… The colors are the most vibrant, stand after stand, street after street. If you can understand the language, it is also pretty amusing to hear the pazar vendors’ chatter, call for customers, or how they tease their fellow vendors.
If you happen to be hungry, no worries, you can have lunch right there sitting at one of the small outdoor cafes that’s setup for the day and get a gozleme, handmade flatbread stuffed with feta and parsley, or a variety of other ingredients and cooked on a hot griddle with a hot cup of tea, which you may also finish with a lokma, fried sweet dough in syrup. In most cases you can get help carrying your bags by hiring a hamal, a porter who will walk back home with you for a small fee and carry all the goodness you got. It is a completely natural and organic experience that one appreciates after many years shopping at the supermarket. Don’t get me wrong, I was super fortunate to live close to a small green market (compared to Istanbul markets) many years in NYC, namely Union Square Market, and a Whole Foods Market in my neighborhood, so I don’t want to give you any impression that I was not able to find wonderful fresh food before, but I guess I am still delighted by the fact that what I was used to when I was growing up still exists and plays an important role in the Turkish daily life as well as our diet.