Olfactory journey through Istanbul
Istanbul smells divine, and why wouldn’t it? Lodged between two continents it is the breeding ground for some wonderful sights but also some fantastic and unique scents.
From the smell of warm greasy Donner meat dripping down the vendors knife to the smell of Turkish tea and jelly rose sweets, Istanbul has everything but that are some wonderful things that our little hidden gems that I’d recommend everybody experiences. In this short piece I’m going to tell you about only a few of the possibilities of what Istanbul has to offer and I hope to one day in the ear future tell you about more.
Fresh juice stands
Start the day by finding a little old man or woman, that sell some of the best fruit juices I’ve ever tasted to this day. We found a lot of these vendors around the more touristy areas of the old part of the town, but always tucked away down an alley or propped up in-between two restaurants or shops. These juices are super fresh using perfectly ripe fruit, my choice was always a mix of pomegranate, orange and pink grapefruit. The smells of all the fresh fruit being mashed up in a machine that has probably never been washed is just divine and the zestiness will most definitely get you going in the morning.
Next and something that you definitely should not miss on any trip to turkey no matter your budget is a trip to the Hagia Sophia, having studied a little history of art in Portugal this was a very exciting time yet quite oddly emotional too. The Hagia Sophia was a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica (a church) and was later converted into an Ottoman mosque so you can only imagine the history that is here and understandably is now a museum.
The architecture here is outstanding, mostly because of its massive dome, it is said that it is considered to be the epitome of Byzanthine architecture and it is also said that “it has changed the history of architecture” and up until the 1520s it was the worlds largest Cathedral which is now the Seville Cathedral in Andalusia Spain.
Luckily you can still see the blend of both eastern and western cultures here, which is a stark contrast in itself but yet somehow manages to balance itself out. Definitely 100% everybody has to visit the Hagia Sophia soon as unfortunately it does not look like it’s being cared for and who knows how much longer it will last, which it is such a huge shame as its amazing.
Sultanahmet (blue mosque)
Also across the way from the Hagia Sophia is another amazing structure that you most definitely go see, the Sultanahmet (blue mosque) with its six minarets and beautiful blue tile work ornamenting its interior walls. As a tourist make sure you are aware of the etiquette and rules of entering such a holy place. Around Istanbul there are many informative signs at the entrances to the mosques so just please take the time to abide by these simple things.
The Spice Bazaar
Getting back to the smelliest things of Istanbul you can already imagine the wonderful surprises you’ll find at one of many of Istanbul’s markets. From tailored cotton robes to cheap metal crockery Istanbul has it all.
The colorful mountains of different herbs, spices and unique teas can be and is daunting but get stuck in, don’t be put off by the pushy vendors who drive a hard bargain dive straight in nose first and indulgent your senses in the glorious aromas. Cinnamon, Star anise, Black pepper, green pepper, poppy seeds, turmeric, curry powders, Cayenne pepper, Apple tea, Pomegranate tea, black tea, white tea, fresh chilies, dried chili powder, you name it and they’ll have it. Not to mention the varieties of Turkish delight on offer, I’d recommend trying some of the real Turkish delight sweetened with honey and big chunks of pistachios not like the sickly sweet mass-produced ones most of us are more accustomed to eating.
All the spices and teas are sold by weight and try and pick a vendor you like don’t let anyone pressure you into buying something , you should buy the majority from them and make sure you bargain with him or her and use this as a bargaining tool. Some stalls are able to put your spices in vacuum storage bags which is really handy if you’re traveling a lot more after your time in Istanbul, but it’s not the end of the world if your clothes smell like apple and pomegranate tea.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar has 5,000 shops, is one of the largest covered markets in the world. Once a vibrant hub of international and local trade, recent decades have seen this labyrinth of glittering delights win the hearts, minds and wallets of wide-eyed tourists in search of the ultimate oriental shopping experience. With angry sellers boosting exquisite textiles, pottery, spices, jewellery, lanterns and souvenirs, bartering is an absolute must. Unfortunately closed on a Sunday.
Off Course there are so many hidden fragrant shops hidden down back alleys in Istanbul and yes I’d love to tell you where they are but I unfortunately can not for my life remember how to get there. When you do find them though and you will, expect to encounter all the mainstream brand knockoffs mixed with a wonderful choice of unique scents ouds, attars, and oil blends.
Turkey is known to have some of the best rose oil , the Damascus rose but unfortunately this was one of the only things we could not find in among the rarities in Istanbul. There’s lots of “Turkish rose oil” for sale but unfortunately not the quality you’d hope for.
However I was given this beautiful smelly rock as a generous gift, which the vendor told me was Amber as he was extremely surprised to see a Caucasian male (I’m super pale) have an interest in eastern fragrant essences.
Istanbul is an amazing place and even if you don’t do all the touristic things there are on offer you’ll have an amazing experience.
Try some of the best breads and sweet cakes, visit the mosques be aware of the etiquette of being in a holy place, drink all the tea possible, sit with the locals, eat a kebab (not as good as Berlin) watch the men fishing of the side of the bridges and don’t be surprised by the amount of plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures people in the newer part of town have had.