Istanbul, known as Byzantium and Constantinople in history, has been a major center of trade, a place where merchants and general folk would rush regularly in search of new, oriental and exotic things.
In our days, the online shopping is possible for most of the products with express shipping but, modern travelers to Istanbul are also bound to enjoy a truly magnificent shopping experience. The sheer number of shops, bazaars, goods and insistent shopkeepers here is, indeed, overwhelming. To focus your search and make your shopping experience in Istanbul memorable in a good sense, check out the list of suggested gift items reflecting the true spirit of Turkey and learn where to find them at the best possible prices.
1. Ottoman Jewelry
Local jewelry, inspired by authentic Ottoman pieces, can make a truly unique gift. The recent Turkish TV series, “Muhtesem Yuzyil (Magnificent Century) and “Diriliş Ertuğrul (Resurrection of Ertugrul)”, has reinforced the locals’ desire for Ottoman-style jewelry. Turkish jewelry is available at the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, but the best place for Ottoman jewelry is Eller Sanat Galerisi in Postacilar Sokak, just off Istiklal Caddesi, next to the Dutch Consulate (İstiklal Cad. Postacılar Sok. No: 4/A Tünel. Phone: 212 249 2364).
They are experts in all eras of Anatolian jewelry and their premises very much resemble a museum. They also run workshops on traditional jewelry-making.
All the pieces on sale are made on the premises and the prices start at $10 for simpler items upwards, according to the metals and stones used. The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 8pm, and Sundays from 2pm to 8pm, although the hours can be flexible and the opening times sometimes delayed.
If you are visiting the south-eastern side of Turkey. Mardin and Midyat is the place that you should check for “Telkari Art”
2. Backgammon Set
In almost every corner in Turkey you can see people are playing tavla, or backgammon. If you lose the game, tradition dictates that you must take your board home with you, tucked under your arm, so that everyone could see that you’ve lost and are now heading home for more practice. That may be one way to obtain a tavla set, but a more recommendable way to get it is buying.
The Grand Bazaar has a number of stalls selling handcrafted sets that combine mother of pearl and various woods in exquisite mosaics. Travel-size sets start at $10, full-size – $50. Besides those plastic sets you can find unique boards in Turkey which are handmade. Those are very special and the production may take some months.
The Grand Bazaar is located near Sultanahmet at the Beyazit tram station. This is one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. It is open Monday – Saturday from 9am to 7pm, and closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
3. Turkish Coffee & Coffee Set
Turkish coffee has a special place for every coffee lovers. It is served in unique cups and saucers that are often gold rimmed. Beautifully decorated cups and saucers are served on a silver tray as a sign of good hospitality in Turkish homes. Turkish coffee cups can be ceramic or copper.
When buying a coffee set, it is important to ask if it can be used to drink from or if it is just for decoration. Many people sell decorative sets that may contain paints or metal alloys not approved for foodware. If you want a decorative set, handmade from copper with hand-painted detailing, go to Pasabahce on Istiklal Caddesi. Those sets will go for around $80.
However, if you are looking for a practical set to use at home, it is best to buy it in a Turkish grocery store, such as Migros. There you can get a lovely set for around $10.
Migros is a high-end grocery chain with more than 1000 stores in Turkey. No need to write an address for any of them. You will see one everyday. They are open 7 days a week from 10am to 10pm.
4. Turkish Candies
Everyone is familiar with Turkish Delight, known as Lokum in Turkish. There are many varieties of Turkish delight available out there, but the key advantage of getting it in Turkey is that you can sample all the different kinds from behind the counter, thus finding the flavors you enjoy most. When mixing and matching from behind the counter, prices can range from $5/kg for rose-flavored Turkish Delight, to $50/kg for the more elaborate ones with various nuts.
Afyon Turkish Delight, 15.16oz – 430g€13.34
Traditional Turkish Delight in Metal Box, 19.04oz – 540g (İstanbul)Product on sale
Fruit Feast (Bird Delight), 11oz – 313g€4.44
Pomegranate Wick Turkish Delight, 8.81oz – 250g€6.22
Atom Special, 15.87oz – 450gProduct on sale
Traditional Turkish Delight in Metal Box Turkish Delight, 19.04oz – 540g€17.79
Pismaniye, a very popular Turkish sweet largely unknown outside Turkey, is like Turkish cotton candy. Boxed sets of Lokum or Pismaniye range in price between $3 and $10.
The places to buy a variety of Turkish sweets are located in in Istiklal Caddesi. Koska, Tugba, Hafiz Mustafa and Hazer Baba are good brands. They are usually open 7 days a week from 9am to 11pm.
The most delicious dessert, Baklava, was first made by the Assyrians at the beginning of the 8th century, sprinkled with chopped hazelnuts between unleavened bread, honey was added and cooked in primitive ovens in wood-burning ovens. Greeks, and Arabs claim that baklava was first found by themselves. On 8 August 2013, the European Commission registered that baklava is a Turkish dessert. The registration shows the difference of Turkish Baklava and it’s the most delicious and healthy type.
It is known that Turkish baklava Dessert dough is opened very thin and skilled chefs who can do this are preferred in palaces and mansions. The skill of the cook can be understood from the cutting of the dough. The cut doughs should be very thin, full-sized and cover the inside of the tray when opened. The cook of the master who can do this is accepted. The cook was asked to fit at least a hundred layers of dough into a tray. At that time, it was a measure of reputation to have a master who could open such thin dough. Before the dough tray was put in the oven, it was brought in front of the host, who would leave a Hamid gold half a meter above the tray. If the gold dough was pierced and touched the bottom of the tray, the cook was considered successful, and the gold cook in the tray was given a tip. If the gold remained between the layers of dough, the host would be embarrassed.
Turkish Baklava opened a new era in Ottoman cuisine. Regardless of the ethnic origin of the baklava, it took on the current shape with the contribution of Ottoman cuisine.
Today, Turkish baklava is produced in dozens of different shapes and tastes and is consumed with pleasure.
Gulluoglu, Hacibaba, Hafiz Mustafa, Mado and Yılmaz Kadayif are very famous and making the best kinds of Baklava.
5. Hand-Made Soap
Locally made natural health and beauty products are currently on the rise in Turkey. Handmade olive oil soaps are part of this trend and represent the centuries old tradition stemming from hamams. Whilst in Istanbul, make sure to experience Turkish Hammam.
Local soap makers combine high quality olive oil with other botanical extracts to create beautiful bars of soap for various skin types.
A good place to buy these would be the Egyptian Spice Market (Mısır Çarşisi), located in Eminönü across from the Galata Bridge. It is open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 7:30pm and Sundays from 9:30am to 7pm.