Istanbul’s Ecological Bazaars

From the Grand Bazaar to the neighborhood bazaar, Istanbul is a city of bazaars. What’s surprising to many newcomers, however, is that bazaars in Turkey are not just places selling water pipes, carpets and colorful glass lights in winding back streets. Bazaars are, more often than not, places where Turks go to buy their produce and daily wares. And in recent years, bazaars have grown to include a number of “ecological” bazaars that sell exclusively organic products.

If you are the kind of person who prefers to buy your produce fresh from farmers’ markets, then you’ll be in heaven in Istanbul with their hundreds of neighborhood bazaars. And if you’re an organic buff who hates buying overpriced plastic-wrapped organic produce from supermarket chains, then you’ll be head over heels with Istanbul’s seven organic farmers’ markets, where villagers skip the middlemen and sell their certified organic produce directly from their fields at prices that are a fraction of those in supermarket chains.

Turkey’s first official organic market opened for business in 2006 and since then, the Feriköy Ecological Bazaar has grown to become an institution for those subscribing to the organic lifestyle movement. Founded by the Buğday Association for Ecological Living, which began as a small natural foods stall in a market in the Aegean coastal town of Bodrum, the organization has spawned a mushrooming industry around the country.

Since then, organic bazaars have multiplied throughout Turkey, and Buğday has grown to become a pioneer for the ecological products sector. They have founded not only Turkey’s first certified organic bazaar, but have also spearheaded an “organic farming tourism” sector, an “organic” certification body and an organic auditing company that inspects bazaar stalls around the country which purport to sell organic products.

While all organic bazaars have a particular charm distinct from regular bazaars (which themselves are much more charming than shopping at the local supermarket), the Feriköy Bazaar – the first established “organic bazaar” in Turkey – has a particularly special charm.

Located in a parking lot across from what used to be an old beer brewery and which is now a concert venue in the Feriköy neighborhood of Şişli, the bazaar attracts a particularly eclectic crowd from one of Istanbul’s most diverse neighborhoods.

What the bazaar lacks in aesthetic beauty (it’s in a parking lot) is more than made up for by the wonderfully colorful people at the market and the sense of community that blossoms there. Ecological bazaar goers in Turkey are much more closely knit than venders and customers at regular bazaars. And because Buğday encourages producers directly from villages to set up their own stalls, a true sense of community permeates the air as village kids kick footballs around with neighborhood kids and chase each other on tricycles while their parents chat about new recipes for preparing artichoke or aubergine.

The Feriköy Bazaar also attracts the “society” of Istanbul: Celebrities and hipsters from Bebek and Cihangir wander around the bazaar’s 60-plus stalls while high-end customers from Ulus, Levent, and Etiler buy beauty products made from organic olive oil and avocado extracts. What could perhaps be perceived as pretentiousness is permeated by the giggles and screams of children kicking cardboard boxes around the cement floors.

Venders at the bazaar sell an array of products from olive oils to soaps and from baked goods to clothing, all made with natural ingredients. Regulars to the bazaar report that they often have venders prepare baked goods especially to their liking such as organic apple pie with reduced sugar.

Buğday also has its own stall at the Feriköy Bazaar where it provides information on its activities as well as the state of the organic sector in Turkey. The organization also operates stalls and provides information on other institutions that it is involved with. These include the TaTuTa Foundation, a non-profit established by Buğday to help facilitate Eco-Agro tourism and volunteer work on organic farms around the country, the 100% Ekolojik Pazarları (100% Ecological Bazaars), which operates a number of bazaars around the country and promotes organic agriculture, Ecological Living (Çamtepe Rural Center for Ecological Education and Research), Agro-Biodiversity (Seed Exchange Network), and Urban Agriculture.

Turkey is one of the world’s leading agricultural producers and the diversity in Turkey’s produce is immense. That can mean knowing what to do with “exotic” produce such as the obscure turp otu (wild turnip) or kantaron (Saint John’s Wort) is not necessarily self-evident. Nor is it necessarily obvious how to maximize the health benefits of semizotu (purslane), which Dr. Oz claims to be one of the best age reversers on the planet. Luckily for you, the villagers are happy to include their grandmother’s secret recipes when selling their produce.

UAA staff living on the Asian side who prefer not to make the cross-continental journey to bazaars like the one in Feriköy on the European side of the city have two organic markets to choose between:

The Kadıköy Belediyesi Organik Halk Pazari, open Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Kartal Organic Market open Sundays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For those living on the European side, or for those who don’t mind making the intercontinental trip, Istanbul’s European side offers five organic markets per week:

Feriköy Organik Pazarı, open Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bakırköy 100% Ekolojik Pazar, open Fridays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m

Beylikdüzü, open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Küçükçekmece open Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Zeytinburnu Organik Halk Pazarı open Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.