Shopping at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar 101

Spice stand at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Spice stand at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

There are many bazaars and market places to explore in Istanbul. One of the most popular and well known is the Spice Bazaar. While many markets have a shop or two selling spices, there is a certain magic that the Spice Bazaar possesses. Also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, since it initially was economically sustained by the fees placed on Egyptian goods, it was built in 1660 as part of the New Mosque complex. Around the time of its establishment, the market was conveniently situated at the end of many trade routes. In addition to spices (which were the main commodity) it sold various goods and rarities from across the globe. Today, the bazaar is geared towards tourists, but it never fails to be a crowd pleaser. It is certainly nothing like buying a container of spices at the grocery store. As those who have been inside and shopped at the Spice House know, buying your spices fresh from specialists is an experience not to be missed! For those who have not been to the Spice Bazaar, and or have not yet visited one of our Spice House locations here is what you need to know to shop like a pro.

Tip 1: Who goes to the Spice Bazaar?

Tourists make up the vast majority of the patrons as many flock to find gifts for friends and family. However, you will see Istanbul locals passing through and carrying on with their routine including men with trays swiftly maneuvering through the crowds to deliver teas and coffees. You will see the bargaining that goes on between merchants and you will observe some of the cleverest methods to lure people into shops.

Tip 2: What can you find at the Spice Bazaar?

The market offers a lot of desired treats and gifts. You can find nuts and dried fruit, sweet confections (especially Turkish delight) and various souvenirs around every turn. However, the herbs and spices are the real show stealers. There is nothing quite like being surrounded by clusters of stands and displays of jewel colored spices and their enticing aromas. The spice merchants make sure the mounds of their products, usually arranged neatly into pyramids, are in easy view of shoppers.

Tip 3: What spices are sold?

As a spice market, almost any pure herbs and spices you can name are sold. Naturally, those that are considered “classic” to Turkish cuisine such as cumin, sumac, cinnamon/cassia and dried oregano are readily available. Numerous varieties of chile flakes can be found (the difference between them can become very confusing, especially since the same chile may be labeled by a different name from store to store). They are crucial to Turkish cuisine, and finding a good chile pepper is worth the search and tastings. Some of the names will be unfamiliar to an American, but the product will generally be recognizable. For example, the spice labeled as “Indian saffron” or curcuma is none other than our good friend turmeric.

The market is also known for its blends, sometimes referred to as “Ottoman spices” due to their attempt at replicating “Ottoman recipes”. While locals prefer to make their own mixes, the market’s blends are popular amongst tourists because they are flavorful and user friendly. They are typically named for specific uses such as “Ottoman chicken spice”, salad spice or soup spice. Each vendor will most likely have a blend for kofte (Turkish meat balls) which commonly have cumin (a classic spice for kofte). You might be surprised by the more “foreign” blends offered including “Indian curry” (frequently a turmeric based mix) and Ras El Hanout (a North African blend). It just goes to show how various influences continue to develop within Turkish cuisine.

Dried fruit stand at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Dried fruit stand at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Tip 4: The shopping experience

Every spice shop has employees to assist customers throughout the entire process including sampling (which is highly encouraged), providing information (some stores are better with spice novices and tourists than others) and measuring out the product. Customers may also be offered tea while shopping, especially since most spice stores also sell tea. While friendly, customer service at the Spice Bazaar (and elsewhere in Istanbul) is typically very targeted and the sales pitch is hard.

Tip 5: Enjoy and take it all in…oh and make sure you get a sample of Turkish delight from one of the confectionary shops (no further details needed)!

In a Pretty Pickle

cornichonSo, my mother-in-law found my pickle stash.

I don’t know how it happened.

So, the only thing I can do is to make more pickles and hope there will be enough to get through the next nine months until cucumbers are back in season. My fingers are crossed that 100 jars will do it. That’s not crazy, is it? Rational people who live in smallish apartments do that sort of thing all the time, right?

The thing is it’d be a shame to throw away all that brine once the pickles get eaten. Reusing the brine for more pickles is fine for refrigerator pickles, but I can my pickles. Reusing brine to can is a dicier proposition because science. Besides, I don’t have the space to store it.

It doesn’t mean, however, that leftover canning brine can’t be used for something other than pickles. Like fried chicken. It’s not as weird as it sounds. We’ve all seen buttermilk fried chicken, where the chicken is marinated in buttermilk. The acidity in the buttermilk tenderizes the meat. There’s plenty of acid in vinegar, so…

Place 4 chicken breasts in a gallon Ziploc bag along with the brine from a quart jar (or 2 pint jars) of pickles. Remove as much air as possible and seal the bag. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours. When you’re ready to cook, remove from brine, and pat dry. Then prepare as you normally do.  Obviously, that’s going to include includes our Ozark Fried Chicken Seasoning, right?

Reverse Root Beer Floats


I needed an assistant. I needed someone who would handle the mundane grunt work. Someone to write recipe notes for me; to scrape vanilla beans for me; to do the dishes for me.

The hitch, though, is that I don’t have the money to pay a decent assistant. But, with a little perseverance on my part I found someone who was willing to work for Pop Rocks.


Granted, she needs to be in bed with the lights out by 8:00, but who am I to argue with the price?

This time of year the canister for our ice cream maker basically lives in the freezer. After every batch of ice cream or sorbet, it gets washed and put right back into the freezer so it’ll be ready for the next recipe. Recently, with an itch to make something frozen, and in the mood for something different I hunted down the root beer extract we had left over from a horribly failed attempt candy making venture.

Middle age, being the jerk that it is, has required that we look for alternatives to dairy in our house. While the original recipe (from America’s Test Kitchens The New Best Recipe) calls for whole milk and heavy cream, I used soy creamer and coconut cream in place of whole milk and heavy cream respectively. This recipe makes for a good base for most ice creams (just substitute another extract flavor), but works best with heavier flavors that can stand up to the coconut.

My newly hired assistant also expects a certain amount of entertainment and fun, so what we really needed was a vanilla soda so we could make Reverse Root Beer Floats.

We carry three different vanilla beans at the Spice House, but I settled on the Mexican beans. In contrast to the others, especially the Madagascar, I get earthier notes off the Mexican beans (think coffee and bitter chocolate), that I figured would work better with the root beer flavors.

Root Beer Ice Cream

  • 1 ½ cup coconut milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 ½ cup soy half and half (or whole milk)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tsp root beer extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste

Position a strainer over a medium bowl set in a larger bowl containing ice water. Heat the coconut milk, half and half and ½ cup of sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until steam appears and the milk is warm (about 175 degrees), about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a medium bowl until combined and pale yellow. Whisk half the warm mixture into the beaten yolks, ½ cup at a time, until combined. Whisk the milk-yolk mixture into the warm milk in the sauce pan; set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until steam appears, foam subsides and the mixture is slightly thickened or an instant read thermometer registers 180-185 degrees. (Do not boil or the eggs with curdle.) Immediately strain the custard into the bowl set in the ice bath, stirring occasionally to help it cool. Cover and refrigerate until and instant-read thermometer registers 40 degrees or lower, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Add root beer extract and vanilla paste and stir well. Pour the custard into the ice cream machine canister and churn, following the manufacturer’s instructions, until the mixture resembles soft-serve ice cream. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container, press plastic wrap flush against the surface, cover the container, and freeze the ice cream until firm, at least 2 hours.

Vanilla Bean Soda

Combine sugars, water in salt in a medium sauce pan. Split vanilla beans lengthwise with the tip of a paring knife. Using the back of the knife scrape the seeds from the pods and add them to the saucepan. Add the pods to the saucepan.


Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugars are dissolved. Let cool a bit and pour into an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.

Strain and discard pods.

To serve combine ½ oz. (2 tbsps) with 8 oz. (1 cup) chilled club soda. Add syrup slowly to avoid foaming. Stir well. Or, add 4 oz. (½ cup) syrup to 1 liter of chilled club soda. (Again, add syrup carefully to avoid foaming.)

My trusty assistant forgot about the Pop Rocks altogether. She was too bugging me to taste the ice cream.

Chile Peppers In Turkey

Chile peppers hold a very special place in Turkish cuisine. Varying in flavor and heat levels, they are frequently sprinkled onto dishes at the end of cooking and offered as condiments. Their hot red peppers, while providing heat do not by any means compare to Ghost Chiles on the Scoville scale (the chiles I discuss below do not even rival cayenne in heat). In Turkey, chiles are typically used in savory dishes, especially meat dishes; however, Turkish peppers are very versatile and compliment many dishes ranging from vegetables to soups. After Christopher Columbus discovered chile peppers in the New World (in a failed attempt to find westward routes to India for peppercorns) the use of chiles was adopted by cultures across the globe. Introduced to present day Turkey via Greece, Anatolia (the Asian side of Turkey) provided dry, warm and fertile soil that was very hospitable to chiles. Certain areas of Turkey such as Maras (pronounces Marash) and Urfa became known for their peppers. There are so many chile peppers (and different names by which they can be labeled) that it can be rather tricky to navigate your way through them. Below, I have attempted to scratch the surface by selecting three very specific chile peppers; the pul, maras and urfa peppers (or as they call peppers in Turkey biber); as well as generically reviewing paprika (which is complicated in its own way). These are popular chiles that are commonly found throughout Istanbul.

Pul Biber at a spice shop in the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Pul Biber at a spice shop in the Istanbul Spice Bazaar

Pul biber is a common red chile found in Istanbul spice shops. It is also called, and more commonly known in the US, as Aleppo pepper. This fruity chile offers a moderate heat level and has a beautiful red hue. This pepper has become increasingly popular within America. It has served me well as a reliable “go to” whenever a Turkish recipe calls for red pepper and I personally favor it over standard crushed red pepper.

Maras biber is another red chile pepper that is sometimes referred to as Turkish red pepper. Similar in flavor to pul biber and of a medium heat level, it is frequently used throughout Turkey. Many restaurants have small dishes of maras biber on the table alongside the salt and pepper. Many list it as a must for kebabs and kofte (Turkish meatballs).

Urfa biber flakes have a beautiful dark color (almost black) with purple hues. At some Istanbul spice shops, you may find it labeled as “black chile pepper”. While it is a red pepper, the dried Urfa chile develops its darker coloring during the drying process. Its flavor is mildly smoky, with raisin tones and its heat level is medium. While popular in savory dishes in Turkey, many are touting its use in desserts and sweet dishes, including pairing it with chocolate. I am very fond of Urfa pepper and particularly enjoy it on eggplant.

Hot paprika at a spice shop in Istanbul

Hot paprika at a spice shop in Istanbul

This might be a surprise to you, but paprika really is a chile pepper and it is popular in Turkish cuisine. Used when a sweeter and milder flavor is desired over red pepper flakes, paprika’s’ heat level and strength can vary between regions in Turkey. One fun tale, for all you romantics, about how paprika came to be in Hungary involves the Ottoman Empire. As the story goes, during the Ottoman domination of Hungary, a Turkish pasa (a Turkish man of prominence, pronounced pasha) fell for a beautiful Hungarian woman and moved her to his harem (forcing her to leave behind her Hungarian lover). This harem had a garden in which red peppers, used by the Turks as a spice, grew. The woman took seeds from these peppers and gave them to her lover who she met using a secret passage. Her lover planted the seeds which eventually spread all throughout Hungary.

It is impossible not to be exposed to chile peppers when eating Turkish dishes. A crucial element in Turkish food, it took root in Turkey’s cuisine as perfectly as it did in Turkey’s soil.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles

I have a confession to make: Last summer I went on a pretty hardcore bender. In the process I became a living Portlandia sketch. I pickled everything I could get my hands on. Working a couple of days a week at a farmers market meant I got my hands on plenty.

See, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested (okay, obsessed) with preservation and the surprising number of foods we still eat that came about simply to avoid spoilage and to have something to eat in February. Cured or smoked sausages, ham and bacon, jams, dried fruits and herbs all began as a way to avoid spoilage. So did duck confit. Beer and wine likely started as a means to lengthen the shelf life of barley and grapes. As did pickling.

Roughly defined, pickling involves using a liquid base that inhibits bacterial growth. Acid, salt brine and vegetable or olive oil all do the trick. My bender resulted in putting up far too many jars of pickled fruits and vegetables for a normal family of three to eat, and a kitchen that perpetually smelled like vinegar. (Although, between my pickles and the jam my wife made we would have been set if that brutal Midwestern winter dragged on any longer. So, it’s not all bad.)

The Spice House carries a great pickling spice blend that makes a great base for dill pickles, but I think my favorite style is the sweet bread and butter pickles. My mother-in-law agrees and did her part to move a few jars. She started asking politely a few months ago when I’d be making more. Now that cucumbers are showing up at the farmers markets, she’ll be relieved to know that I can start making them again.

After trying a few recipes I found online, I made one that was close to what I was looking for, but was a little heavy on the celery seed, so I pulled back on that. If memory serves, I also had to adjust out of necessity. I think I was short on white vinegar and/or white sugar and made up the difference with cider vinegar and/or brown sugar. The changes not only made a huge difference, but gave me the exact pickles I was tasting in my head.

I made a batch of these last week. Somehow, though, three jars went mysteriously missing. Curiously, my mother-in-law had been over to babysit.

Bread and Butter Pickles
(makes approximately 7 pint jars)

  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
  • ¾ cups brown sugar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 4-4 ½ pounds of cucumbers

Wash and sterilize 7 pint jars, lids and rings.

Slice cucumbers into rounds about ⅛ inch thick.


In a heavy sauce pan combine vinegars, sugars and salt over medium heat. Stir periodically until sugars and salts are dissolved.

To each sterilized pint jar add:


Pack each jar tightly with sliced cucumbers, leaving ½ inch head space.

Fill each jar with hot brine and cap. Wipe rims with a clean, damp towel. Place in refrigerator for at least two days to allow flavor to develop, but try to allow them to refrigerate for at least two weeks.

Alternately, instead of refrigerating, process the jars in a water bath and store in a cool, dark space where your mother-in-law can’t find them


The Intersection Between Turkish Spices And Culture

spice bazaar photo blog 1I fell in love with Turkish cuisine during my first visit several years ago to Turkey. Its emphasis on simplicity and skillful use of spices makes it a delight. Many adore the cuisine for these very reasons, and the coveted herbs and spices are popular commodities with tourists visiting Turkey. Locals and tourists crowd the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, which are filled with spice merchants and their shops trying to entice the crowds. When I first traveled to Istanbul, I was enamored by the spices’ bright colors and sumptuous aromas and flavors. I was hooked, and wanted to know more! Continue reading

Chorizo Hash Breakfast Skillet

Sunny side up eggs with chorizo hash, breakfast of champions.

Sunny side up eggs with chorizo hash, breakfast of champions.

We had long been receiving requests to develop a Spice House chorizo blend. Not long ago, after what seemed like ages of tedious research and development, we finally created a Mexican style chorizo blend that we can proudly put the Spice House seal of approval on. Our Chorizo Casero Mexican Sausage Seasoning recreates the popular mexican sausage that folks throughout Chicago know and love, all with that same Spice House quality we give all of our blends. As a transplant to Chicago, I had not been aware of this popular mexican staple until I sampled it at some local Mexican restaurants. Sadly, not all of our readers have had the pleasure of traveling to Chicago and dining at any of our city’s fantastic Mexican restaurants and taco joints. So I though it might be a good idea to explain a bit more about Mexican chorizo and how you can use our new blend to make some of your own at home. Continue reading

Healthy Dinner for Two, Kale and Soy Glazed Shiitake Sushi

The trendy superfood, Kale, served as a romantic Japanese inspired dinner for two.

The trendy superfood, Kale, served as a romantic Japanese inspired dinner for two.

I have long enjoyed a lesser-known kind of sushi called battera, it is rarely seen in the States, even at the most traditional of sushi restaurants.  This sushi is comprised of sushi rice, densely pressed into a square wooden form. A layer of rice is pressed down, and then a layer of Japanese mint leaves are placed on top. This is followed with a second layer of rice, pressed, then a layer of salty mackerel and finally topped with sweet pickled kelp. The whole lot is pressed one last time and then cut into rectangular pieces, approximately one inch wide by three inches long. This sushi is  to be eaten in two bites, unlike most maki or nigiri. Each bite of battera fills ones mouth with sweet sticky rice, expanding as one chews. The salty mackerel dances in a sea of rice, perfectly complimented by the sharp mint. I’ve used this experience as an inspiration for the following recipe, featuring soy-glazed shiitake and blanched kale.  Continue reading

Tom and Patty on the Alton Browncast

We first met Alton Brown way back in 1999 when he interviewed us for his Good Eats episode on Fruit Cake:

We recently had the pleasure of hanging out with Alton Brown again, this time for his Alton Browncast on Nerdist.  Here is the link to the show should you want to listen.

Here are the show notes:

21:45 – “Nowadays in America, everybody’s got a pepper mill, which is what you’re supposed to do.”

22:15 – Indonesian cinnamon vs. Vietnamese Cinnamon.

26:50 – Grains of Paradise and Sumac, AB’s “spice of the year.”

28:50 – Sichuan Peppercorns (NOT a peppercorn!) and Sansho Pepper.

34:30 – Medicinal properties of Tumeric and Fenugreek.

37:20 – Six kinds of Paprika.

38:20 – A renaissance of smoked spices, e.g. Smoked Paprika (Pimenton)

43:10 – How to store your spices (air and humidity are your enemies!)

44:40 – What’s your favorite Vanilla?

46:10 – How do you procure your spices?

50:01 – The rise in popularity of Cumin (Alton Brown’s favorite spice!) and Coriander.

51:31 – The problem with organic spices.

54:48 – Five things you wish people knew about using spices.

57:15 – Spices people should buy, but don’t: Grains of Paradise (“a proven aphrodisiac”), Ginger, Tumeric, Vanilla in savory dishes (e.g. pork).

1:00:20 – AB pontificates on the different varieties of Vanilla, and the unjust way in which Americans use the word “vanillia” as a synonym for “bland.”

1:07:00 – AB describes the differences Ceylon “True” Cinnamon vs. Vietnamese Cassia Saigon Cinnamon vs. Indonesian Cassia Cinnamon.

1:10:35 – AB talks about Hungarian Paprika vs. Spanish Paprika.

Thank you so much, Alton and Nerdist!ab-spicehouse 2

Warming Up For Winter: The Classic Hot Toddy



As the temperature begins to drop, it’s official. It’s time for bourbon. During the summer, the drink of choice definitely trends toward clear liquors, and clean flavors. Fruit and frosted glasses take center stage. But, as soon as the weather begins to turn drizzly, I find myself craving amber spirits and spices. It’s the season for mulled wine, hot buttered rum and, of course, my favorite winter warmer: the hot toddy.  This spiced drink is relaxing, invigorating, and somehow a mysterious cure all. Whether it’s at get together with friends, or just to sip by yourself on some blustery evening, this drink is always warming, and always a hit.

Continue reading