My Love of Bazaars


I have a low tolerance for malls in the United States. I get mall headaches and feet; I feel quickly overwhelmed, tire easily of the glitz and the poster children for anorexia dressed in pretty much nothing with gaunt cheeks and blemish free skin. I find that discontent goes hand in hand with the American mall experience – show me a content woman, put her in a mall for one hour, and I guarantee discontent. It’s just the way it works.

But take me to a bazaar in the east – whether it be Pakistan, Turkey, or Egypt and all my sights and senses are engaged in an amazing process of hunting and gathering. The smells of pungent spices mingle with perfumes; the vibrant colors of fabric and pottery fill my mind with possibility. And I rarely get tired.

On our trip to Istanbul last year, my husband and I were talking about crowded bazaars as we walked to the Spice Bazaar in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul. The Spice Bazaar (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) is one of the largest bazaars in the city. And while the Grand Bazaar is known for its glitter, the Spice Bazaar is more appealing to me. This bazaar has been in the city since the 1600’s and is a covered space holding hundreds of shops. It was and continues to be the center for spice trade in the area. Huge containers of pungent spices, large quantities of boxed and fresh Turkish delight, pottery stores, cushion covers and carpets of bright colors and textures,Turkish towels known world over for their softness — all of these and more are in abundance. I know this world and am fully comfortable in it. Bazaars like this were part of my childhood experience and I am at ease even without language skills. What would make many of my friends tense with frustration and worry is home to me.

I mingle comfortably with shop keepers, interacting with confidence, knowing when to bargain and when to compliment, knowing when a price is good and when it’s far too high. I know it’s ultimately about a relationship and a business deal, that it’s a game with a clear set of rules to the skilled – rules that seem ambiguous to the uninitiated.

My adrenaline flows and I am fully engaged in a game I know and love well. I know that you don’t get into this game unless you’re serious. I know what will be insulting, and what will be fun. I know when it’s getting old and when to stop. And I almost always win at this game.

I know bargaining. I know spices. I know fabric. I know pottery. I know carpets.

I don’t know Ralph Lauren. I am unfamiliar with Lacoste or Yves St. Laurent. I have never met Coach or Gucci. Calvin Klein is a stranger. Thin, headless mannequins do nothing for me. but take me to the crowded shops overflowing with color, fabric, texture, and smell in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul and my heart is satisfied.


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20 thoughts on “My Love of Bazaars

  1. I love this so much. My heart very much misses the bazaar. To me the Bazaar is a place where you come to life, engage, and get some skin in the game, where as malls seem like disengaged almost stagnant spaces for my soul.


  2. Thank you for posting! I work in rural Russia and after living in a village with a small corner store, am now lucky to reside in a modest town that has a weekly bazaar right behind my house! I live for those days when my day off coincides with market, when I can walk home from church down the quiet dirt roads on the outskirts of town into the bustle and do my week’s shopping. I’m sure it’s not as colorful or fragrant as an eastern bazaar and it doesn’t compare to the ones in St. Petersburg run by all the Tajiks and Uzbeks but I love it! I get everything from clothes and boots to household items, and all my food. The spice man from Uzbekistan; the wizened villager who tries to sell me seeds for livestock-quality beets that will grow to 15 kilograms; babushki selling their potatoes, berries, and cabbage, another woman wheeling around a 40-year-old baby carriage selling tiny plastic cups of coffee and tea. This is what I’m going to miss the most when I move back to the States.


    1. This sounds incredible Kristina! The way you write this makes me feel like I’m there with you. It’s that hustle and bustle and creativity of life happening all around you. Thanks so much for coming by.


  3. We only visited Istanbul for a weekend ages ago and checked out the Grand Bazaar but didn’t realize there was the Spice Bazaar as well. Interestingly I found the bargaining ‘rules’ in Turkey far different to those in Pakistan. Thierry loved the haggling but I found it overwhelming!


    1. I found it similar — hmmm. The Grand Bazaar is harder though I think. They are so used to tourists that they drive a hard bargain. You would like the spice bazaar better!


  4. Yes, I loved walking around the Spice Bazaar! But the Grand Bazaar is the place where, as I was away for a few minutes in the restroom, a young Turk approached the rest of our group and asked how many camels would be necessary to marry my (at the time) 15-yr-old daughter. And his opening line was something like “Have you seen my heart? I think I just dropped it on the floor…”


    1. That kind of thing used to happen in Kenya, especially in Mombasa, on month-long trips from 1988 and following.


    2. Heeheehee! Although with your daughters I could see this happening the world over — they are truly beauties and their hearts are just as beautiful. But the pick up lines kill you!


    3. My husband got asked the how-many-camel question while we were in Egypt. My husband told the guy he would never have enough camels. Both daughters were appalled but laughed it off with quiet good grace.


  5. I love any outdoor bazaar I honestly don’t care what’s being sold it’s the experience of it all I adore. Buying amazing items nobody has ever seen excites me.oh and bargaining is one of my favorite things to do Your pictures are beautiful. One day I hope I’ll get to experience a bazaar in a different country like you xo


    1. I agree – you can find things that no one has seen – so amazing! And I’m sort of like you, I don’t really care what’s being sold. It’s the experience. May you make it to the Spice Bazaar some day!


  6. Oh, Marilyn, I think all the way back to when you were in High School, even then I think you were the Queen of the Bargainers. I never learned it quite as well as you did, and the spice bazaar in Sukkur always made me sneeze! And I also dislike malls, but your Dad loves them. He discovered that the Cookie shops sell broken cookies for 50cents! So we share our broken cookie at STarbucks and he has coffee and I have my red rooibos tea. Love this, it takes me back to our family Christmas shopping treks to the Sukkur bazaar.


    1. Thank you for acknowledging that I am the Queen! I am not ‘best’ at anything although maybe good at some things. But bargaining?? I am Best at that! I love that dad finds a bargain wherever he goes — even in the cookies! I get it from him.


  7. Seriously….are we twins separated at birth???? I know EXACTLY what you mean. I am not a shopper here at all. I’ve unintentionally hurt friends by turning down opportunities to get together at the mall. I can barely tolerate a shopping trip here in North America. I wear out quickly. I want to stop for coffee when we’ve barely gotten started. The lighting hurts, the glazed over looks of the shoppers disturbs me, the push for purchase nauseates me….but like you, set me free in a market in Asia and I am energized. I love the relational banter. I love the exchange. I love the moment of feigned protest and price shock! I love the secret smiles under the raised voices of bargaining! I love the game of it! And….like you, I usually win this game! Admittedly I also love telling the story of my conquest later. There is nothing more entertaining than conversations with fellow shoppers, or with shop keepers, over chai they’ve brought in for you. It’s a tactile person’s dream experience. Touching the silks and suedes. Feeling the felt and the fabric. The smells are heady and thick: the incense in the shop, the aroma of spices and bodies, the scent of marigolds and frangipani and jasmine. Ears are piqued by calls to purchase and invitations to look.
    Suddenly I want to go shopping… Sardar Bazar in the dusty lanes of Layyah, or in Vishnuwath gully hidden in the heart of Benares or Delhi’s Khan market or Lahore’s Anarkali Bazaar! I’ve already promised our fifteen year old a trip to the mall after school today. She’s looking for white sandals…. I’ll have to begin to brace myself now for the experience it will be…and grieve the experience it won’t be.


    1. I love this comment so much!!! It adds to the blog post — please write more about it! And I hope that white sandals thing ended well…..another support group for children of tcks item! I am so awkward and know I pass it on to my children!


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