Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday is Pazar Day

People occasionally ask me when, or if, I intend to return to the U.S. I have never been able to successfully answer that question, not being a great planner, but the pros and cons of staying do have a way of sloshing around in my psyche, and depending on the angle at which I am currently tilted, there are times when the beaches of my soul catch a lot more of one than another. Today there is a current of 'pros;' I find myself walking with a spring in my step and a happy upward tilt of the chin. There are things to love here, I am reminded again...

One of the many reasons to stay that is as small as it is wonderful is the local pazar. Although the word resembles the English bazaar, the meaning is quite different: whereas the English word bazaar conjures images of trinkets, antiques and handicrafts, a Turkish pazar is typically an open-air market where what is sold is approximately half fruit and vegetables, the other half clothes, shoes, belts, handbags, bedsheets and such.

My neighborhood, Bostanli, is famous for the pazar that sprouts up every Wednesday a block behind my house. People make the trip in from all parts of the city to enjoy an assault to the senses. For the eyes, the riotous colors of the produce, the headscarves of the local ladies, the wildly-patterned textiles on offer; for the ears, the shouts and cries of the vendors, exhorting, extolling, cajoling, a veritable opera of veggie salesmanship; for the nerve endings in the skin, the pushing and bumping of the wheeled carts and amply upholstered, sweaty bodies, and the tickle from overhead of dangling textiles; for the nose, the aromas that waft from the mountains of tomatoes and peppers, the pungent cheese counters, the aromatic meat being prepared on small grills just outside the pazar perimeters; all form part of a curiously adrenaline-inducing experience.

Summer is especially wonderful. The produce I've come to know and love in Izmir is second to none that I've ever encountered. The quality is impeccable, the quantity stunning, the prices jaw-droppingly low. There is so very, very much, but what I remember first and most is the mountains of tomatoes, how they glow dully in the shade, giving off their soft, musky scent. Though not billed as 'organic', they are clearly produced in a way that is somehow more natural than the perfectly uniform tomatoes-with-vine that one finds in German, and sometimes Californian supermarkets. They are varying shades of red, often comically shaped. Sometimes they do not even look tasty...but slice one open, and you get blood red tomato meat, juices that gush out, pure essence of straight-from-garden tomato. And a kilo is to be had for just one paltry Turkish U.S. terms, that's 75 cents! The same can be said of the peppers (there must be at least 10 varieties), the melons, the peaches, the grapes, the apricots, the cucumbers, the green beans. Their taste is to die for, the price so ridiculous that I, single person, wind up buying enough to feed a family for a week. Inevitably, the poor things wither and wilt in the kitchen, try as I might to eat my way through them as fast as possible...

Would I want to return to dollar-a-pound tomatoes? Tomatoes that are hard and tasteless, even in peak summer when no self-respecting tomato has a right to be? While in California this summer, I was impressed with the variety on offer, but horrified by the prices. There, adding produce to the shopping list is guaranteed to double the bill...and too often, the luscious look of the stuff belies inferior taste: perfectly purple plums are dry and woody within. Yalanc─▒ sebze, I mutter to myself, liar vegetables. So could I, would I abandon my luscious produce paradise? Ask me after summer, when I've finished wiping this year's bounty from my chin.


At 9:48 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Yes, Bostanli market is one to visit and remember and the fresh fruit and veggies are certainly the best I've ever had.
I hope they stay that way...

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Kate's Occasional Blog said...

It is wonderful, isn't it? The hard part is deciding what to buy! BTW, I checked out your blog and saw your latest news...congratulations! You must be delighted. :-)


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