Istanbul spice bazaar welcomes Ramadan

Seasonal changes play a big role on sales during Ramadan as spending habits of consumers are directed towards spiritual gains

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The holy month of Ramadan is celebrated by Muslims on the ninth month of every year according to the Islamic lunar calendar. It is a time of deep reflection, sharing and refraining from materialistic pleasures from dawn till sunset for 30 days. The festive month arrives almost two weeks earlier every year on the Gregorian calender. This year Ramadan begins on June 18 and is expected to finish July 17.

As we enter the holy month of Ramadan, we visited Eminonu Egyptian spice bazaar (Misir Carsisi). Named after its trade link, the market was initially enriched with taxes levied on goods which was imported from Egypt. It was also the final destination for caravans that travelled the ancient silk trade routes. Despite being constructed in the early 1660’s, the bazaar still carries its solid reputation amongst both locals and tourists as the best place to purchase dried fruits and nuts, olives, cheese, Turkish delight and of course spices.

Traditionally, the market was known to be very vibrant and festive as it is when Ramadan comes in the winter months, now falling into the summer, the atmosphere has become mellower. However, when Ramadan falls back down to the winter months the festive spirit of the market will be revived say merchants. 

"When Ramadan was in winter there was more variety in stores, from nuts to confectionery. There were also stores famous for their dry fruits which consumers used to make compote (fruit preserved or cooked in syrup), an all-time favourite during the fasting month. In the past, people used to opt for ‘dry fruit’ in order to make compote, now people just like to purchase dates," said a store owner.

The main staple for this month is dates as it contains high potassium and several vitamins such as vitamin B and iron. It is also known to be an energizing fruit. However, there is a big difference in pricing as each variety carries its own specialty.

The most popular is the Madinah date which is priced at 62 liras a kg at the spice bazaar. The most valuable date sold at the spice bazaar is the Ajve date which is sold for 120 liras a kg. This date carries an important significance for Muslims as they believe the Prophet Muhammad planted its seed with his own hands. In terms of spices, store owners report that tamarind and licorice make the most sales in Ramadan.

During the long 30-day celebrations, consumers choose to consume light meals. This is why breakfast based foods make the most sales. White cheese is an all-time favourite followed by olives and some yellow cheeses. "We will be avoiding any form of heavy food this month, we prefer to eat things which are easier to digest," says a purchaser.

Store owners have said that Ramadan does not necessarily draw upon higher prices. In fact, prices are determined by external factors such as the strong currency as many goods are imported from overseas. "Recently, the dollar has been stronger, therefore we had to adjust our prices accordingly but nothing too high, 5 to 10 percent at the most," said a merchant.

"We have not hiked the prices of our goods, but recently there has been an overall rise in the prices of dairy. This however is not reflected on our goods. Everything available at Eminonu is sold at the best prices. You will not see an exaggeration in the price here,” said a retailer selling dairy goods.

In most countries with a Muslim-majority, both public and private sectors reduce their working hours by 2-3 hours in order to boost the company's performance and employees overall productivity. However, this is not a widespread tradition in Turkey as most companies choose to keep working hours stable. 

"We start that day like every other day in Ramadan. We come in at 7am set our stalls, and until 8pm our stores are overflowing with customers. People tend to be hungrier and tired while shopping in Ramadan, however, this is no problem for us as we share the rush and excitement of the blessed month together."

Besides fasting, Ramadan also has a social and spiritual component which makes this month more significant than others. It is a month of sharing and caring. Muslims spend time with their families and help in social gatherings. Donations play an important role in the month as every Muslim is obliged to donate 2.5 percent of their total wealth to those who are in need. So as productivity decreases, spending is directed towards Ramadan related activities.

"We have been in Turkey for 9 days now but we will return back home to Saudi Arabia before Ramadan begins. This month is best spent with those you love are around you," said one tourist. 

"Until Ramadan there are a lot of people who come from the Arabian countries, once Ramadan starts they stop coming for a month. In the meantime, other tourists from around the world enjoy the beautiful atmosphere of the bazaar." said a merchant at the spice bazaar.

"We believe Ramadan brings a lot of blessings, so I pray it brings blessings for everyone, there is a different feeling about working at the spice bazaar in Ramadan you have to live it to understand," said another store owner.