“You can eat these raw, efendim!” shouted Aziz Bey to a suspicious woman dressed in a headscarf of sharp geometric designs and a denim duster. “Don’t be scared!” he said, ripping the cap off of a raw kokulu cincire mushroom with his teeth and chewing it in an exaggerated, open-mouthed way to show that there were no tricks. “Mis gibi!” he said, using a phrase that is more frequently printed on laundry detergent bottles or uttered by mothers doting over infants. “Fragrant!”
In Turkey, many people assign much of what happens throughout the day to kismet, or fate, but when eating wild mushrooms you might be tempting it. Every year, it seems, local papers report on someone’s demise by mushrooms, which explained why the woman in the duster was reluctant to finish the transaction.
Having swallowed the subject, Aziz Bey lit a cigarette, took a puff and tucked it behind his ear, adding to the carnival atmosphere of the moment. The woman, presumably satisfied with Aziz’s survival of the mushroom demonstration, bought a kilo of the fragrant fungi and hustled her family on toward the next table selling homemade breads and fresh milk repackaged in plastic Coke bottles.
This exchange greeted us as we entered the İnebolu Sunday market in Kasımpaşa – a sort of open secret among Istanbul foodies prowling for the culinary holy grail and displaced villagers yearning for that taste of home. In Istanbul, the köy, or village, and its products are idealized by city dwellers, who are generally forced to accept mass-produced food. While “village-produced” has become a marketing tool as regularly abused as the term “organik,” we think people fill their bags at the İnebolu Pazarı for less philosophical reasons – because everything at this open-air market is so delicious and cheap.
A visit to this market has become a semiregular ritual for us when the seasons change and it is never a disappointment. We come home with köy ekmeği breads laced with herbs and cheese and süzme yogurt so thick and rich that we spread it on the bread and call it a meal. Of course, there are the jams made from mulberry and rosehip alongside amber shades of honey glowing in their jars like backlit bottles of scotch. Mismatched containers clutter tables, herbs sit in their dirt awaiting replanting, loaves of bread sit in huge mounds as if unloaded by dump truck, red-feathered chickens jabber and bolt out from under cars. Unlike most of the produce found at greengrocers around town, every item here, even the stacks of vine leaves bound with different colors of string, feels like part of a cottage industry, almost boutique. The İnebolu Pazarı makes other daily street markets in Istanbul feel like Sam’s Club.
Ask Aziz Bey, who has been making the 11-hour drive from the Black Sea region’s İnebolu every weekend for 15 years with a trunk full of mushrooms, where he gets his mushrooms from and he’ll deflect the question with chuckle and a cryptic answer that makes his customers’ faith in him all the more impressive. “This isn’t the kind of stuff you can get from the big wholesalers,” is all he says.
This review was originally published on Istanbul Eats on May 23, 2011.