Gilded Serpent presents...
by Kayla Summers
you must learn to bargain!”
It's just that...
well, I tend to make more money than the average tomato salesman
(at least, I think I do). If he wants to charge me an extra quarter
for those mouth watering, fresh, red tomatoes whose juice
colors my fresh bread a rich red, so what?
Ah, but I was
missing the point entirely!
been a better bargainer. Once in Central America, I caught
myself vehemently arguing with an onion saleswoman over
what was less than a quarter. The Guatemalan people have next to nothing, and there I was pitching a
fit over a quarter! I felt so ashamed that I caught
myself mid-sentence, shut up and paid the woman what she had asked
for, probably utterly confusing the poor thing! I swore I would never bargain
for anything again.
I discovered the "Pazars" in Istanbul, where bargaining is considered
a basic skill. Bargaining is not just about the
money, although that is a qualifier. Bargaining is a
medium in which two strangers can have a conversation.
Turks love to bargain, and it may be how they get to know
my friend, had taken me to her Pazar, to show me "how to do it"’.
I love her style. She would banter with the salesmen, usually
getting a chuckle out of them, but my remedial Turkish, "Ali
look, Ali come," was inadequate for even casual exchanges. Despite
gentle prompting from the sales people, it was difficult
for me to not to feel like a fool. Add to this my lack of knowledge
of the price of apples in any country, and
it ultimately rendered me mute. The transaction would be
terminated, thus leaving them without a sale and me hungry.
If I wanted the best and freshest produce, found only in Pazars,
I would have to improve my skill. But how could I learn?
Suzette and her sister Kalianna
discussed my dilemma between themselves. What I needed was
a "formula" and some practice. One
spring day, Kalianna took me to the Pazar to demonstrate the formula.
how do I explain the Pazar? Think of a farmer's market,
but make it an exponent to the tenth power. Animated by gently billowing breezes are drapes of colorful dresses, silken
lacy undergarments and richly embroidered tablecloths, each
one like a huge tapestry defining the perimeter and the nature
of the stand . This
is a feast for the eyes as the sellers sing their ancient song
to your ears: ”Just look!”
of vegetables is an art form in itself: pyramids of tomatoes are sectioned by
layers of carrots, bell peppers, eggplants, lettuces, cucumbers, onions
and garlic, all stratified like an ancient Roman road. The artichokes are prepared by
leaving only the heart and the slight purplish thistle, and they
look like lotuses floating in a lemon pond.
There are also
tubs brimming with olives. Ah, the zateens!
Huge green ones, big wrinkled black ones, pimento stuffed green
ones and a half dozen more varieties. Each olive salesman
has his own "brining recipe", imparting a unique flavor to his
or her olives ... Previously my "olive experience" had been, sadly, mostly out of a can.
man uses lemon as one of his brining ingredients, and his olives are
the best I’ve ever tasted in my life! Also,
his homemade tomato paste is to die for. The olive oil, sold by
the liter, tastes so rich and creamy that it's worth waiting 'till
Pazar day to restock.
got so tired of trying to make me bargain that he gave me a
little extra. Incredibly kind, this man always finishes our
transaction with “you are always in my heart” in
English to which I respond “your oil is in mine”.
and wheels of cheeses, some like feta, some curd, some goat cheeses.
There are special cheeses, made unique to the village, and collectively
called "village cheese." Due
to their gentle flavoring, they are an excellent staple item.
of cotton bags and straw baskets are filled with spices and
herbs, from anise to peppercorns. Muslin pillow cases brim
with dried purple flowers used for coughs and a chamomile-like
flower used for the "grippe".
is bountiful - the Turkish land is rich and fertile. Spring
tends to show that off best. Peaches and apricots, spring
almonds still wrapped in their fuzzy skins. Ereks, small sour
green plums, that the Turks eat plain or with salt are very high
in vitamin C content, but they are the ones that your mother would warn
are unripe and would give you a stomachache.
They are my sign that Spring, or Ilkbahar, has arrived.
or figs, as we know them, are a divine experience: red or white,
the size of small lemons, with thin skins - juicy and sweet.
with all these lingual delights are jewelry stands, folk art,
Uzbekistan embroidered pillows, silk Bedouin robes and various
artifacts of a village life that is rapidly disappearing.
There are Chinese stands, selling strands of pearls among silk
brocade boxes and cheap makeup.
this was the early Spring I was with Kalianna, learning
how to bargain. Kalianna is a great teacher, a Turkish
Jew, turned "a modified Hindi". She has a very gentle
disposition and speaks softly. She has grown up in
began with the fruits. Crisp apples, light green with wisps
of red . Salesmen were slicing and handing them out for
tastes. She began her demonstration with a
asked for three kilos of apples,. The salesman placed three kilos
of apples in the bucket on a
scale, using lead counter weights to balance. Now was the critical moment. “Ne-kadar?
(How much?)", she asked demurely. The salesman replied in
an equally soft voice, stating a price. She looked at him and
sweetly said, “Perhaps a little fewer apples”.
- The first
rule is be nice.
- The second
rule is never accept the first price.
What she did,
instead of telling him to change his price, was to ask for "a
little less" so she could pay a lesser price. Generally,
this is more symbolic than factual. Occasionally, the salesman
or woman would purse their lips a bit or shrug their shoulders,
smile, take one out and wish her a good appetite.
More often they’d shrug their shoulders, smile and say,
take it at your price.”
way through the crowds, we munched on a simit.
This is a yeast bread "bracelet" encrusted with toasted sesame
seeds. It is the national snack. Kalianna’s
method was working like a charm. No one was yelling, no one was
acting "put out".
jovial man rolled out dough to paper thinness and the size of
a bicycle wheel. It is called "Kote", and is used to wrap
many Turkish delicacies. We hit a snag with the Kote man,
who said, “You want I should rip it in half?" (No
one buys half .) There was a little small talk back
and forth - not much, more like:
I’m making such and such with it.”
your friend?" with his chin jutting in my direction.
We got away
still smiling. Our
arms and hands were getting more and more heavily laden with our
The Pazar, a
roving farmers' market, covers a lot of ground. Each day,
the Pazar sets up in a different neighborhood. Some layouts
stretch a mile, some longer, weaving their way
through a tangle of streets and neighborhoods .
I noticed at
each intersection there would be two or three gypsy women in colorful
dresses and equally colorful head scarves. I heard
them singing in the early evening as they pulled their heavy carts
though five lane traffic. Their average life span is to the
mid thirties, although in Turkey it’s a little longer.
Whenever I feel despondent, I think of them, for they are far
more unfortunate than I could ever be, yet they sing as they toil.
young gypsy woman approached us. She was attired in
a skirt covered in a rose print, with a worn, green sweater. A
shawl/veil of white muslin, edged in fine crochet work,
graced her head, reminding me of pictures of the Virgin Mary.
Her fingers were twined with strips of gauze. While the figs are green and still hard,
the size of golf balls, the gypsy women harvest and then peel
the figs with very sharp knives. This explained the bandaged
fingers perfectly. The gypsy girl shyly smiled at Kalianna and offered her a small
bag of the prepared figs.
These figs can be utilized by accomplished chefs, adding a
unique and wonderful taste to a stew or other dish. If
one does not "do it " correctly, however, the stew or dish comes
out so bitter that the entire thing is ruined. I
know this from personal experience!
turned to me and said conspiratorially, “This
is a little trickier, but watch.” She
faced the gypsy woman, reciting the universal, ancient mantra
of the market place:
The gypsy girl’s
shy smile was growing to expose a set of pearly white teeth.
“Two million (a dollar fifty)",
she replied sweetly, as she placed the package in Kalianna’s
turned a little away from the girl, and raised her chin quickly
while emitting the "tsk, tsk’"sound. (Meaning
The girl looked
dumbfounded. While she spoke, (rather loudly), Kalianna
gypsy girl was defending the price requested, citing long
work hours, ”up since four a.m. harvesting these delicacies”.
“Oh and the peeling!”
As she waved her bandaged fingers in the air, “Look, look! I cut myself
to the bone!”
unraveling one of the bandages. As she unraveled it, she asked
Kalianna what she would offer instead. Kalianna, replied very
coolly , “One million.”
The gypsy woman's
smile had dissolved to an dropped jaw, as she stared
at Kalianna incredulously . She
began speaking really fast and loudly. Kalianna was unable
to translate, due to the rapid delivery punctuated with occasional
shrieks. There was less need for translation, for the gypsy woman
began pantomiming her arduous day. The
bandage end was undulating like a Chinese streamer - each time
the girl waved her hand, it grew longer.
was now beseeching Allah, wailing for his intervention with
this merciless woman. She was flinging the white veil and
covering her beautiful face, lest we see the tears she was shedding
for the cruelty of her fate in the world. The
sedate crowd of shoppers and salesmen alike paused to look
on with curiosity. I
was feeling really self conscious, but their confused looks turned
to smiles as they shook their heads. It was all part of the entertainment.
was holding firm, her arms folded, her jaw tightening.
Her head was held high, eyebrows raised, although her gaze was
looking inward. However, she still held onto the injeers.
With the next shriek, the gypsy woman hurled herself to
the ground in a sort of modified prostration, wailing about
babies to feed. Miserable world! Allah be
merciful and take her now!
pink blush that had been creeping up Kalianna’s neck had
blossomed on her cheeks. She rolled her eyes and said
in a patient voice, “Okay, that’s enough!
I’ll give you one million and seventy five.”
The gypsy woman took a deep breath.
We simultaneously stepped back, preparing for another onslaught
of curses. Gracefully, she rose, carefully daubing
the "tears" away from her eyes with the corner of her veil.
She smiled broadly, heaping sincere-sounding, pleasant sentiments on
Kalianna and her friend. “All of Allah’s blessings!
May He make each bite you take be better than the last! "
And of course she blessed the hands of the chef, finishing with
a call for good appetite. Then she promptly disappeared
into the crowded Pazar, with the two million, to get change, as
Kalianna had no change.
The crowd of
onlookers was laughing and moving on. I’m
sure they were reciting their own gypsy stories. While
waiting for the change, Kalianna and I stood quietly, a little stunned.
The gypsy woman miraculously emerged from the
crowd and handed Kalianna her change.
We turned towards
the car; Kalianna looked at me, smiled and said, with a
shrug, “Well, what can you do? You have to try!”
photos from Kayla's experience with food and the markets
A fruit truck parked on a fairly main street.
The corner stores buy from these trucks as do people living
above (the apartment windows are visible in the photo).
People will call down and let down a basket on a rope with
their list to be filled by the truck vendor. Usually the
vendor is known by his customers who are familiar with the
prices. Not much haggling takes place.
Horse drawn lemons. This is the same street
we saw the fruit truck. Istanbul has about 25,000 people.
The horses look well cared for. Gypsy families keep horses
also. You may see the Gypsy families salvaging and recycling.
Discarded clothes are often left beside the trash cans for
the salvaging families.
Grilled layered lamb meat which is shaved
off into lavash for a gyros-like sandwich. Chicken is done
this way also.
A lokantsi, or locanta.
Turkish lunch items visible: stuffed grape leaves (dolmas),
meat stuffed zucchini, among many lamb dishes.
Honey comb sold at a kavahlatici.
A breakfast house with village cheeses, homemade tomato
paste, ground peppers, luncheon meats, and other delicacies
not usually available at the normal supermarket.
Shredded wheat soaked in cinnamon flavored
honey syrup, wrapped around a pistachio filling.
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