Is there any better way to figure out the staples of life in another country than walking through a market? Over a week in Istanbul, I began to get a sense of how locals ate. But a stroll through a street market can tell you a lot at a quick glance. The pickle stands! The 30 tubs of olives! The bunches of hot peppers!
Shops in Istanbul tend to hyper-specialize; you'll still walk down long streets of only metalworkers, or only electronic music shops, or rows of stores that only sell plastic trophies. (Yes, really.) And in that model, most of the market stalls just sell one or two things: you'll see a pumpkin stand; a tomato paste table; a chestnut man. (A few exceptions. What is that guy doing selling phyllo dough AND eggs? They're both used to make borek.)
Even familiar foods may seem different, here. Radishes the size of baseballs, but cucumbers half the size I'm accustomed to. Leeks so long that the men unloading them haul the bunches over their shoulders. And cabbages I'd need two hands to carry.
Hande Bozdogan, founder and director of the Istanbul Culinary Institute, showed me around a market in Fındıkzade, a neighborhood up the Golden Horn from the Old City.