What to bring home from Turkey, since the choice seems to be infinite?
Today we focus on purchases, shopping for Turkish souvenirs or the so-called “import”. I have a lot to say here as a practitioner since the time of my first trip because I bought stacks of various gadgets, so-called souvenirs, most of which were completely untouched and double (at least) overpriced. Some of them still lie somewhere in my corner of the Polish closet because it turned out that I bought too much of everything and now there is no one to give it to.
In time, after these first mistakes, I have learned what kind of souvenirs makes people happy in Europe. I discovered one important rule: if we bring some gifts, it’ better to treat those who have never been in Turkey differently from those who have visited this beautiful country before.
The latter usually know what they want, so just ask them (“Bring me a pomegranate sauce”, “Bring me half a kilo of helva”, “10-pack of Calvin Klein boxers please”, etc.). The first ones will find delight in gadgets with the evil eye and other “classics” related to personal tastes or hobbies.
Below there is a shopping list with Turkish souvenirs. A list based on my experience, of course. I invite you to comment, if you have found some other proven miracles from Turkey ;)
Evil eye (Nazar boncuğu)
Classic. Available in a variety of designs, shapes and applications, but the coolest ones are: silver or gold eyelet for hanging on a chain (as a key ring or bracelet), a mesh on the magnet to attach on the fridge (to keep the food from spoiling!) or a glass eye to hang on the wall. If it is to be typical in Turkish, such an eye should hang over the entrance, above the door, etc. to protect against “bad eye” coming from outside with the people :) Oh, we also have a plastic mesh on the string in combination with beads that we can use as a bracelet – cheapest version, bought in wholesale (e.g. 10 strings for 1 euro).
The so-called “original turkish pashmina” :) Beautiful scarves in multiple colors can be found in many places, but I personally am attached to these stalls set down along the road going down the Kale Hill in Alanya. Beautiful designs and lots of choice! You can also buy rugs, pillowcases or beautiful tablecloths.
Wonderful, cloudy syrup that we use for salads. Adds a sweet and a bit of sour taste, is a real vitamin bomb, perfectly blends with olive oil. It’s just delicious! You can buy it in groceries or bazaars.
Olives, olive oil
(zeytin, zeytin yağı)
They say that love to olives is like love to jazz – some love it and some grow up to it late – or not at all :) Personally, I love olives and I eat them daily for breakfast. In Turkey I recommend you buy fresh black (sele) or greenish-red (çizik) olives, with stones (pitted). I love big ones (mega, jumbo). Avoid those in packs and jars – they do not have any taste. The best is buying by the weight. Don’t be afraid to carry them in your luggage while going abroad – a tightly-sealed (or zipped) bag wrapped in yet another bag is enough. I know from personal experience :)
While buying olives in the grocery store or at the bazaar do not be afraid to taste them. Sellers are used to it: different types of olives are more or less salty, so you have to hit your taste. After you get home, it’s best to rinse olives from salt, drain them and put into a jar of olive oil with spices, as you like. They can be stored up to several weeks.
You can buy also stoned/pitted olives – the coolest ones are with peppers in the middle:)
Even though in Europe we have a huge selection of olive oil, I really like this Turkish one. It is worth knowing that in Turkey we have two types of it: Naturel Sızma (natural) or Riviera (mixed natural and refined one). If you have access to real olive oil, for example from a Turkish family, it is worthwhile to even pour a little bit into a plastic bottle :) A completely different taste, smell and a wonderful greenish color!
Halvah (helva) and tahin
Helva is the invention of Turkish inhabitants. Helva has its supporters everywhere in the world, and so we are obliged to bring it – as you may guess – not prepacked one, but bought on weight. In European markets we can already get Koska helvas, but that’s not the same as Koska (or other companies) sliced from the big block! An interesting fact is that in Turkey such helva is baked for breakfast or as a dessert. Good shawl crumbles in the fingers, is light, with a delicately sweet taste. May be ordinary (sade), cocoa but most like the pistachio one (antep fistiklı) – with whole pistachios inside and on top!
Tahin, in turn, is a sesame paste, which you can use to decorate desserts, to make hummus or to make breakfast in the Turkish style :)
Of course not packaged – only by weight. After bringing them to Europe, we load them into jars and so we can keep them for months and color our European dishes. Of course spices here are a variety to choose from – according to anyone’s taste. In the area of Alanya we do not find such a huge range as in Istanbul, but it is still good.
I mostly buy:
Acı kırmızı biber pul – hot red pepper in the form of flakes (you can also choose the black version: isot – even hotter, good for kebabs)
Tatlı toz biber – sweet powdered red pepper
Karabiber – black pepper (you can also buy white pepper: beyaz biber)
Kimyon – cumin
Köri – our “curry”
Sumak – a good spice for salads, it can also be added to lightly fried onion, as in Turkey is served to kebabs
Kekik – kind of our oregano, but more aromatic
Nane – dried mint
Dried fruitS, nuts, raisins
Turkey is one of the world’s largest producers of dried fruits and nuts, especially pistachios, cashews, walnuts, almonds, peanuts. Turkish specialties are dried chickpeas, either natural or, for example, covered with chocolate or in other flavors.
Instead of “snacks”, we can buy crunchy corn kernels seasoned with salt and pepper. Almonds can be obtained in the unsalted version, even in shells. Sesame seeds or peanuts are also delicious. Don’t forget a variety of “pips” – pumpkin, sunflower.
Other splendid fruits include dried fruit, such as figs, apricots, mulberries or yaban mersini (cranberries).
Gloves for peeling
For only 1 or 2 Turkish lira you can have so much fun :) Body scrub glove is ideal for bathing, it is used in Turkish baths (“hamam”). Perfectly removes dead epidermis and naturally stimulates circulation. Good for face, too! Better than a sponge, because it is thin and does not drop from the hand thanks to a special string that we tie around the wrist. Usually sold in gift sets such as natural laurel or olive soap, which I also recommend.
Turkish coffee and accessories:
cups and cezve
Turkish coffee is finer ground than ours. You can buy it in packages or cans such as the Mehmet Efendi brand. We do not use it to “flood” in large glasses, just pour into the crucible, pour cold water, add sugar if you like (in the east of Turkey also with Arabic cardamon added) and boil. After it boils, gently pour it into the beautifully painted cups – so that the grounds are not mixed, and after drinking coffee, we can become Turkish fortune tellers :)
Black, herbal, fruit TURKISH tea
The first option is of course a classic Turkish black tea – preferably bought in a supermarket (large packages, e.g. Rize Turist Çay, Çaykur or other). Of course, two-level teapot is compulsory (even aluminum, bought at the bazaar or in the market) and to drink: small glasses in the shape of a tulip.
For amateurs of healthy tea I recommend a tea with dried pomegranates or “bouquets” of tea to buy at the bazaars. Ada çayı (good for stomach and cold, especially with a slice of lemon and honey) and ıhlamur çayı (best for winter with honey and cinnamon) are delicious.
Amateurs of intensely fragrant cheeses will find paradise here in Turkey. There are various goat, sheep and cow cheeses. From the more interesting ones I recommend örgü peyniri, which looks like a braid, tel peyniri in the form of long thin ribbons, hellim peyniri (in Cyprus known as haloumi) which tastes great when grilled, or simply village cheese – köy peyniri.
For intense smell and taste, check out ezine peynir or eg çökelek, a small cheese with black sesame (çörek ötü) inside – often used as a filling. And we still have yellow cheeses, such as “smelly” eski kaşar. Try them all before buying – of course ;)
We have a multitude of products to choose from: simple laver, olive oil or lavender soaps that are available “by weight” in bazaars, or packed, e.g. Duru or Dalan brands. The come hand and body creams (even such an ordinary Arko olive cream does miracles and smells beautifully), and elegant shampoos and conditioners. You can also tempt yourself to roses, such as Rosense (produced in Isparta, a city famous for its huge rosewood plantations).
I had to put it on our list since it’s one of the most popular gifts. Classic itself is a rakı – Turkish anise vodka. The culture and procedure of drinking it… I have to write about it another time. The second group of alcoholic beverages is wine – e.g. Turasan, Tellibağ, Villa Doluca. When it comes to grape varieties, some of the more popular are Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası or Boğazkere.
And what comes next is beer – Turkish number one is of course Efes. This beer is light, weak, but still has a lot of followers;) For those who like new, try Efes Fiçi variety, Bomonti brand or Danish beer Tuborg, which is also produced in Turkey.
The most classic of course is lokum, also called “Turkish delight”. In the candy stores you can find dozens, if not hundreds, of variations of these Turkish “jellies” with sunken almonds or wallnuts, covered with sugar powder or coconut flakes.
You will not be surprised now if I advise you not to buy the pre-packed stuff but rather products from the bazaar? They are soft, they melt in the mouth (they do not stick to teeth and pull fillings out like chewing gums do), we can ask in the shop to have a few flavors mixed and packed in a box to safely transport them.
You can also buy pişmaniye, which looks like a small bunch of white cotton candy and also is a popular Turkish treat (someone recently recommended the one covered with chocolate as delish!).
For a funny gift you can also buy cevizli sucuk, a hard and sweet “bar” in the shape of sausage, made of grape juice and corn flour with nuts (mainly wallnuts) inside [there are also versions with almonds inside and covered with coconut flakes – ask your local shop assistant for advice!].
And something more: it is best to give up ideas to bring baklava home – it tastes best when it’s fresh so I recommend to consume it on the spot. It may motivate you to come to Turkey more often ;)
Other: textiles, handicrafts, jewelLery, leather goods
Last but not least, I put all other wonders that are worth mentioning, at least by the name. Under the slogan of textiles come clothes, fakes but also those original Turkish brands, which you will probably not find in your home country. It is worth to go to ordinary Turkish shops (the most popular and cheapest is the LC Waikiki, but you can also look at Mavi, Koton, Mudo, Polo Garage, etc.).
I would not bother with poor copies of foreign brands as they are often poor quality really, but I will not insist as I know they have their fans :)
Crafts are mainly hand painted ceramics, bowls, plates, cups – if well packaged, they will survive the journey and can be a great gift or souvenir. Worth noting are: patterned rugs, bedspreads or blankets, hand embroidered pillowcases, tablecloths and other textile miracles.
The jewellery comes first as gold – it may not be as cheap as it used to be, but designs different than in Europe attract attention and the lovers of shiny goodies will surely have a hang of it. It is, however, important to be critical of the merchants, as is the case with leather goods. They are masters of advertising their goods. Handbags of famous brands are offered to us at cosmic prices as originals – there is no deception that they are in fact :) – but when we decide to ignore this deception, we can find a lot of interesting articles.
While in Alanya, of course, you have to buy local specialties – lamps made of… hollow pumpkin! – a beautiful element of decor to your apartament! Alternatively – for a child, for instance – we also have pumpkin dolls, ladies and gentlemen (with a moustache :) – they can be found on Kale Hill.
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wHAT WOULD YOU PUT TO YOUR TURKISH SHOPPING BASKET?