Friday, December 16, 2011

My Christmas shopping did not involve last-minute trips to an overcrowded mall or waiting in line to buy the new must-have toy at some megastore.

No way!

This year, just like last year, all of our gifts for our family and friends are from our travels in Turkey and a few from Singapore. I’m proud to promote Turkey as much as I can, and I’d much rather buy a gift that means something than the typical commercial rubbish.

It probably would come as no surprise that many of our Christmas gifts are related to food. So here’s a rundown of the many handcrafted, beautiful and edible items you can bring back from Istanbul like I did.

Hopefully, our family members, who may be reading this, won’t figure out what they are getting for Christmas this year!

1.       Lokum (Turkish Delights) and Baklava – Fortunately, we live near Güllüoğlu Baklavacı , and I bought a few boxes right before I left Istanbul. Lokum is a sweet, chewy confection made from sugar and starch. This treat comes in a variety of fruit flavors and traditional rose and is usually studded with nuts. This new box I picked up was pomegranate flavored – my seasonal favorite – and dredged in coconut flakes! I highly recommend it!
2.       Candied chestnuts – On many street corners in Istanbul, vendors sell freshly roasted/grilled chestnuts from their small, portable stands. Chestnuts also are shelled, cooked and cooled down in a sugary syrup like the ones in this jar, pictured. These can be found at  Güllüoğlu Baklavacı  and other high-end pastry shops in Istanbul.

3.       Dried spices and teas – If you enjoy cooking or have cooks on your Christmas list, then you must include a visit to the Mısır Çarşısı. This is one of my favorite culinary spots in all of Istanbul. My friends over at Ucuzcular, No. 51, always have what I need, and they seal the plastic bags for traveling; or you can order online and have them shipped home.
4.       Tavla (backgammon) – If you know anyone who likes to play this fun game, this is a great gift to barter for at the Grand Bazaar. I brought a dark-stained walnut wood one back for a friend in NY that also featured checkers on one side. Jason and I often enjoy playing tavla while enjoying a glass of Efes in Istanbul.

5.       Turkish towels – Turkish towels can be found at many shops, but for the best quality and service you must stop at Jennifer’s Hamam at the Arasta Bazaar behind the Ayasofya or Stephanie’s Home Spa near the Galata Tower. Both stores are owned by a Canadian and an American woman, respectively. Jennifer’s shop also features a nice selection of bath robes, duvet covers and more while Stephanie features towels and olive oil soap.
6.       Turkish olive oil and olives – From our August trip to Cunda Adası, we picked up several bottles of fresh Turkish extra virgin olive oil and jars of olives. I kept a few bottles for myself, but some lucky family members will be getting some soon.

7.       Olive wood cheese trays and bowls – Speaking of olives, I recently found these adorable cheese trays and small bowls made from olive wood sold at Kurşat, Şakayik Sokak No. 57/1, in Nişantaşı in Istanbul. This family-owned shop also features high-quality olive oil and olives from the Ayvalık region. I liked these trays so much that I bought one of each for our own home.
I love these! They also are reasonably priced at 10 tl for the boards and 7.50 tl for the bowls.
 8.       Pashminas – Last year, I bought several of the pashminas for the women on our Christmas list. These can be found everywhere all over Istanbul.

9.       Jewelry – At the Grand Bazaar, you can find many stalls that sell gold, silver, beaded and evil-eye themed jewelry. I prefer to pop into the Old Bedestan area, especially to see my friend Selim at no. 218/219. His selection is impeccable! Every time I do stop in, I can’t resist buying a pair of earrings for myself!

10.    T-shirts – This is always an easy gift to get for my friends’ children, cousins and even some of the male adults on our list. It’s hard to bring back Turkish gifts for guys so T-shirts seem to be a good option, and they pack well in suitcases.

Other popular gifts on my list are ceramics, specifically from Tarik Bey at the Çukur Han in the Grand Bazaar, and books about Turkey and Istanbul. Since my dad’s health doesn’t allow him to travel anymore, I bought him a book showing him all the beautiful and historic sites in Istanbul. This way he can still "travel."
For more gift ideas, please check out my friends over at Turkeys for Life. They recently wrote a great post about this same topic.

Even if you can’t visit Istanbul before Christmas, you can use this handy gift guide for future trips to my second “home.”

Happy shopping!

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jaz@octoberfarm said...

wonderful gifts. i love the olive bowl and the little board. so perfect for cheese and olives. your family and friends will be thrilled!

Becca Ramspott said...

This makes me excited to come visit you, Joy! What lovely gift ideas ... Hope your holidays are going well and see you soon!

Tina Maxima said...

Very nice and useful post:)
Have a nice day:)

Joy said...

@Becca, I will love to help u shop here!

save the list for future shopping trips! =)

Julia said...

Great gift ideas, Joy - and thank you very much for the mention. :) I hope no one works out what you're getting them. We made pickles and dips in pretty jars for Barry's mum and dad last year. We did a blog post on the pickles and Barry's dad sussed straight away!! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a new visitor to your blog, and I appreciate the gift ideas! I also wanted to ask where you get baking chocolate (the unsweetened squares) in Istnabul. The Macro Center at Akmerkez and the Etiler Sutte only have the powder. :( Thank you for your help and for the great blog!

Joy said...

Welcome to my lil blog! I actually haven't bought unsweetened chocolate in Istanbul, but the best selection of baking supplies is in the small street next to the Spice Bazaar. I've bought a 2.5 kilo bar of dark chocolate before so I'm sure there's probably unsweetened as well. Good luck!

Tams said...

I would appreciate getting the candied chestnuts.

nancy john said...

Gorgeous and so cute! Love it! ;-)

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