Mustafa Doygun, one of the owners of Marché Istanbul, greets his customers with a warm ‘hello’, shakes their hand, and asks how things are going. Most of the shoppers are from Turkey, from Balkan countries, from Iran, Northern Iraq, and Northern Syria. He welcomes Living Toronto with a friendly baritone voice and offers Turkish tea, which he makes himself. He insists we try the Turkish Delight and baklava.
Marché Istanbul’s shelves are stocked with memories, tradition and passion. “People identify themselves with what they eat. To feel at home they need to find certain things. Food is one of them,” says psychologist Zehra Suer, a regular customer. “When we get together in the Turkish community, we like to talk about food.”
Maraș Turks in Toronto who are after favourite foods like bulgur from home used to make the five-hour drive to Montreal to shop at Marché Istanbul on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. After years of imploring by their out-of-town customers, the owners made the move to Toronto in 1998. It’s in the outdoor mall on Dufferin Street south of Orphus Rd. “It was the first Turkish food store in Toronto,” explains Zehra. “There was a great need. Before Marché, we had to go to Iranian or Egyptian shops to buy similar products.”
“I have only Turkish products, I don’t have others. Everything in my shop is from Turkey,” Mustafa says. “Except the cheese because the government has a quota on imported cheese.” The shop has more than a thousand items, including giftware.
“My policy is if three customers ask me for something I put it in my next shipment container.” Mustafa takes us on a tour of the shop. He has 55 kinds of olives and many types of bulgur. “There are six to seven thousand Maraș in Toronto,” he says, “They have to have their bulgur.” Zehra noticed the bulgur too, “I used to buy regular bulgur, the type you see everywhere, but Marché started bringing in very fine bulgur for different dishes.”
The owners go to great lengths to get specific products – that hazelnut that grows on the hills overlooking the Anatolian plateau, that not-so-salty pistachio nut, the skinless white bean, oregano oil juice, and handmade soap with natural ingredients. “This is soap,” Mustafa says. “Everybody has soap but only I have this kind of soap.” He points to bittim (pistachio) soap, defne (laurel) soap, killi (clay), kukurt (sulfer) and badem (almond) soap.
Shelves are stocked with pomegranate, grape, carob, and mulberry molasses. You can find sheets of paper-thin wafers to make güllaç, the prized milky dessert sprinkled with sugar and nuts, garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds, and especially enjoyed during Ramadan. I notice packages of dried pomegranate seeds; bottles of visne suyu – sour cherry juice, turnip juice, and anchovies from the Black Sea. “I offer things you can’t find elsewhere,” Mustafa says.
“I go there for specific things and I buy in bulk,” Zehra says, which is true for many of Marché’s customers. They come in for sucuk (a spicy beef sausage), pastirma (cured beef), and frozen manti, sold only at Marché. “Manti are like ravioli with meat inside (usually beef or lamb). You boil manti like pasta, drizzle a garlic yogurt sauce on top, and sprinkle hot cayenne pepper over the dish,” Zehra explains. It sounds delicious. There’s yufka, a philo-like dough to make bӧrek; Macedonian style feta cheese – Zehra’s favourite and mine, and biber salçasi, a hot red pepper paste to flavour food.
Towards the end of the week Marché prepares its pièce de résistance, a special treat you can’t get anywhere else – simit, a bagel-like bread encrusted with sesame seeds or poppy seeds. “This is the most missed food,” Zehra explains with delight. “In Turkey it is sold on the street, from morning to night. You can pick it up for a quick snack and eat it as you go.”
Mustafa leads us to the Turkish chick peas which are pointed, not rounded, like Canadian chick peas, and he makes a point of telling us that the Turkish chick pea makes a delicious snack when roasted. He holds a little chick pea between his forefinger and thumb, “I sent a sample, one bag of Canadian chick peas, to Turkey to roast. They cost a third of the price,” he explains. “They tried, but it didn’t work, they tasted… different.” He shakes his head. I feel his disappointment.
After hours, the shop becomes a sort of social club where people drink tea, talk, play the long-necked saz guitar, which you can see on display near the back of the store, and they sing. “Marché supports community activities,” Zehra says, “Mustafa helps newcomers with advice and information. It’s a place where people can meet their friends.”
When we leave, we run into a couple in the parking lot carrying boxes filled with packets of a crunchy taste of home – Maraș Tarhanasi, an Anatolian crispy wafer made of fermented grain and yogurt. They packed the boxes into the trunk of the car and drove off, but not before offering a couple of strangers a taste.
– Elizabeth Cinello
Photos by Schuster Gindin
This article is part of our issue FEEDING TORONTO.
I am not from Turkey but after an extended stay there a few years back I can’t wait to visit Marche Istanbul. I want to renew memories of the glorious time I spent in Istanbul and surrounding regions. One of the highlights was the food and your article, most especially the photographs, have me wanting to visit. Thanks.
Cheryl Kryzaniwsky, Port Elgin
I’ve just visited the Istanbul Marche and it was great!
Caroline Ingvaldsen, Toronto
They recently renovated the shop and I must say the decor is beautiful. The products are amazing I feel like I’m in a shop in Istanbul when I go there. Great place friendly people!
Esra Doyle, Toronto
I’m of Turkish origin and I love Marché Istanbul! They offer a great variety of high quality food that you can’t find anywhere else. The owners and workers are very friendly and helpful. The shop in itself is beautiful and I am so happy that they have those special hand made soaps. I love this place!
I have been in Toronto but I’ve never been Marche Istanbul, but it makes me feel I am there when I have look pictures. I also have kind type of shop in Cape Town South Africa we call Turkish Bazaar.
Ali izzet Coskuner, South Africa