Pickles or turşu [tour-shoe] are an integral part of Turkish cuisine. For centuries they have pickled vegetables both to preserve surplus as well as to guarantee availability of vegetables throughout the entire year. Of course now in modern days there is access to vegetables year round, however the tradition is still quite alive. Many Turkish housewives still choose to do their own pickling, I dabble in it myself although I have yet to make a batch I am completely satisfied with. You can find them for sale at roadside stands, being sold by villagers, as well as at the local farmers markets. In old days men called turşucu [tour-shoe-ju] pushed their carts in the streets and sold their pickles from little cups to be eaten as a street snack. My husband has recounted to me with nostalgia those days, and it always sounds so charming. He and his cousins would pool their coins in order to buy some pickles and simit (Turkish bagels), in those more simple times that was heaven to them. These days with the rise of the supermarket and the mass produced pickles the pickle carts are rarely seen. However a few storefronts have still managed to survive. Interestingly many of these pickle shops were opened in the 1930’s when chefs who were let go from their former Ottoman officers employ, needed to find a way to make a living. They would work for short periods in the homes of the wealthy preparing pickles and when that job was done they would move on to the next. Some with greater success opened their own shops and have been passing on their craft in the master apprentice style for generations. These shops are just incredible. When you happen upon one your senses are awakened by the vibrantly colored jars of fruits and vegetables displayed as well as the tangy scent of vinegar wafting in the air. The tursucu will offer you a sample and as you munch on it you choose which vegetable you would like to purchase. Whatever your mix, be it cauliflower and carrots or cucumbers and garlic he will masterfully chop and bag it for you along with your choice of spicy or mild pickle juice. For 1.5 lira you can also just buy a cup of your choice of veggies then stand around the shop or street with the others crunching and slurping contentedly. Even if you don’t enjoy pickles yourself (crazy) it is worth it to visit one of these shops to see all the amazing things they pickle, the strangest thing I have seen is pickled pinecones, although I have yet to meet anyone who has actually eaten one. The pickle displays are beautiful and it is worth it to observe this time honored and sadly disappearing craft. Here are some of the most celebrated pickle shops in Istanbul.
Ozcan Turşucusu: Opened in 1935 this is one of the oldest pickle shops in Kadikoy fish market. They are notable for their wide variety of pickled peppers. Directions can be found here.
Soydan Turşuları: Also opened in 1935 this shop is run by the fourth generation of picklers. It is located near the Besiktas fish market and their specialties include pickled melon, plum and cualiflower. It is also said to be the pickle shop of choice for the entire Besiktas futbol team! For more information click here.
Petek Turşuları: Not to be outdone Petek certainly has many loyal fans of his own. This shop has been operating for 35 years in the Beyoglu fish market. Their specialties are pickled plum, okra, eggs, mushrooms and melon rind. Information can be found here.
Uludağ Turşucu: Opened in the early 1950’s this pickle shop is one of the oldest remaining shops in Fatih. It is worth a visit especially if you are already visiting this historic neighborhood. For directions look here.
Pelit Turşucusu: A relative latecomer to the scene is Pelit having opened it’s doors in 1968, however don’t let that fool you, the shop has flourished and there are several newer locations. However the shop on Kurtulus’s main street is the flagship. With over 35 different kinds of pickles to choose from you may be hard pressed to make a selection. It may help to know their specialties are pickled apple, pear, watermelon rind and cauliflower. Contact them here.
Asri Turşucu: This shop was opened in 1913 in Cihangir. The owners pickle all their own vegetables which are grown on their farm in Bursa. They also use Bursa springwater for their pickling. In order to provide the most quality product they still adhere to seasonal pickling traditions. Therefor the shop is closed from June to September while they pickle their harvest. Contact information can be seen here.
For further reading on turşu: