What does chemical engineering have anything to do with the Spice Market? Not much, other than that Mehmet Ekinci, the owner of Miş Miş, is one. And he can tell you all about the effects of those spices and delicacies you’ll end up buying when you enter his shop. Find our interview below.
SoUL: Please tell us a little about yourself?
ME: My name is Mehmet Ekinci. I am the owner of Miş Miş in the Spice Market. I’ve been here since 1966 selling dried fruits, spices and Turkish delight.
SoUL: But you studied something else in college?
ME: Yes, I am a Chemical Engineer by training. And after graduation I worked as an engineer at Paşabahçe for three months. Then my brother called me one day and told me that I can earn a better living doing this. He convinced me so I quit and we started working together. We bought this shop in 1966. Then we bought a few more stores. But later we separated our businesses and split the shops. So, I got this one.
SoUL: How does one open a shop in the Spice market and start this business?
ME: We are from Malatya and my father was in the apricot business. Most of the products that we sell here still come from Malatya. As you know, Malatya is famous for apricots, grapes etc. So, back when we had started, we would ask dad to ship some product and sell them here. That’s how we first started. Then we saw there was a lot of demand for spices so we added them into our mix. Then we got into Turkish delight, pistachios, nuts and all that.
SoUL: How has the Spice Market change since the 60s?
ME: Back then, I mean in early 70s, there was Malatya Pazarı that is around the corner and there was us. All the other shops were selling other things such as wedding gowns, textile products, and souvenirs. Then we started seeing a shift into our products. Many other shops opened doing the same things. And back in those days, no one had a showcase. We would just put everything on baskets or wooden boxes. But then the market started attracting tourists and many of the shops got renovated. We renovated ours three times. The Spice Market wasn’t always this clean, in the old days they used to have stalls here for horses. That’s all changed now, of course.
SoUL: What are some best sellers?
ME: We sell a lot of hazelnut, pistachios and apricots. We get the best product and we sell it at a good price.
SoUL: What’s the best part of your job?
ME: We like being here. It’s a good location where we earn money. If you’d offer us three shops in another part of town, we would still prefer to stay here. We have our friends here, people we know for 40 or 45 years.
SoUL: How are the working hours at this market?
ME: We are open from 9am to about 6pm. We used to close on Sundays but that’s changed now. We are open Sundays as well. But it’s not an easy work so we treat our people well. Imagine trying to capture the attention of a customer and then trying to sell and maintain them in the store. It’s tiring…
SoUL: Your is a demanding job. How easy is it to find people to employ?
ME: All our employees speak at least three languages. Some of them are born or raised in Germany, so by definition they speak German, Turkish and English. Then they pick up other languages while they work here. Many speak Portuguese or Spanish, not always fluently but they can understand and communicate. One of our guys learned to speak Japanese in about a year or so. So he comes in with Japanese tourists all the time.
SoUL: And where do most visitors come from?
ME: We have a lot American tourists. They buy Safran from Iran. One gram of it costs about 25 TL (about $14). Greeks buy a lot. As they have a similar gusto and enjoy the foods we sell here like pastırma (cured beef) and baklava. Then we have a lot of Arabic customers. They buy spices above all.
SoUL: Let’s talk about recommendations for tourists? What is one must see in town?
ME: Hagia Sophia and Dolmabahçe Palace.
SoUL: What is a must buy?
ME: Turkish delight and pistachio.
SoUL: What is a must eat?
SoUL: What is a must drink?
SoUL: Any restaurants you’d recommend in this neighborhood?
ME: We have two great restaurants in the neighborhood: Pandeli right at the main entrance of the market serves great traditional dishes. And Hamdi further down the street is quite good for kebab.