Shopping in Turkey for souvenirs, like the Turkish Evil Eye and other meaningful gifts is simply a joy. What kinds of items make the best Turkish souvenirs? Check out our guide.
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Shopping for traditional products, uniquely Turkish, can be found all over the country. With places like the Grand Bazar in Istanbul or any main street in Cappadocia, you will find many options from Turkish Rugs and Kilims to all kinds of handmade products that are inexpensive and beautiful.
In this article, you will find out all about the myriad of great Turkish products to bring home as souvenirs, and learn all about handmade products and the special Turkish Evil Eye.
Turkish Evil Eye
The moment you enter Turkey and start looking around, you immediately notice the “Nazar Boncugu” or Evil Eye everywhere. They are hung from car rearview mirrors, worn as jewelry, nailed to the outside of houses or in an entryway, or even woven into a prize sheep’s collar.
Purportedly the first recorded mention of the evil eye was on clay cuneiform tablets from the Sumerians, but it is believed to go back farther than that. It has been found in all types of ancient literature from many cultures to include Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim.
What Is the Meaning of Nazar Boncuk?
A Nazar Boncuk or bonğucu (pronounced bonjou – the plural) means “eye” glass beads. Nazar is an arabic word, meaning to see, and over the centuries the Turks have adapted the word to eye. Boncuk or bead is how most of the evil eyes are made. Whether for small beads for bracelets or very large “beads” for house decor, the iconic blue glass looks like an eye.(source)
What Does the Evil Eye Protect Against?
In Turkey, the evil eye is a charm to protect your loved ones from someone casting the evil eye on them. If you are young or beautiful or have lots of money, or if there is any reason for someone to be jealous of you, then you definitely need this protection.
Young children and animals are the most susceptible to the evil eye, so you will often see a small safety pin with a tiny blue eye bead on it pinned to the back of the child’s sweater. It is in the back so the child can’t reach it and mistakenly take it off or put it in his mouth.
The evil eye has been around for centuries, and can still be found all over the world. I have seen them in Jordan, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries, but never so many as in Anatolia. You can find evil eye art in the forms of all kinds of jewelry, such as bracelets and necklaces, on key chains, wall art, on textiles, really on just about any and everything you can imagine.
Often you will hear two phrases used in conjunction with the giving of the evil eye, “Mashallah” (“God will’s it.”) or “”Allah nazardan saklasin” ( “May God protect it from the evil eyes”).
Is It Bad Luck To Buy An Evil Eye For Yourself?
While it’s OK to buy the Nazar Boncuk for yourself, it is much more effective if it is given as a gift to those who you believe need protection. If the evil eye breaks, then it means that you used the magic in it, it did its job, and you have been protected.
I have bought many evil eyes over the years, both for others and for myself. I love the story, the colors, and the idea that it is so Turkish. It’s just the perfect gift.
Other Turkish Souvenirs
There are many things that make great souvenirs from Turkey. Still a country that values handmade products, and a mastery of a trade skill, you can find the most amazing items that are not only a great representation of your visit, but also at a very reasonable price.
Lokum or Turkish Delight is a jelly candy made with nuts and fruit flavors, some with cream for a more nougat-like consistancy. You can find Lokum just about everywhere, but maybe one of the best places to buy it is at Haci Bekir’s , the oldest Turkish Delight store in Istanbul. (Don’t worry it’s on our Istanbul itinerary!)
If you travel further than Istanbul, though, you can still find it everywhere. One of my favorite Lokum stores is in Safranbolu, a world heritage city, where you can see them cutting and packaging the lokum right on site.
As you meander around Istanbul, you will more than likely stumble across a store filled to the ceiling with white, chalky, but beautifully carved pipes. Even though, it’s a bit of an older generations souvenir, Meershaum is a substance that the Turks have mined for centuries, and Meershaum pipes are striking.
Firmly located on the Silk Road, Turkey has long been a trader in spices. As you travel around the country, you can visit the age-old caravanserais and marvel at their uses from long ago, envisioning where the camel trains parked and spent the night.
Those spices are still popular today. One of the most famous places to buy them in Istanbul, is the Egyptian Market, or the Mısır Çarşısı, which we just now call the Spice Bazaar.
Henna, in Anatolia, is different than in other places. It is a traditional green powder used primarily for two things: to dye hair, and to bring good luck to a soon to be bride at her henna party.
Most often you will see henna sold in a bulk and weighed out, but nowadays because it is so popular, you can sometimes find it in small cellophane packets specifically to be a souvenir.
It is cheaper to buy gold and gold jewelry in Turkey, so it is a very popular souvenir. Again, find a jeweler that you like their designs and you can have anything made that you wish.
One very popular product is the simple gold coin with a ribbon. Just like many popular items, it brings good luck and is often given as a gift to newborns.
Çay or Coffee Sets
You can’t be in the country long without experiencing the tea or coffee. Both are traditional and unique. Bringing home a çay (tea) set or a coffee set is a great way to remember these experiences.
A Word About Turkish Handmade Products
Turkey is still one of those places that you can go to where you will discover that an art, a skill is passed down from generation to generation. You will find a ceramic shop that has been around for a couple of hundred years, a ironmonger whose great-grandfather started the business, and you will find a pride, a love for that special item and skill that unfortunately you cannot find as much in the western world anymore.
While living in Turkey, Jim and I took full advantage of these artisans. Our souvenirs are not the typical ones that many people buy in the markets or in the airport (although we have those too). We brought back things like a new iron bed frame and end tables designed by us and made by an ironmonger in Ulus, Ankara.
We were looking for someone to make things for us, and we asked around. Working with Turks, it was quite easy to find someone, but it would be just as easy for a tourist. Just ask at your hotel, and they will undoubtedly take you themselves or hire someone to take you to the artisan of your choice.
What types of handmade goods are you interested in? There are so many from Turkish rugs to hand-carved wooden boxes and stools, from any type of copper vessel to framers, jewelry-makers, ceramics, artists, and more.
Handmade and Hand-painted Ceramics
Ceramics are very popular, and there are many kinds that you can look out for. My favorite are the blue and white hand-painted designs that come from Iznik. You can see Iznik tiles in many of the mosques, like the Blue Mosque. Another type of ceramics that are very popular are Kutahya ceramics, which are painted bright yellows and blacks and oranges.
You can find ceramics in every town and village, but if you are looking for a specific kind, it’s always a good idea to go to the town where they are made. So for our Iznik tiles, we went to Iznik, which is a cute little village across the Marmara from Istanbul, and you can easily do it in a long day trip or combine it with another stop, like Bursa, capital of the Ottomans.
If you are a shopper, and if you want to bring home the most unique Turkish souvenir like an Evil Eye or a handmade product, you will have so much fun in this country!