Fethiye - With their bright tablecloths and charismatic waiters, the restaurants encircling Fethiye’s daily market vie for customers. The pervasive and addictive smell of garlic, spices and olive oil floats above the inevitable fishy odors of the seafood stalls, luring tourists and locals alike to this intrinsically Turkish spot.
Tender döner kebab, wrapped in floury flatbread, competes with fried fish or succulent slices of calamari, glistening in an appetizing peppery sauce. The mesmerizing smell of freshly baked bread puffed up with steam makes the mouth water. Few can resist the temptation to over-indulge.
The everyday market in the center of Fethiye is without a doubt the heart and soul of this Mediterranean town. It is not only the place where many people do their shopping, it is also the hub of social interaction and where the buzz of local gossip, business and friendship thrives amid the rich variety of fish, fruit, vegetables and other local products.
However, since the beginning of 2000, this functional center of exchange, originally run by and for locals, has seen many changes. The "hands-on" approach to the sale of dairy products, fruit, vegetables and other essentials of Turkish cuisine has become a victim of rampant Euro-style health legislation, resulting in a confusion of traditional market life and 21st century technology.
Village women in shalwar (traditional baggy pants) and headscarves, selling their surplus of olives or herbs, mingle with elegantly dressed townies. Men, some in suits and ties, tap away at their BlackBerries or shout into their mobile phones next to swarthy fishermen who stand discussing their latest catch while drinking tea next to the chill cabinets, which have replaced the old system of concrete or marble slabs.
The time when strong-flavored village chickens were hung next to buckets full of briny olives, tomato paste, yogurt and hot chili peppers preserved in vinegar is gone. So too is the age-old practice of selling crumbly, smelly cheeses (so delicious with a glass of rakı) packed into still hairy goatskins to preserve and add flavor now becoming a thing of the past.
Office-bound bureaucrats now insist on plastic, polystyrene and cling film. The trays of bland chicken from poultry factories (just when other countries are rediscovering the joys of free-range) are not such a tempting suppertime treat, but there is no choice these days. At least the fish and the meat from the butchers are not wrapped in hermetically sealed shrouds Ğ yet. And what to do with all the extra packaging? That’s for another time!
This vibrant part of Fethiye, although changing fast, should be a marketing company’s dream. Yet there appears to be a frisson of concern from the traders in and around the area Ğ about both the rapid changes in the culture of the Turkish market experience itself and the threats from large, mostly foreign-owned supermarkets that put small traders and their businesses at risk. The effects of this could fatally damage not only the market, but also the economic prosperity of the entire town.
Both Turks and foreigners often find the experience of shopping in this market an essential part of their contact with Fethiye and its people. The traditions of a tactile and personal marketplace are, for many, the main thing separating a pleasurable occasion. Besides, how many supermarkets offer copious glasses of tea or cold drinks while you do your shopping, or a chance to eat a divine lunch cooked from the ingredients that surround you, while you watch the hustle and bustle of daily life?
It is essential that the Fethiye Municipality support and promote this essential and unique part of town. The arrival of a multinational fast-food chain is symptomatic of the undermining of a traditional Turkish system that makes Fethiye different from other towns and cities across the world. The creeping homogeneity brought by globalization may make our lives more predictable, sanitized and "safer," but it also removes the chance for adventure, excitement, difference, and, most of all, character.