Gourmet Fine Foods by Istanbul Market Adds to Bethel Road's International Offerings

In its recently expanded storefront, the growing business sells a diverse array of products, including baked goods, baklava, bulk olives, private-label Turkish items and beverages.

Bethia Woolf
Freshly baked baklava at Istanbul Market

International markets serve an increasingly vital role in Central Ohio for immigrant families, restaurants and the wider community of home cooks. One of the small local markets that has grown as the city becomes more diverse is Istanbul Market, which expanded into a larger, more upscale space last fall.

Owner Kerem Dirlikli first opened a 2,000-square-foot store under the name Istanbul Market in 2005, and in September of last year the grocery transitioned to its current 8,000-square-foot space in a neighboring parcel in Bethel Center. The transformation is strikingly stylish, with general manager Ilker Yildirim sharing that the distinctive layout reflects “the latest trends from Turkey.”

Ilker Yildirim general manager of Istanbul Market

Trends are not all they’ve sourced from Turkey. While Gourmet Fine Foods’ products reflect a wide range of Mediterranean traditions, Turkish products such as labneh (a type of yogurt), olives and bulgur feature prominently. Yildirim also touts the business’s very own private label, Pesaro, through which the market directly sources olive oil, lentils, chickpeas, fava beans and much more from his home country. Yildirim also notes the sourcing of fresh fish like sardines, red mullet, whiting and sea bream directly from the Mediterranean Sea.

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Butcher Abdulhak Mounacer at Istanbul Market

At the back of the store, just beyond the surprisingly comprehensive halal butcher counter, you may find baker Mohammad Asfour rounding out the bountiful offerings at the grocery’s bakery counter. “Everything here is baked fresh daily,” Asfour says, and that includes sesame-studded simit (sometimes referred to as a Turkish bagel), lahmacun (bread boats filled with ground beef and vegetables) and cheese or spinach pide (savory flatbreads).

Adjacent to the baked goods section lies an impressive array of imported baklava and baklavalike desserts. These enticingly crispy confections come straight from Istanbul, says Yildirim, and many are packaged in tastefully arranged sampler-style trays. Turkish coffee or tea would make an excellent accompaniment, and both are prominently displayed nearby.

Three Market Finds

The olive aisle at Istanbul Market

Olives

There may not be another store in town with a wider selection of olives than Gourmet Fine Foods, and even serious olive enthusiasts may discover something new in their selection. Green and black olive varieties are on hand by the pound, but also among them are olives that have been grilled, scored, cracked, stuffed and packed in brine or oil. The jarred selection is broad, as are the barreled bulk options.

Fresh-baked simit (left) and pita at Istanbul Market

Simit

These sesame seed-topped bread rings have been a staple of Turkish life for centuries and are among the most popular of street foods in Istanbul. There are no hard and fast rules for enjoying simit, but cheese, cucumbers, olives and tomatoes are popular accompaniments.

Ayran

Considered by many the national drink of Turkey, this chilled yogurt drink not only has a long history in Central and Western Asia, but the market’s general manager, Ilker Yildirim, says it is one of the most popular items at Gourmet Fine Foods. You can find ayran pre-made in the chilled drinks section, or you can make it yourself by using equal parts yogurt and water, then adding salt to taste. Some also suggest adding fresh mint.

Gourmet Fine Foods by Istanbul Market

5227 Bethel Center Mall, Northwest Columbus, 614-451-8100

This story is from the March 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.