Travelling Turkey - The story of a love affair
Blog by Deni Archer
The story of a love affair
“Come in, you look cold, have some apple tea!” As a South African negotiating snow covered cobbled streets, I was cold. As a tea lover, I couldn’t resist - nearly every time I heard that welcome, which was often considering that Turkish shop owners are probably the most exquisitely hospitable salesmen in the world, and that sharing a cup of tea means “we’ll be friends for forty years!” How can you refuse such a gesture?
Istanbul is a city steeped in history and rich in culture. Even in winter, even in the snow, the streets are alive with activity. In fact, the snow only added to the charm of it. I fell in love. What’s to love? The beauty, the architecture, the art, the colours, the bazaars, the nargile and tea houses, the turkish baths, the people, the vibrance. And, of course, the food.
Eating, praying, and loving it
If you’re a traveler looking to satisfy your palate, you won’t be disappointed. Let’s begin this tale of food on the streets. Depending where you are in the city, from Sultanahmet with its arabic prayer soundtrack, to Karaköy with its grungy art galleries and general hipness, you’ll find vendors of varying kinds - from fire-engine-red wheely carts to tiny kiosks to market lanes. In winter, the carts offer roasted chestnuts, a variety of Turkish breads (like ‘simit’, which people pick up to munch on the way to work), and a rich and nourishing hot drink made from the roots of a mountain orchid, called ‘sahlep’.
At many kiosks you’ll find all the goods you’ll need to fend off any flu viruses - fruit, fruit and more fruit - the main attraction for me being the holy pomegranate. By the heap, and they’ll freshly press a few of them into a cup of superjuice for you to sip on while you walk. Considering that in SA you’ll pay about R70 per litre of the cold-pressed ruby drink, this is a bit of a luxury.
While I was meandering through the backstreets of Beyoğlu one day seeking out photo galleries, I stumbled upon what I can only describe as ‘Food With A Story heaven’. A market lane jam-packed with a sensational selection of produce, in copious varieties. Buckets of olives, vine leaves, capers and more; bottle upon bottle of pickles; trays of breads and pastries; mounds of spices, fresh and dried fruit, and nuts; veg, fresh fish and more. At this point (and at numerous more) I began wishing that I lived in Istanbul and had my own kitchen to take all the beautiful ingredients to and magic up a feast. But I didn’t, so I took photos instead. And, of course, tried and bought tiny morsels where I could.
Then there are the shops and restaurants, from your ever present kebab shop with steamy windows showcasing their wares, to tiny east-west fusion cafes like Datli Maya (where everything is cooked in an old stone oven - a must see), to the more refined restaurants. The common thread is that the food is all rich and appetizing, and caters for meat lovers and vegetarians alike.
A little flirt doesn't hurt
A place to experience before you leave (or as soon as you arrive, for that matter) is the buzzing atmosphere of the spice bazaar. It’s a sensory assault of colours, smells and tastes - not to mention charm. And if you can handle a dose of good-natured flirtation (which, as a woman, you’ll get whether you like it or not) you can negotiate some pretty good deals on teas and turkish delight that are requisite gifts (to friends and self) to take back home with you...
If you you're not already booking your flights to Istanbul, do it. Maybe you'll also fall in love, and if you don't you'll at least make a few friendships that should last... about forty years.
A few must-eats in Istanbul:
- Ayran - simply put this is a cold beverage of plain yoghurt, water and salt. Just try it. Often comes in cute retro bottles!
- Sahlep - if it’s winter you have to try a cup of this thick, rich drink made from the roots of the mountain orchid.
- Any dish with eggplant/aubergine - they prepare it just beautifully and it’s supposedly the favourite vegetable of the country. Try Hunkar Begendi, or Tesrube (the latter of which I ate while there but cannot find any reference to on the internet!)
- Kofte - these are basically meatballs, but Turkish foodies would beg to differ, saying they are so much more.
- İskender kebap - one of the most famous meat dishes from north western Turkey
- Baklava - you may think this is a Greek pastry, but it’s been claimed to originate in the imperial kitchens of Topkapi Palace, Istanbul. A very sweet, syrupy and crispy pastry.
- Turkish delights - obviously. They come in so many forms and flavours you won’t get bored. I recommend the classic rose and the roasted pistachio.
- Tea, tea and more tea - all kinds. Go wild.
Street vendors sell all kinds of culinary delights, from Turkish breads like simit (left, below) to freshly pressed pomegranate juice (right)
Roasted chestnuts are a common sight on the streets during winter
A Vitamin Shop - selling a wide range of nourishing fruits like orange, grapefruit, apples, kiwifruit, pomegranate, grapes and pineapple.
A kebab shop showcasing some menu options in the shop window
The market lane, Balik Pazari, off the main shopping street in Beyoglu
Datli Maya - a must see east-west fusion restaurant where everything is cooked in a historical stone oven with an open fire
Kitchen at Datli Maya
Sharing food with some fellow travelers at Datli Maya
Turkish delight shop in Karakoy
The ambience of the spice bazaar is not to be missed. A sensory assault unparalleled.
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