Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Delicious Day in Istanbul



 We have a very limited time here in Turkey, and an even more limited time in Istanbul. Certainly not enough time to dig our teeth into the nitty-gritty details of the culinary wonders, nor enough time to befriend people, go into their homes, and learn their recipes and ways. This is disappointing to me but I only have myself to blame, for booking such a whirlwind tour of a country with such a rich history. I was even told that such a short visit is an insult to the Turkish people, and for this I am sorry. We don’t even have time to stray off the beaten path as we often manage to do. I will, however, return one day. I promise.

pigeons at the new mosque

With only two days in Istanbul before departing to Capadoccia I was determined to find some place to eat that was excellent and not a tourist trap…while still not too far from our hotel as we decided to have a walkabout on our second day. With our bus departing at 6:30pm and luggage safely stowed in Pasifik Travel, we set off.

The plan: a morning in the Grand Bazaar, afternoon walking and eating.
  

I am so making these lamps when I get home.
Let me begin with the Grand Bazaar. With limited funds, we didn’t end up spending too much time there. Just enough for me to spend what little money I did have on a pair of handmade boots and a purse. Boots that are covered with embroidered flowers in bright colors that I now get to carry around in my backpack for the next 5 weeks. But I love them! I am sure you’ll see them on my feet in future posts. Money spent, we began working our way north towards the Galata Bridge towards Beyoglun, a shopping district across the Bosphoros from Sultanahmet. If this is all Turkish to you, have a look at a map of Istanbul and you’ll see what I am talking about.

shoes galore...
Highlights of our big walking day include: cats, cats, and dogs! Mosques, pigeons, and very old buildings. Turkish delicacies such as fresh juice and delectable sweets, and finally, delicious vegetable dishes, seasoned with dill, lemon, olive oil and garlic.

not such a bad place to be a stray


One thing I love about Istanbul are the juice stands that are on nearly every corner. Orange, grapefruit and pomegranate seem to be the main fruits available. (I think we are lucky to be here during pomegranate season, so am considering this to be a perk of the off season traveler). For 2.5 Turkish Lira (TL), which is less than $1.50, we enjoyed a delicious cup of fresh pressed pomegranate juice. The juice pressers that they use are the juicers from America’s past: the old mechanical orange juicers with a hand lever. I happen to have my grandmother’s at home, and am looking forward to trying it on pomegranates. I love pomegranates, and they are packed with antioxidants and other goodies, but are such a pain to get into. But this made it look easy. The juice-man simply cut off the top of the fruit, placed it on the juicer and pressed down. Try it at home and let me know how it works.

Let’s continue with our walking and eating. We have discovered a blog called Istanbul Eats, in which I read about a restaurant in the neighborhood of Beyoglun called Merih. According to this “serious eater’s guide to the city”, Merih is a meyhane (mey-hay-neh), similar to a Greek taverna. According the Istanbul Eats writers this restaurant is tucked into a “culinary no-go zone” yet the restaurant offers “no fuss, top notch dishes” packed with “gustatory punch”. At night, the meyhanes are places for music, booze and small dishes, or mezes. This place got such a great review that we decided to make it that afternoon’s destination. It took us a while to find it, and by the time we arrived our appetites were ready to be satisfied. Listening to the blog was a good move. I also loved the d├ęcor: established in 1972, with wood panel walls, we were surrounded by Turkish men tucking into their lunches on all sides. My only complaint: no hot veggie dishes. Many vegetable dishes in Turkey are served at room temperature, as was the case at Merih. But each thing we got was wonderful. The spinach (ispanak) dish, with olive oil, lemon and yogurt is turning out to be a favorite of mine for sure. We also enjoyed artichoke (enginar), white beans with veggies, and fried zuchinni croquettes (kabak tava) which I will most certainly find the recipe for and then render Gluten-Free once I get home. If you are in Istanbul Ryan, myself, and the experts give Merih a thumbs up. Address: Kamer Hatun Cad. No: 5/A Telephone: +90-212-245-4325




 After eating, we still had a couple of hours before we needed to check in for the 10-hour overnight journey to Capadoccia. We filled the time with more walking and a visit to a Turkish sweet shop. We ended up at a place that was definitely on the beaten path, called Hafiz Mustapha. We passed up about a dozen others, settling on this one for its obvious charm, and the sign on the door noting that it was established in 1864. It was like sitting inside of a filigree toybox. As you walk in the door you are greeted by the friendly staff and then offered samples of Turkish delight (as far as I can tell, this is a gluten-free offering. I do wonder if gelatin is in there, though) as well as a bunch of other tasty Turkish sweets. It also offered us a warm, cozy respite on a cold and exhausting day of walking and eating. I had my first Turkish tea, served in a small glass carafe with my pastry. Ryan bought a box of sweets and we spent a quiet hour enjoying their free WiFi at a table upstairs, looking down onto the street, people watching. It’s near the Galata bridge and the New Mosque if you’re looking. I recommend the syrupy pastries filled with pistachios, akin to Greek baklava. Address: Hamidiye Cad. #84-86 Bahcekapi-Eminonu.

my turkish tea: pronounced chai
our box of sweets

All in all, it was a delicious and lovely day wandering the streets of Istanbul.

Shortly after, we found ourselves on the bus to Anatolia, equipped with in-drive entertainment, refreshments and a front seat view to a country wide snowstorm. But that’s another post. See you in Capadoccia!

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