Showing posts with label Istanbul friends. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Istanbul friends. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Istanbul Food Tour with Olga from 'Delicious Istanbul'

Olga and me
"I'll tell you a secret," my Russian friend Olga Tikhanova Irez said. My husband and I are moving from Istanbul." 

I was shocked. Olga had built a business known all over the world giving culinary walks in Istanbul. She had foodies beating a path to her door. The seats for her monthly breakfast cafes were so coveted, Istanbullians were lucky to get a spot. How could she give that up? 

"We purchased a place in Alaçatı, Turkey and we're going to create a restaurant there. I want to feature the food of our grandmothers," she added.

Alaçatı is a well-known resort area on Turkey's North Aegean coast where many Turks go to vacation. Every year it hosts the world wind-surfing championships because its bay has the perfect conditions for windsurfing.

I had been to Alaçatı and knew how fantastic its open-air produce market was, how the relaxed resort atmosphere would contribute to joyful gastronomy and a wonderful experience for her future diners. "I haven't announced it yet," she added. 

I was so grateful to know! I simply had to go on one of Olga's culinary walks before she left Istanbul and began her new life. I immediately cleared the next day of any other activities. This was an Istanbul experience on my bucket list that I simply could not miss.

"Try not to eat before you come. Come hungry." Olga advised with understatement.
"Let's take a group photo
while we're all still skinny!"
My fellow foodies on the walk were two couples from Hong Kong, fast friends for twenty years, who had travelled the world together. They were in town for a medical convention where the two doctors would be presenting. The couples' warm friendship and enthusiasm for life added to the joy of the day. 
Three different kinds of menemen,
wonderful Turkish comfort food.
We started at the dock in Kadiköy, a beautiful neighborhood for culinary exploration because so much of what makes Istanbul famous for Turkish food is all available within a couple blocks. Our first stop was a breakfast featuring two Turkish classics: menemen and Turkish tea.

Olga knows her menemen; her own recipe for the dish had been featured in the Guardian. So if she said "this is the place where you should come for menemen," I knew it had to be incredibly special. To preserve her 'secrets' I won't show you the names of any of the places she took us.
A beautiful Turkish tradition:
soldiers write notes on napkins here
and pin them to the wall,
as they come to eat
one last menemen
before leaving for their service,
or return for one
in celebration
 of surviving it!
I loved the pride of these men -
all proud menemenciler!
Fıstıklı dürüm.
Dürüm is a Turkish word
used to describe
anything rolled,
making this
rolled-pistachio baklava.
Next up was a specialty of Gaziantep, Turkey, baklava. Gaziantep is famous as the culinary capital of Turkey. The number one thing to eat there, on a very long list of gastronomic treasures, is baklava. I had never tried fıstıklı dürüm baklava before this day. It has become my new dessert obsession.

How good is this baklava? Just to learn about this one particular type of baklava would be enough of a culinary education to make the whole day a success. I love it that much. Yet, we were just getting started!
The walnut-based baklava in back
is topped with kaymak,
a very fragile Turkish
clotted cream
that can make one swoon.
Kaymak,
a pillow of extraordinary excellence,
must be eaten
the day it is made.
There are no words.
The taste! The perfection!
The tradition!
I love all of the imagination
Turks bring to making nuts sing
in their desserts.
 And then they add: kaymak!
People travel
from all over the world
to eat this.
The green baklava
is fıstıklı ezme.
Think of it as pistachio marzipan.
Isn't that a brilliant idea?
Pistachio marzipan?
It is every bit as fantastic as it looks.
What brilliant imagination!
The other baklava
features a bit of crunch
paired with the pistachio goodness.
As global as
Western markets have become,
there are still
many, many produce surprises
to discover via travel.
Here are three offerings
I had never seen
until moving to Turkey.
I love the mystery of them.
What does one do with them?
We passed many mysteries
as we walked around
Kadiköy's open-air market.
Olga would
patiently explain each one.
Next up, was one of the most beautiful of Turkish food ideas:
mezes. Mezes are usually the appetizer to a meal and Turks have hundreds and hundreds of different recipes for them.

The meze tradition is to offer a little taste of this and a little taste of that. I have always thought it was the perfect way to acclimatize children to more sophisticated tastes. "Just try a bite," I can imagine Turkish parents saying.

We popped into one of my favorite spots in the open-air market of Kadiköy, a great gastronimical shop showcasing tantalizing mezes and superb regional food products.
Olga had her favorites
she wanted us to taste.
There were so many choices!
Olga assembled a
model meze masterpiece.
Most of these mezes
are vegetable-based.
You can't go wrong
they are so delicious and healthy.

I love the taste combinations
new to my American palate
like the carrot and eggplant meze
right in the middle of the plate.
I've gone back for it again and again.

If I could popularize
one vegetable
back home in America
it would be eggplant.
I never grow tired
of all the different ways
Turkish cooks use it.
It's fantastic!
If you had told me that,
I would never have believed it
because I really
hadn't experienced it before.
The meat on the left is pastirma,
a specialty of Kayseri, Turkey.
I lived in Turkey a year before
I had the guts to try it.
It seemed so different:
dried meat with a paste around it?
How could that be good?
Sounds like something
mountain men
would pack in a duffle.
Then I had pastirma in menemen.
Wow. I'm hooked. 
On the right
a meatball new to me
that was a more subtle
taste sensation.
The mezeci loved giving
Olga a hard time
as they posed for photos.
All kinds of Turkish cheeses
vacuum-packed
to take home to Asia.
Next stop: a UNESCO
"intangible cultural heritage"
'Turkish kitchen' isn't just about the food. Yes, the food is fabulous. 'Turkish kitchen' is also about the rituals that go with each different food. Our next stop was to try a Turkish ritual so globally cherished UNESCO has labeled it "an intangible cultural heritage."
Around the corner
from our meze shop
was one of Istanbul's
most beloved Turkish coffeeshops.
It was the perfect spot
to wind down
from an exciting morning
before venturing out
for more discovery.
Each Turkish coffee
is accompanied by a
glass of water
and a single bite
of sweetness.
See the lokum?
In English,
it's known as 'Turkish Delight.'
Turkish coffee is exquisitely satisfying. The first steaming hot sip of the foamy concoction sends a signal to all nerve endings: slow down, enjoy, relax.
Me telling fortunes
Photo by Olga
Each sip is savored as simply as the conversation and fortune telling that ensue when the cup of coffee is finished. The cup is turned over and the pattern of the coffee grounds fortell one's future as a friend 'reads' the inside of the cup.

The ritual of it all is enough to make an overseas Turk cry out with homesickness at a mere photograph of Turkish food rituals.

 
Pickled cabbage
There were more specialty food stores to explore after our coffee. We were off to the pickle place next. It seems everything can be pickled!


Olga offered us
a cool refreshing glass
of pickle juice.
She also offered us
fresh turnip juice
called şalgam.
Don't turn it down
because it sounds odd.
It's fantastic,
especially when paired
with the
specialty meat kebabs
from the cities
out East.
Şalgam is zingy, fresh, delicious!
All of these
fresh regional food products
can be vaccum-packed
to take home in one's suitcase.
You didn't think
we would go through an
Istanbul culinary adventure
without fish, did you?
This gorgeous plate
of fried hamsi
is from the Black Sea.

The Black Sea
has its own special culture
and hamsi (fried anchovies)
makes a Black Sea Turk
puff up with pride.
Bet you can't eat just one.
I forgot the name
of this spicy chicken dish
but it was tender and juicy
and yummy over rice.

After our lunch
of fish and chicken
Olga had one last
open-air
produce market
she wanted to show us.

It was huge,
stretching for several blocks.
We walked through it all,
pausing here and there
to explain
produce new to us. 
They taste as wonderful
as they look -
Çanakkale tomatoes.
Why can't we have
tomatoes like this
back home?
Skinny green peppers
are the Turks' favorite;
They are frequently grilled
and served with kebab.
Even before I went on
this food walk
with Olga,
I think of her whenever
I see beautiful market greens.
She knows exactly
what to do with them.
Foraging for nettles
and spring greens
is a beautiful Russian
childhood tradition.
These flat beans
which I've never seen
for sale in America,
make a delicious cold salad
called Ayşe Kadin Fasulye
(the woman Ayse's beans).

Plan on buying a lot?
Porters will carry
all of it for you
as you make
your selections.
I was so grateful to experience 'Olga's Istanbul' before she moved.
I can't wait to follow her restaurant adventure. You can follow her restaurant adventure too via her blog, Delicious Istanbul, or make reservations directly at the Babushka Alaçatı website.


If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy these other foodie posts about Istanbul:

Enjoying Olga's #Istanbulbreakfastclub

The Days of Wine and Roses and Tulips: Wine Tasting at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet

Dinner on the Bosphorus at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski's Bosphorus Grill

Afternoon Tea and Pastry with Guest Chef Yann Duytsche in the Gazebo Lounge at Çırağan Palace Kempinski

"Midnight at the Pera Palace Hotel" with the Global Minds Book Club

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Thanks for reading!
Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Midnight at the Pera Palace" with the Istanbul Global Minds Book Club

If ever there was a book that was a perfect match for my Istanbul "Global Minds Book Club" it is this one: "Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul" by Georgetown International Relations and Government professor Charles King.

We selected it for our January read this month, because a reporter and photographer from Ankara, Turkey, were flying into Istanbul to do a photo shoot and cover story on our book club for Tempo Magazine.

We wanted to pick a book that Turkish readers of the magazine would also find interesting, so that we as a book club had done everything we could to help promote reading culture in Turkey.
Red carpet? Of course.
The dapper staff
immediately greets everyone
who walks in the door,
happy to help you make the most
of your visit
"Welcome,
to the Pera Palace
of Istanbul"
To make our day and the photo shoot extra special, we decided to meet at the glorious, historic Pera Palace itself. The Pera Palace is the hotel that was built by the creator of the luxury train line, the Orient Express, which used to transport glamorous passengers in style from Paris to Istanbul. Upon arriving in Istanbul, passengers would be hand-carried to the hotel from the Sirkeci train station, in a Turkish tahtırevan, or palanquin, as it is known in English.
Imagine seeing Istanbul
for the first time
through the windows of a
Turkish tahtırevan
The Pera Palace Hotel
boasts of the second-oldest elevator
in all of Europe,
installed in 1892,
only three years
after the elevator
in the Eiffel Tower.
It's still operational.
One special little nook
in the hotel
is the Patisserie de Pera
We didn't meet here,
but the little patisserie
is such a happy room
I can't resist
sharing photos of it.
 The colors!

The friendly workforce
know how to make
every visit fun,
and who doesn't fancy a
festive fascinator?
Spring flowers
abound in the lobby.
 What could be more dazzling
to a book club
than a spectacular library
between the lobby and the bar?
 Our group was meeting in
the Orient Bar
Who else has enjoyed
the Orient Bar
before we arrived
for our special day?
Atatürk,
the founder of the Turkish Republic,
Ernest Hemingway,
adventurer and famous macho man,
plus Agatha Christie,
bestselling mystery writer
 Giggling with friends
before everyone else arrives
Our second generation
club organizers,
Matt Howell
and Nilüfer Tufanoğlu
Our club member
Filiz Kavak,
made the day a delight
by arranging press coverage
and booking our spectacular setting
With triple our normal turnout
it was nice that the bar
had been set up
in small discussion groups
Bookish brain food!
The Global Minds Book Club
prides itself on being
 people from around the world,
discussing books
from around the world.
On this day,
with thirty people present,
we had five continents represented
and fourteen different countries.
It helped to have at least
one Turk at every table.
We had such a
riveting, spirited discussion.
Nationalities represented
in my group:
Turkish, Russian, Polish,
Netherlands, Venezuelan,
American, and Chinese.
What made "Midnight at the Pera Palace: the Modern History of Istanbul" such a fun read is that it was written by a yabancı (a foreigner to Turkey). All of the angst that would go into the description of one's own history wasn't there; it was the fantastic storytelling that remained.

I describe 'Midnight' as an expat history of expat and refugee Istanbul. The book felt so alive and relevant when I was reading about White Russians refugees in Istanbul during the 1920s while the ruble was crashing this month. The club loved reading about the musicians, diplomats, spies, feminists, and future statesmen who contributed in their way to the city Napoleon described as the capital of the world, if the world had one.

I found the central metaphor of why the book was called "Midnight at the Pera Palace" stunning. I won't spoil it by sharing it. Some of our members wanted more Pera Palace stories in the book, and one of our Turkish members said she was surprised that there were no historical surprises. The history in 'Midnight' of 20th-century Istanbul and Turkey was more-or-less as she had been taught. 

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Istanbul and Turkey. One of our members said "sequel, please!" Personally, I think this author needs a movie contract. The cinematography of this setting, this time, and this history would be irresistible.

Would you like to learn more about the Global Minds Book Club? I am so proud of our book club founder and inspiration, Clarence Lomot Nartey, of Ghana. It isn't easy to create a lasting legacy as an expat. Clarence did. Global Minds Book Club is now starting its fourth year. Clarence, you would have been deeply pleased with yesterday's success.

Here are some posts about past discussions:



Want to find out how you can help promote reading culture in Turkey? Read this post:


Want to learn more about the Pera Palace Hotel, now owned by the Sheikh of Dubai? Check out the web site. Their memorable video actually does a great job of capturing what our day was like.

Want to know where 'Midnight' author, Charles King, goes to eat first when he comes to Istanbul? Culinary Backstreets blog has the lowdown.

Looking for another great book from this side of the world?
Here's three I recommend:




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