Our First Day in Istanbul, a Feast!

by zoe on June 25, 2010 · 33 comments  |  Print Email this to a friend

We left Minneapolis at 10am and arrived in what felt like anther world at 10am the next morning. After a flight that was anything but conducive to sleeping, we stepped out into the city of Istanbul. The air, smells, people, language, colors, sounds and cab driver were all clearly not from our Midwestern town. Despite our sleep deprived state we were excited to take this place on, but where to begin. The city is a maze of winding roads that lead away from the Bosphorus up into tangled branches of neighborhoods. Our cab driver drove onto what seemed a sidewalk width of a street, which turned out to be two way traffic, to our hotel. We checked in, went to our room to splash water on our faces and were immediately summoned back to the lobby by the receptionist who said we had a “friend” waiting for us. He whispered into the phone that we should be very careful of “friends” in this city especially since we didn’t have any!?

Oh, but we did, we just didn’t realize it. Standing in the lobby was Serap and Fatos, who we call our Istanbul Angels. It was like a surreal dream to see a familiar face in a foreign land that I was not at all expecting. Serap owns Depot 62, a Turkish restaurant in Vermont, one of those rare places I’ve been in my life that has left a mark on my soul. I know this sounds like rather extreme endorsement, but the food was so wonderful and unexpected, and Serap and the rest of the staff so warm and inviting that it made me wish I lived in Manchester. They love what they do and you can taste it and feel it. But I digress …there she was standing in the lobby of my hotel in Istanbul. She was visiting her sister and family. During my planning for the trip I had mentioned to her that I was coming and asked for some culinary connections, but despite her attempts to connect me with people, it just didn’t seem it was going to work out, so I thought. What a tremendous surprise and gift to see her smiling face.

The next several hours were spent in her care. She and Fatos gave us a tour of the Asian side of Istanbul, where they grew up.

At a blazing speed, because that is the speed everyone seems to move, she took us from the top of our hill to the ferry dock, ready to cross from Europe to Asia.

On the way we picked up a simit from one of the many street vendors. It is the like getting a soft pretzel on the streets of NYC. But, as you can see they wear them on their heads.

From the ferry we could see the city clearly and all of the wonderful mosques and palaces that would be our neighbors for the next few days. The landscape alone is worth the trip.

But, it was the food that we’d come for and Serap and her sister knew exact where to go and how to order.

We started at a restaurant called Ciya, which I had just read about in the New Yorker of all places. The chef may be credited with returning Turks to the their culinary roots. He prepares a couple dozen pots of stews, meats, greens and other hot dishes, then there is the hummos and other cold plates. It is a bit overwhelming and you definitely want to arrive hungry and with as many people as possible so you can try it ALL!

We started with fresh pide (pita) and lavash to dip in the spreads of eggplant and hummos and then to soak up the sauces from our several kebaps.

This is a “pizza” made with a paper thin pide, spread with ground meats and herbs and cumin. They serve it with a sqeeze of lemon and parsley. Roll it up like a crepe and devour. We had to order two, because it is Serap’s favorite and she wasn’t going to share this one! ;)

Kebaps are served as stews and on a stick, as I am accustomed to seeing them in the States. There seems to be as many variations as there are chefs, each with their own combination of spices.

Then there is dessert. The Turks love sweets, which meant I had to sample, despite being full beyond belief. This is a slice of candied pumpkin, which has the texture of jicama, crunchy and juicy, but very sweet. I can’t for the life of my figure out how they got that texture from a pumpkin, but I will certainly find out. It is drizzled in tahini and then sprinkled with pistachios.

This bowl of loveliness is like eating a custard made with shredded wheat, which is soaked in a delicate honey. I can only faintly recall the one bite I had, because next thing I knew my son had eaten the whole thing. This too I will make when I get home. Oh, the inspiration and it is only our first meal.

On just about every corner is a candy shop that is filled with hard candies and the local Turkish Delight.

The fruits were ripe and fragrant. The little green plums were just picked from the trees and everyone’s favorite.

Floating, cleaned artichokes.

Olives.

The fish market. This is how everyone in Turkey treated the boys. Everywhere we went they rubbed their heads, or hugged them or pinched their cheeks. They absolutely love children and are very affectionate.

After we left our Istanbul Angels on the Asian side of Istanbul we made our way back to the neighborhood of our hotel, found a restaurant around the corner with a view

of the minarettes from the Blue Mosque. The restaurant had no roof, great food and music that soothed us all to sleep.

After our journey from Minneapolis, a full day in Istanbul and our first glass of apple tea, we were all ready for a good night sleep. What a start to our month of travel. A day of marvel that never would have been without the arrival of our two Istanbul Angles. Thank you Serap and Fatos!

Turkish Delight Day 2 – Candy and more!

Turkish Spice Market Day 3 – roosters make bad neighbors!

Naples – pizza, pizza and more pizza.

Our Roman Holiday – The Pope, Gladiator School and Smokin’ Gelato

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