Sep 21, 2009


About a month ago I finally ticked off my travel list a destination I had been dreaming of going to... ISTANBUL! What a place! What a magical, charming, captivating city! I cannot believe that I had not been earlier... You know how they say "visit Napoli and then die"? Well I think the same should be applied to Istanbul (don't get me mistaken, Napoli is a beautiful place and also highly worth a visit). But Istanbul is really something... it's not just a destination, it's truly an experience. Istanbul is a city that stimulates all your senses- it's not just about seeing some of the most beautiful architecture or tasting some of the most scrumptious food, it's about charmismatic smells, sounds and colours that you discover in each and every street corner.
It's about a highly addictive blue illuminating the city from the Bosphorus, the Marmara, or the clear skies.
It's about the most interesting culture, past and present - and even thoughts about what the future could be in a place between East & West (above- Ataturk on the walls of Istanbul)
It's about a city that never stops, that never sleeps, that's captures your attention in every single way. It's a city that is loaded with the most creative (and friendliest) people that undeniably play a big role in explaining Istanbul's beauty. And when it all becomes too much, the best way to escape and soothe your eyes is looking into that addictive "Istanbul blue" (I guess that is what Im naming that oh-so-special colour from now on!)
But now it's time to talk about FOOD! Istanbul might just be a perfect destination for any food lover out there- it has a most rich culinary culture. It's a food culture that is truly alive- living in the streets, behind glass windows, in restaurants, leaving pathways of mouthwatering scents for you to follow and most importantly leading you to taste... sending you straight to food paradise.

When I selected some of the gazillion food photos I took, the one that I knew I had to mention first and foremost is simitici (the round bread things below). What is Istanbul without street stands of simitici literally everywhere??? Probably the first and last thing you will see in the city. Typical street food, that can exist in different variants, but these golden doughnut shaped fluffly brioche-like breads are a must try. At least once. It is definately part of the Istanbul experience.
Another thing that I cannot disassociate from Istanbul is the smell of grilled corn cobs everywhere... the perfume of the city without a doubt.
And of course another signature scent that will tickle your nose is the notorious Turkish coffee. Without sugar for me- I like it bitter...but if you are a first timer at this you might enjoy it only with tons of sugar inside.

Sticking to the subject of hot beverages, even more famous I'd say is the tea (- sacred tea even, as there is such a powerful tea culture in Istanbul). Tea is not just tea- it is almost a symbol of the Turkish hospitality, it is not uncommon to be offered a cup of tea for free. It is prepared in a particular way (two tea kettles are placed on top of each other), presented in small transparent cups allowing you to enjoy it's rich colour and sip away slowly...knowing you will be having another one in maybe just a couple of hours!
How is it possible to not notice the unique ice-cream "dondurma" and all the entertainment that goes along with it? (of course, the ice-cream choreography is mainly targeted to tourists!) (p.s: the youtube video is not mine!)
What is Istanbul without the rich array of fruits & vegetables, sold not only on markets but as street food too (for instance: the most incredible cucumber above). Ripe, juicy, aromatic, tasty fruits & veggies everywhere... coming back to Paris made me think "what on earth am I eating here? This doesnt compare one bit to what I had in Istanbul!" It's such a pity that authentically tasty fruits & veggies are so hard to find in the modern Western world... genetically modified produce is humankind's worst invention!
Istanbul is a sugar-coated city, with temptation coming from everywhere thanks to it's most delightful sweet specialties... impossible to resist! From infamous baklava (in all different varities, classic, chocolate, pistachio...) ... the curiously titled "fake chicken breast" a some sort of nick name for "yalanci tavuk gogsu" (below)... the loukoums (above) and the halva (below)...
...and of course, the incredible honey! Then it is time to take a stroll in the grandiose grand bazaar & spice market where you will bump into everything from traditional costumes, to beautiful glowing lamps... colourful hilltops of spices and the most eyecatching teas...
...and if you're feeling experimentive, you might want to bring back home some "natural turkish viagra"... ;-)
and then there is the famous dolma rolling machine that I had read about a while back on Café Fernando (one of my all time favourite blogs).. which I finally found in real while walking towards the Spice market (and I even ended up getting one!)
If you love fish, you will love Istanbul. Fish is everywhere, from the markets, to the most interesting concept ever. As I was passing by the Galata Bridge, a strong smell of fish was through the air and directed me to these boats lined up passing over to the other side what turned out to be "balik ekmek" which is nothing more then a fish sandwich. As I approached, I noticed that the fish is actually cooked on the boats and the sandwiches are prepared so quickly to satisfy the long queue of people waiting for their balik ekmek, enjoyed with a generous squirt of lemon juice and pickles. We knew we couldnt leave before having tried one!

So this is the end of what turned out to be a very long post- but it is merely impossible to share & write less about Istanbul... now one of my favourite places and without a doubt I will be back again.


Makey-Cakey said...

I have just come back from a trip to Istanbul and agree wholeheartedly with your descriptions - it is an AMAZING city with so many sights smells sounds and delicious tastes. Pineapple quarters on lollipop sticks were my favourite 'fast-food' find - much better than a bag of crisps!

Sara D'amore said...

I've recently gone to Istanbul and agree wholeheartedly that it was a delightful surprise! I loved the culture, history, nature, and the food was exceptionally good. Desserts were my favorite, of course :)