I swear that eating is not all I’ve done since arriving in Istanbul. I would swear that but it would be a total and utter lie. Yesterday afternoon, Eve and Leroy were standing on the curb outside the hotel as Mary and I arrived from the airport. With quick hugs all around (well, we didn’t hug Eve because she has a terrible cold) we drop our bags in our room and headed out for a walk. It was a lovely night and relaxing to walk in the fresh air amid all of the city hustle and bustle. We ended up in a coffee cafe. What was my first Turkish meal?? Chai and a grilled cheese sandwich! Pathetic choice but it wasn’t overwhelming and I did finish it all. 🙂
This morning we headed for our “Istanbul Eats: Exploring the Culinary Backstreets” adventure.
Oh, adventure doesn’t begin to cover it. We arrived at the meeting place 20 minutes early so had a chance to walk through the nearby open market. Mary had never been to an open market and it was fun to see her reaction as we walked by some of the displays – legs of lamb hanging in the open air, freshly gutted fish, a myriad of olives, spices, fruit, tomatoes the size of grapefruits, grapes the size of lemons (well, that might be an exaggeration), strings of dried eggplant. There was a lot to see and smell.
Our tour began at 9:30 and we did, indeed explore the back streets. I could easily write pages and pages and pages of descriptions of the foods, tastes and post way more pictures than anyone would be interested in, but in the interest of highlights, I’ve picked few things that stood out for me.
We started first with a simple breakfast of Turkish coffee, simik (sesame seed encrusted bread), fresh figs, cheese and kaymak.
Kaymak is a wonderful mix of clotted cream and honey and on the simik it was heavenly.
Our next stop was a local street food vendor. This wrap is cooked rotisserie style for quite a long time.
Making it is an art…and there are not many places in Istanbul that still take the time to do it. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the dish, but I do remember the ingredients: sweet breads (sheep kidneys/brains) wrapped in sheep intestines basted with sheep tail fat. We were brave, chewed, swallowed and lived to tell the tale.
Walking on a bit further on, we stopped in the courtyard of what used to be a caravan stop. The ground floor used to have room for wares and the camels carrying them; the upper level was rooming for the vendors. The building has been redone slightly and now there are only two metal workers with shops and the main courtyard is being used for poetry readings and cultural gatherings. Here is our little group enjoying tea and tahini helva (a sesame seed paste dessert) in the courtyard.
Of course no culinary trip would miss a chance to show off the famous Turkish Delight candy or Baklava. Hooray for these stops. The Turkish Delight and almost all of the candy in Altan Sekerleme is handcrafted…four generations (since 1865) have created these confections.
Here’s something that I learned today that I wonder if you know? Proper baklava is not made with honey. No, no, no! Proper baklava is made with a sugar syrup. Who knew? We had samples of three different varieties of this sweet…this shop (which I can’t remember the name of) makes their own phyllo dough. And their baklava has 60-85 layers depending on the type. But, you don’t have to know any of this to enjoy the pistachio rich, wafer thin layers that truly melt in your mouth.
I did warn you earlier that I could go on and on about today’s walk! I won’t. I’ll close by mentioning one other yummy experience. We went to a shop, “Vefa Boracisi,” and had glasses of boza. Wonderful! Boza,is a fermented beverage, kind of like a milkshake, but without the milk. It is made of fermented millet and the sugar that is created in fermentation process. It’s served with a spoon, with cinnamon sprinkled on top and then topped with roasted chickpeas. Sounds weird but the contrast between the chickpeas and the boza was striking and very good. I said the drink is fermented, but the alcohol content is watched closely and it is only about 1%.
Vefa Boracisi is run by the great-grandson of the founder who opened this shop in 1876.
Some Turks believe that boza is a winter drink, like we drink hot chocolate, and to drink it in the summer is just ‘not right’. Well, they are wrong! I think you can drink boza anytime you want, and I would if I could.
Finally, here’s something we did NOT have today!
That’s our culinary trek for today in a nutshell (have I mentioned the HUGE walnuts?). I hope you enjoyed the descriptions and photos in today’s post.
Here’s another contest (if you’ve already won, you can’t win again…): Send me the name of the novel and the author to which the title of this post can be attributed. First one to post to my Facebook wins.
Tomorrow begins our first real day of our Turkey tour…we will be 5 of a group of 27. Should be fun! Hope you stay tuned…