From Dervishes to Samba - Fall 2011 travel blog

cooking anchovies

fermented millet seed


Turkish delight

serving tea

fresh fruit



outdoor department store


Istanbul is known for its diverse and excellent cuisine. When we researched the city on Trip Advisor, one of our favorite travel web sites, most of the top rated tours involved food. The one we chose was raved about and rather pricey and exemplified the saying that you get what you pay for.

Our group of six met a guide who was originally from Greece. There has been a lot of bad blood between the Greeks and Turks over the years, but Angelis fell in love with the city the first time he came here and it showed. Although he was trained as a civil engineer, he started a travel blog about his experiences in Istanbul which gave him exposure to both communities. Greeks began to email when they were in town to ask about good places to eat and this was the beginning of a perfect career. This tour has been written up recently in the Washington Post and Atlantic Monthly and as his fame is beginning to spread, he has had to hire more help. We were lucky that we had the originator of this tour today.

We met at the Spice Market, a touristic display of spices, other food stuffs, and lots of geegaws like hookahs and ceramics. The rent is high there so we looked rather than bought and moved outside where the real people shop. We ate almost non stop from 9:30am until 4pm with brief walks from eatery to eatery. It's hard to remember everything we had, but it was all interesting and most of it was very good. Breakfast included thick Turkish coffee served in little thimble sized cups that were sludge half way down. That would take some getting used to. We also had fresh baked breads, cheese and sausage with names too complicated to duplicate. Two of our group members had birthdays and a wonderful cake filled with cream and pistachios was suddenly produced complete with lit candles.

Greece is noted for its baklava, but the Turkish version is also wonderful. It uses sugar syrup rather than honey and the expensive version is very green since it is lots of nuts wrapped in a single layer of phyllo. They also had an innovative version that included chocolate that was a big hit with us all.

As we moved further away from the tourist spots, the shop grew smaller and we seemed to be the only non natives on the street. Many of the women wore dark coats and head scarves and men predominated. Our guide said that the Turks are getting a lot of pressure from fundamentalists in Iran and are criticized for their open minded approach to the Muslim religion and how it is manifested here. The calls to prayer five times a day are hard to miss and their are mosques around every corner. The moderates may not be winning.

We went to a little sarcophagus like structure large enough to seat twenty people who really like each other that has been a restaurant for the laborers in the area for the last 500 years. There we had red lentil soup that had a seasoning like nothing I've ever tasted. Then we went to a pide stop where a man made the Turkish version of pizza, shaping the dough with his fingers and adding a variety of meat and vegetable ingredients. He flipped up the edges of the dough and brush them with something that looked buttery and in eight minutes they came out of the wood fired oven tasting heavenly.

One of the odder things we consumed was a drink made of fermented millet seed seasoned with cinnamon. It was not alcoholic and tasted smooth and creamy. Another strange recipe was for a pudding that included shredded chicken breast boiled into oblivion in rice milk and thickened. Yummy as well.

The tour ended in a nice Kurdish restaurant, but we were so full we did not do it justice. I brought home the fresh figs that were part of dessert to have tomorrow.

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