An Istanbul Retrospective

An hypnotic aura permeates Istanbul, inexplicably seducing me, its melancholy and contradictions satisfying some deep seated inner need for chaos.

The determined entrepreneur opening up his tiny van for late night dinner service on a side of the highway. Steaming mounds of rice and chickpeas await consumption on minuscule tables and stools carefully arranged in the background.

The allegiance, Turkish people feel for classic homestyle dishes from all over their country. There is at least one individual who cooks in each household, usually the grandmother, mother, an aunt, or even the housekeeper. Someone is keeping traditional Turkish dishes alive, every day. There are even countless popular television programs devoted to the promotion and preparation of regional cuisine.

How could I live without the ubiquitous scent of freshly sliced onions simmering in olive oil, drifting slowly down the stairs and out the open windows of apartment buildings all over the city.

The Kadikoy branch of Kurukahveci Mehmet Effendi roasters perfuming the air with the scent of freshly ground Turkish coffee within a three block radius, compelling us all to step inside the store for a bag, if only to fill our lungs with the heady aroma.

Wet, autumnal weather by the Bosphorus, near the Rumeli Hisari fortress, where the strait bends in such a way the massive cargo ships appear to be sailing abreast of you. The warm lights and rich scents of bakeries and restaurants selling flaky, rich, golden hued borek pastry, and poğaça. The essence of roasted chestnuts and smoke from wood burning stoves hanging heavily in the air.

And then there is the sight of hard working men, taking a break from collecting garbage, or fixing sidewalks, the curvaceous tea glass held daintily by rough hands.

The stark, utilitarian appearance of a seemingly ancient firin, flour forming a fine film on tables, the floor; mounds of pillowy dough ready for the searing hot, wood fired oven. Tumescent crusty loaves exiting the oven in heated waves, quickly and delicately arranged by naked hands in primitive, age stained baskets for immediate delivery.

The sound of the muezzin as the imams begin their haunting chorus before the first light of dawn. The call as poignant as a fine symphonic composition.

The sharp scents of oregano, hand made soap, and lemon cologne following you down the street as you pass a dogal varlik store.

The bazaars, held weekly, in most neighborhoods, all over Turkey, a riot of color, sound, and scent, overwhelming at first, and then immensely amusing and addictive. The sellers, ever theatrical with their unique sales pitches, their abundant generosity, even as they hound you to buy this and then that, and then something over there. It’s always a good time. If you cook, in your excitement, you buy far too many fruits, vegetables, eggs, and  cheese from various Anatolian villages, but how can you resist the beauty and freshness. These farmers and resellers of produce craft spellbinding displays from the fruit of our earth…artists in their own right.


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Coffee. Beer. Climbing Tall Things.

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