Capital of empires and cultures, Istanbul is at the same time Turkey’s ‘lord of tastes’, with head-turning gustatory pleasures on offer at every turn.
Two completely different mornings dawn simultaneously in Istanbul, which straddles two continents in a way seen nowhere else in the world. A dark day in Asia can be as bright and bushy-tailed as a new bride on the European side. White ferries depart from centuries-old landings as the Judas trees that robe the Bosphorus in imperial purple begin to reflect the first light of day. Capital to three empires and sprawling over two continents, magical Istanbul perched on its proverbial seven hills slowly begins to divulge certain aspects of these mysterious numbers. Sultanahmet Square is visible in the distance. Immediately next to it the thousand-year-old Hagia Sophia pleasance. Century-old plane trees, said to enchant the night, and delicate lindens, rumored to be diminished by the light of day. On the quay, gaily flagged ships from all over the world. And as the morning wears on, the old houses of Eyüp along the Golden Horn, which really does begin to gleam like gold. Topkapı Palace, nestled in the shade of a dark green grove...
Istanbul, redolent of life and magnolias.
NEW FAVORITE WITH THE WORLD’S GASTRONOMES
Istanbul, which seduces on even a brief sojourn, is now beginning to emerge as a ‘capital of tastes’. For Istanbul, which for centuries has played host to the world’s greatest empires, possesses an extraordinary culinary richness. As a giant cellar and spice depot for Western Rome in the time of the Eastern Roman Empire, Istanbul in the Ottoman period became a city in which all the blessings of Mesopotamia, acknowledged cradle of the world’s oldest culinary cultures, were raised to the zenith. With these very special features, Istanbul today has begun to take its place among world tourism destinations. Tourists come not only to visit its historic sites but to partake as well of the social life of this world city. Visitors to Istanbul can enjoy not only an extremely rich culinary culture with roots going back thousands of years but at the same time contemporary flavors. Editors and critics from the world’s most highly respected newspapers and gastronomy magazines are visiting Istanbul to
sample the richness of Turkish cuisine in the place where it was born, and to pass it along to their readers, who number in the millions. And global television networks like BBC, CNN and TV5 are making informative programs about Istanbul and its eating culture.
MYRIAD MARKETS ALL IN ONE PLACE
Whether you prefer the traditional flavors or are an adventurer seeking new departures in eating and drinking, you can experience a full-scale ‘whirlwind of tastes’ to last an entire day in Istanbul. When you visit the neighborhood markets set up all over the city on different days of the week, the rich variety of fruits and vegetables will literally dazzle your eyes. And a wide range of fish, caught in the Black Sea, the Marmara or the Mediterranean or in one of Turkey’s many lakes and rivers, are available at the city’s wholesale fish markets.
We come now to the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar, a must-stop for every tourist who comes to Istanbul. You won’t believe your eyes when you see the array of spices, lokoum and dried fruits and nuts at this market, a ‘temple of taste’ for hundreds of years for people from every walk of life. When you’re done shopping, you can discover even more incredible tastes in the many cafes and restaurants in the surrounding area. Important opportunities to acquaint yourself with Turkish cuisine are available inside the city walls as well, where the historic monuments and many museums are located.
One more unusual route, for example, can be arranged around the Üsküdar Market on the city’s Asian side. If you are on the European side, you can jump on one of the city line ferries and, following a light breakfast of a crusty simit, savory poğaça or tender açma accompanied by freshly steeped tea consumed on board, you can delve into the historical depths of Üsküdar. Later on, in one of the working class restaurants inside the market, you can taste a Turkish dish that you’ll be praising to the skies for years to come. Don’t be put off by the designation, ‘working class restaurant’, for these modest eateries can easily vie with the world’s leading dining establishments. And you will never forget the name or the taste of the kadınbudu köfte (‘Ladies thigh meatballs’) or imambayıldı (‘Sultan’s delight eggplant’) consumed here.
Allow some time to pass before sampling the special sweets. Then make your way up the Kanlıca hills and have a yoghurt topped with honey or confectioner’s sugar, a specialty of this quarter. Proceed from there to Çamlıca, one of the loveliest legacies left to the city by the late Çelik Gülersoy, guru of Istanbul restoration. As the red-tinged sun is about to sink in the Sea of Marmara, sip a glass of tea and gaze across the water at the lights reflected in the windows of the Galata Tower opposite. And remember the hopeless love that raged for centuries without surcease between this scamp of a tower and the Virgin’s Tower that rises like a tall slender maiden off the shore of Salacak below.
Another gastronomical tour can be made during the daytime to the fish market at Beyoğlu. After tasting the fish and ‘meze’ appetizers on Nevizade Street, you can continue on to Eyüp for a view of a completely different Istanbul from Pierre Loti Hill. And on another Istanbul day when the ouds are playing melodies in the ancient modes, take a Bosphorus tour, plying back and forth between the two shores on one of the old boats that has ferried many a lover over the Marmara’s blue waters. You can disembark at Anadoluhisarı and enjoy fish from the morning’s catch at a restaurant with a panoramic view.
Whether you prefer the most fashionable and pricey restaurants or stick to the cheapest and most modest eateries in this city, whose admirers would not trade even one inch of it for all the world, depends of course on your budget. But you can be sure that all of them will satisfy your palate. And please do remember that as you end a long pleasant night of carousing, a bowl of tripe soup in the wee hours is de rigueur. Don’t worry, they are open all hours in this city that never sleeps, and there are also ‘emergency tripe soup joints’ just in case. Like the Byzantines before them, the Ottomans too always called it a night with a bowl of tripe soup. And they probably knew a thing or two, wouldn’t you agree?