Thirty hours, four meals, 3 world renowned historical sites, and a rooftop with a view of the Bosphorous. Our Masters class headed to Istanbul for stage a few weeks ago, but I beat them there by a day and a half for an epically indulgent whirling Turkish adventure. Things started a bit rocky, but we caught our flight, sailed across Macedonia and the like, and dropped into Istanbul a little after noon. One insanely hot, yet informative, taxi ride later, we were lugging our rollies up the hill to Galata Tower in Beyoglu where Yalcin, a Turkish popstar/our temporary landlord, was waiting to show us to our digs for the night. Let it be known that these digs included a roof terrace with perhaps the best possible view of Istanbul. Known? Good.
One brief interaction with the Istanbul metro system later, and we were winding our way through Nistansi, an upscale neighborhood notable for its extraordinary abundance of children’s clothing stores and for being the location of the incomparable Kantin. This lunch spot had come to me highly recommended, so as soon as we sat down, we figured it made the most sense to just order everything on the menu. And should you ever make it there, I recommend you do the same. This way, you will be introduced to such wonders as eggs poached in a warm yogurt sauce studded with crispy sautéed nettles and toast points, and drizzled with chili oil. Or Turkish flatbread pizza. Which sounds like failed new line from the Trader Joe’s frozen section, but is actually a revelation on a giant herbed cracker. Or…the kofte, or the spring lamb with green peas, or the mastic pudding, or the semolina porridge thing, or sea bream salad that reintroduced the wonders of dill…or…or…the meringue with chestnut cream and the kind of chocolate sauce that sundae dreams are made of. It was an excellent meal of clean, fresh, and creative flavors that make you never want to eat anywhere else again, particularly once you find out that the menu changes daily, meaning you can never get tired of the kitchen’s magic.
Kantin gave way to banjo shopping which gave way to wine on the roof which gave way to an art opening with Yalcin and his friend Rain which gave way to a navigational nightmare to get to dinner which gave way to dinner itself. We popped into Cukur Meyhane on the recommendation of a classmate, and after some fierce negotiating for a table, and a brief waiting period at the dive bar across the street, we were thrown into our first experience with meze, or, for lack of a better descriptor, Turkish tapas. I’ve long expounded on how passed hors d’ourvres are my favorite meal – simply because you get to sample so many different things, and each bite is so small that, if properly done, they each pack a wallop of flavor. Meze are basically the same thing, but with the added bonus of sitting at a table and not being required to awkwardly balance your wine glass in one hand while shoving down delicacies with the other. I can no longer recall everything we indulged in, but it certainly included pastry-wrapped meats, salty cheeses, and plenty of pomegranate seeds.
Saturday was a day in Istanbul that I cannot recommend to anyone. I mean, it was absolutely amazing and beautiful and full of delicious foods like a full village breakfast at Caffe Privato (imagine a giant round table filled with plates of fruits, pancakes, cheeses, omelets, olives and the like, and then imagine the glee on our faces as the servers struggled to make room for the next round of plates that came out, eventually balanced atop the original layer of delicacies), and an attention grabbing lunch at Tarihi Sulthanamet next to the Hagia Sofia (imagine a glorious greasy spoon diner, but instead of burgers and patty melts it is kofte and kebap, and instead of ketchup, it’s a dish of fiery pepper sauce wielded by the waiter whom you get your table neighbors to flag down in Turkish because God forbid you eat some meat without the available sauce!) , but there is really no reason why you should try and squeeze three of Istanbul’s biggest and most beautiful sites all into a 3 hour period. But, that was all the time we had, so squeeze we did, taking in Topkapi Palace’s stunning Ottoman architecture and torture weapons, the Hagia Sofia’s faded Byzantine splendor, and used our bare feet to absorb the hectic beauty of the Blue Mosque’s rugs, ceilings and plummeting chandeliers.
And then we met up with the rest of our class, newly arrived from Torino, and proceeded to eat our way across Istanbul for the rest of the week. Stay tuned for highlights. I’m still yawning lamb.