iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Istanbul

Today is quite a busy day and I’ve little time for writing, so I thought it would be perfect for a little photoessay blast from the past. I’m not going to claim that I ate all the correct, culture-y foods in Istanbul, because I definitely didn’t. But my pallet still had a field day, rebounding off all of those Korean rice dishes and becoming wowed with interesting flavors and… bread. Oh, bread.

Before we get started, I’d like to apologize to my mother for putting one embarrassing photograph on the internet of her. I tried to make up for it by putting an embarrassing one up of me as well! That evens it out, right? Right?

[Related Post: Snapshots of Istanbul]

Anyways, here we go!

IMG_1199This obviously MUST be the first picture in a photoessay about food from Istanbul. Baklava is delicious, and we did our best to eat as much as possible and then a little extra. And that there is even more than one kind of baklava to try was mind-blowing to me. YUM!

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This photo is awkward, but there are two important aspects to it. One, I was drinking Turkish tea. Second, it’s inside the Grand Bazaar!

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This photograph, as far as photography goes, is a terrible picture and deserves to become corrupted and die. But it is a photo of two of my favorite food/drink things from Istanbul, and the lighting really was red, so I’ll allow it to see the face of the internet. This was out first evening in Istanbul, we were tired from flights but dragged ourselves out for food and, as you can see, dessert.

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The hotel breakfast was incredible, and it wasn’t even that incredible. Cheese, deli meat, bread, cheese, figs?! Apricot? CHEESE? BREAD?!!

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Straight out of the pomegranate, pomegranate juice. No sweeteners, no nothing. Super healthy, kind of (okay, realllllly) bitter, and for integrity’s sake we finished it anyways.

[Unrelated Post: iPhone Photoessay: Cats of Istanbul]

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During our first tour with Salih, he took us to this authentic Southern Turkish cuisine restaurant. We pointed to giant cauldrons and pots filled with food and they dished us out a large portion. The food was so strange, interesting and oddly, kind of healthy.

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The full spread. Look at all those colors! And weird shapes! And… BREAD.

 

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Street bagel/pretzel combos are a big thing in Istanbul, and if you want, they’ll even smear it with cream cheese or nutella.

[Unrelated Post: Featured Snapshot: One More Mosque]

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I’m so sorry, Mom, but this sandwich doner was too important to leave out of the photoessay. It was our first taste of the infamous Turkish food that’s now made its way to Germany (and then morphed a little). Junk food, but delicious junk food and I’m so glad I tried it.

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BREAD! This was on our second tour with Salih, and he took us to this family bakery in a neighborhood outside of the center. The bread was fresh baked and we got to check out the oven, too. Later we shared some bread and I can assure you it was better than the picture. It was also dirt cheap, my eyes bugged out at the (lack of) price.

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This juice was some kind of pickled radish/carrot situation and that face, right there, is exactly how it tasted. (Feeling better now, Mom?)

[Slightly Related Post: An Accidental Visit To The Princes’ Islands]

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We ended up at this restaurant three times in seven days of Istanbul. The servers were beyond kind, the food was quality and delicious, and it was close to our hotel. Sold! (Website for Fuego Cafe)

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Cheese! French fries! Grilled veggies! It wasn’t that spectacular of a lunch, taste-wise or creativity-wise, but it sure did look pretty.

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Toasting off our goodbye with some wine. And by some, I mean the largest glass of wine I’ve ever had delivered to me in a restaurant and tried to hold up in a picture.

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The classic “Starbucks with Mom” picture. Yeah, we went halfway across the world to look at stuff and then buy Starbucks coffee, try and stop us! Muahaha.

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What Istanbul food did I totally miss? What do you wish you were eating or drinking right now? Have you seen enough photographs of my face, now?

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Snapshots of Istanbul

Last January, 2013, my mom and I headed to Istanbul from our respective corners of the globe. We had planned a short, joint vacation of only 11 days. When I came back, I was overwhelmed with all that I’d seen and done and managed to publish very little about our time there. The city was beautiful, fascinating, busy with quiet corners and full of surprises. I didn’t do it justice. This is my attempt to remedy that situation.

Because it’s been more than 10 months since that trip, my memories are a little… unfresh, shall we say? But that’s what pictures are for. Instead of piecing together fragments of memories and filling the holes with untruths, I’ve put together a series of pictures that best captures what the vacation was like for us. Below the photographs, I’ve written little descriptions and context. While it’s not a linear story per say, hopefully these snapshots of our vacation can still paint a picture, sporadic as it may be.

What better way to begin than with the famous Blue Mosque? One of the more spectacular mosques in Istanbul, it’s also on the top of every visitor’s list, day 1, first thing. But it’s only one of many; mosques are everywhere and many of them are unbelievably beautiful, even the buildings meant simply for the neighborhood. The call to prayer rings out several times a day, throughout the city, and became more of a lullaby for me than anything else.

[Related Post: Featured Photograph: One More Mosque]

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Anytime I visit a country, I make it top priority to find an outdoor market, if possible. Markets are busy and loud, so it’s difficult to speak to whoever you’re with and you find yourself in a strange, singular bubble of quiet inside the chaos. The things they sell are endlessly fascinating and are a real snapshot into the soul of the country. Olives are a big deal in Turkey, the climate is ideal for variety and quality. (Yes, I was coerced into tasting an olive, because maybe I just don’t like “bad” olives, but it turns out that I’m just not a fan. Sad day.) Fishing is also a predictable staple, considering the heart of Istanbul are the rivers that surround the three distinct “continents”.

[Thanks to Salih from My Local Guide Istanbul for bringing my mom and me through this particular market.]


The outdoor food markets are wonderful, but the outdoor goods markets, or bazaars are even more wonderful. If I was much of a “shopper”, I would have emptied my wallet right about here. The little avenues with lines of shops are all over the main parts of the city; I’m not sure about more residential areas, time was unfortunately short.

[Related Post: Master Pottery]

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You also can’t talk about Istanbul or bazaars without talking about THE Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar her royal self. ‘Nuff said. Also, my iPhone photos from this particular visit were total crap, apologies.

[Unrelated Post: An Accidental Visit to the Prince’s Islands]

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I love stepping outside of the big city and flashing lights to see what everyday life is all about in a country. (Or “off the beaten path”, SEO BOOST!) Our tour guide, Salih, took us to these winding roads in a neighborhood several miles outside of the city center, Eyüp. It was one of the best parts of the trip, because the neighborhood is especially rife with contrasts, one of my favorite things. Crumbling homes stood directly next to recently remodeled places, painted bright colors and returned to glory. The neighborhood was originally home to wealthy Jewish families who were punished by a population exchange with Greece in the 1920s and had to abandon their homes. Hence, the Greek people who moved in created this all-in-Greek-curriculum school, which holds elementary, middle and high school students in one building. As one would expect, after so many years, enrollment has dwindled.

[Related Post: iPhone Photoessay: The Cats of Istanbul]

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Baklava. Once again, need I say more? No? Great.

I also need to say sorry for never taking a decent picture of the classic Turkish tea. I have a picture of my mom drinking tea, but I’m pretty sure I would be murdered if it made its way onto this blog. Tea is everywhere, delicious, and you can’t eat baklava without it or you are breaking rules and the higher order will punish you in due time.

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Last but not least, here’s a crooked photograph of me giving my mom a noogie in front of a historical monument, the Hippodrome of Constantinople built in AD 203 by the Emperor Septimius Severus.

Teşekkür ederim for the memories, Istanbul.

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Conversations With Firat: Turkish in Germany

We sat ourselves down at a sushi restaurant in the nice part of Berlin. The waiter came out, speaking in his unmistakably accented German, and gave us the typical welcome and a few menus. The avenues of Charlottenburg are well kept and built to impress, and I eyed the well-dressed Germans as they walked down the street, scouting out a table of their own.

Next to me sat Claudia, a native Austrian and across from me was Firat. He’s a third generation Turk who’s lived in Berlin for his entire life. His parents grew up in Germany, as well. We met each other years ago, when he was a foreign exchange student at my high school in the United States. When I booked my plane ticket to Berlin, he was one of the first people I contacted: “Guess where I’m going on vacation, let’s meet up!” So after a many-years-long hiatus, we resumed a friendship certainly not where it had ended, but somewhere new. And on that day, we resumed with Japanese sushi.

Yum. Sushi.
Yum. Sushi.

The waiter, certainly foreign himself, began a friendly conversation and asking those basic questions. He started with me, as my accent was the most noticeable and asked where I was from, what I was doing in Berlin, how long I planned to stay, etc. Next was Claudia, who has an easy to mark Austrian accent. The way we’d pick someone out from the South in Philadelphia, he picked up on her twang right away and inquired about her situation in Berlin. When he got to asking Firat, the native Berliner, he asked a simple “So how do you know them? You are all friends from before?” before dropping a small, but significant question.

“So, where are you from?”
“I’m from Germany.”
*pause* “Germany?”
“Yes. I’m from Germany.”

“Firat, do you hear the question all the time?”
“Always. And I always say I’m from Germany. Because I am.”

That conversation got me thinking about identity and immigration and foreign countries, which are things that I often think about because I’m that kind of nerd. The Turkish/German situation has been a running affair for years, and while there are certainly some underlying opinions that some Germans hold dear, it’s not the kind of issue you notice while walking down the street. What you do notice, though, is when you’ve entered a “foreign” district. There are certain neighborhoods in Berlin (and I’m sure in most major cities of Germany), that house most of the foreigners, many of whom are Turkish. Suddenly every second person on the sidewalk is dark skinned and definitely non-Aryan. And this bothers some Germans, who avoid these areas like a ghetto. They are disturbed that there’s suddenly a mosque and five Turkish grocery stores in the same block.

But what I’ve learned from Firat is that Turkish immigrants often can’t get housing anywhere else. They apply for an apartment and are turned down, because of their immigrant status. They don’t have much of a choice except to live in these foreigner districts. Which would obviously make it much more difficult to practice/learn German, which is a common complaint of Germans who like to complain about immigrants. You can see the cycle here; it doesn’t take a genius.

German and Turkish.
Firat speaks German and Turkish fluently, as well as his parents.

I saw a lot of foreigners, particularly people who looked to be of Turkish descent, everywhere. The subway, the train station, restaurants, you name it. But what I didn’t see was even more remarkable: Turkish people speaking Turkish with each other. I can name only one instance in my eight days in Berlin, during which I heard Turkish people speaking a language other than German with each other. I expected something different, of course. When I see my foreign friends in Korea, even if we are both practicing and learning Korean, we speak English. Yet these Turkish-Germans spoke (accented) German with each other in nearly every single situation I was able to witness, despite the fact that they could just as easily speak their mother tongue, gain some lingual privacy and possibly convey their feelings more accurately. To put it lightly, I was surprised. Very surprised.

And so (from my admittedly limited experience), I have to say that I can’t really see what some Germans are complaining about, at least not in Berlin. I’ve never been so surprised by a population of immigrants and their attempt to fit in, just from what I’ve witnessed in my short time. It seems as though the Turkish people I witnessed knew that learning German was important to the culture they were in, and did something about it. As for the mosques, Turkish grocers and restaurants, those are all commonplace for any immigrant population. (And do Germans really want all the delicious Turkish food to disappear? What are they going to do without their doner kababs if they force Turkish people out, who don’t speak good enough German and haven’t “properly” assimilated? Tragedy!)

No one should ever have to give this up. Source
No one should ever have to give this up. Source

I don’t even want to get started on Germans in Argentina, or Germans in the USA, or Germans in Brazil or any of the countless other places where Germans have been the ones clinging onto their culture in a foreign land: German villages, newspapers, restaurants and neighborhoods. I’ll just mention that it happened multiple times in the past. In the end, every country is just a bunch of foreigners to someone else and we’ve all moved into other people’s territory at one point or another throughout history and attempted to make it feel a little bit more like home.

After all, Firat, Claudia and I were sitting around in a sushi restaurant in the middle of Charlottenburg, the uppity neighborhood of Berlin. Imagine the hole it would leave, if Turkish people were to disappear and immigration had been tightened up all along to keep that population more Aryan. To preserve Germany, as some might argue.

I, for one, would be sitting at a table eating who-knows-what and looking at an empty seat. There would be a good friend missing from the situation (and I’m not talking about my good friend sushi, though that would also be a tragedy). My German friend from high school would be lacking. My German friend, Firat.

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iPhone Photoessay: Cats of Istanbul

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Istanbul is huge: it covers three separate land masses and is filled with a seriously diverse bunch of people. Each neighborhood has a distinct feel and you could easily stay for a lifetime and keep it interesting. But there’s one thing that all areas have in common: street cats. A lot of them.

They are well fed by restaurant and store owners that set out food and take care of them. Many are friendly. Most just want to sit near the heat lamps you have set up near your table and eat the scraps that fall off your plate. Some are particularly adorable and many can be found in the most surprising of places. Enjoy the photographs.

Continue reading iPhone Photoessay: Cats of Istanbul

Review: My Local Guide Istanbul Tours

Big city, short vacation: a tour guide was the perfect answer.
Big city, short vacation: a tour guide was the perfect answer.

Istanbul is one of those huge cities with both way too many things to see and longer distances to navigate to get there. Because my mom and I had a short time in Istanbul, only five full days (we traveled to Cyprus as well), I suggested that we look into a tour that covered some of the most famous sites in a shorter amount of time, right at the beginning of our trip. The idea was that we’d see the must-sees and wouldn’t waste any time getting lost on the way there, and in the process get ourselves somewhat oriented to getting around the city. So I did a little blog research and came across My Local Guide Istanbul, also known as Salih.

Continue reading Review: My Local Guide Istanbul Tours

An Accidental Visit to the Princes’ Islands

When life gives you passage on the wrong ferry, look out the window and enjoy the ride.
When life gives you passage on the wrong ferry, look out the window and enjoy the ride.

My mom and I had been talking about visiting the Asian side of Istanbul for the entirety of our trip. We’d seen it shortly, on a guided tour, and we’d taken a bunch of ferries here and there, although not by ourselves. We woke up on a Saturday, a beautiful day, and had our plans in hand, literally, in the form of my Frommer’s day-by-day book: an Üsküdar walking tour.

Continue reading An Accidental Visit to the Princes’ Islands