This is my Istanbul

The things that shape how I experience the city

This is my Istanbul: Houseguests September 5, 2010

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Live in a city like Istanbul, and your guestroom will get a lot of use. After very sporadic houseguestage in Ankara, I figured my guestroom in Istanbul would play host to the occasional researcher or travelling friend. Au contraire. My guestroom count is at four this summer and more than I can remember since moving in.
My guests have run the gamut from seasoned Istanbul hands to folks who’ve never been this far east before and from old friends to brand-new acquaintances. I think the visit length record is held by a university friend at somewhere approaching four weeks, although the cats I’ve been catsitting spent a solid six months or so chez moi.
I’ve been quite lucky in that I currently have a dedicated guestroom, although perhaps less lucky in that by working somewhere approaching 50 hours a week for the past year I often don’t have the most time to shepherd my tourist-trail-hopping guests around town.
I’ve worked out a fairly good system, though: I set my houseguests loose upon Sultanahmet and the other sightseeing things that visitors to the city inevitably want to see and I inevitably have already toured five times (Blue Mosque, I’m looking at you; Basilica Cistern gets a pass though because it’s just so cool), and after I get back near the city center from Distant Regions of the City, we meet up for dinner, drinks, nighttime strolling and other things that are right up my alley.
Quite accidentally, I’ve developed an informal list of places that my houseguests usually end up at when we meet up in the evenings. Some will remain Trade Secrets (Want to know my best houseguest haunts? Crash at my place for a few days), but others have definitely been mentioned on this blog before or should be in the future, including Bodrum Manti, Falafel House, Akdeniz Hatay, Dubb (protip – top floor at Dubb has stunning views of the Hagia Sofia, and it’s one of the better Indian food options in the city. Might want to make a reservation so you don’t get relegated to a lower, still-charming-but-sceneryless floor), Çiya (I think every single expat in this city has been to and is expected to highly approve of Çiya. It’s quite good, but not exactly hidden.), a fish place, and usually the Sublime Portal’s Thursday expat meetup. I am apparently a bit of a creature of habit.
Not to sound my own horn, but my houseguests and I often end up having ridiculously awesome experiences. C. came to visit in May this year; on our way back to my flat one evening we stumbled across a soap opera being filmed quite literally directly across the street from my flat. We stopped to ask the owner of the restaurant that was serving as the set which dizi it was (Ömre Bedel, apparently; it’s about a “bitter love”. Aren’t they all.) and half a minute later were ensconced smack dab in the middle of the production, looking over the shoulders of the director and sipping tea. Later, in between filming a scene of a dinner party and a scene where a man storms in to the dinner, we got pumpkin/cream dessert and chatted with the production crew. This is why my restaurateur neighbors are awesome.
When E. came to town in March of this year, we set off to Gebze, in a trip that served as the basis of my Gebze post. E. was back in town last week, and this time around we went to Istanbul Fashion Week, where we loaded up on some good swag and soaked up all the high fashion Istanbul had on offer (also the free iced coffees. It was hot out.). My houseguest S. and I ended up noshing on grilled ostrich on a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. And when K. came to town, we ended up in Antakya, site of the first church in the world, for Easter services. The moral of this story is clearly that if you are my houseguest in Istanbul, unexpected but amazing things will happen. Because my Istanbul is unexpected and amazing and full of visitors.

 

This is my Istanbul: Ortakoy July 10, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 8:02 pm
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When I wake up to a gorgeous sunny summer weekend morning, my first instinct is to throw on something with a skirt, grab a pair of oversized sunglasses, and take a stroll down to Ortakoy. With sun, water, beautiful views of Asia and the First Bridge, and a great little waterfront café-and-handicrafts-bazaar area, Ortakoy is ideal for a weekend wander.
Ortakoy is just up the shore road from Besiktas – there are busses that regularly trawl the waterside, passing Ciragan Palace, the Four Seasons, and the Kabatas Erkek Lisesi in agonizingly slow traffic before clearing up a bit right at Ortakoy. It’s easier to just walk from Besiktas; unfortunately the road past Ortakoy has better water views, but the Besiktas-Ortakoy bit has decently wide sidewalks and a billboard installation of early eminent Turkish arts luminaries.
I’m always surprised by how relatively uncrowded Ortakoy is on weekend afternoons. Generally, if a spot in Istanbul is anywhere approaching a decent place to spend a few hours, and outdoors to boot, it is teeming on the weekends. See Sultanahmet, the Islands, Istiklal, the beaches up north, etc. But in Ortakoy there’s enough space to wander, stop, check out a bauble or interesting print, and meander on without coming remotely close to knocking in to anyone.
In addition to its warren of al fresco restaurants and weekend handicrafts market, Ortakoy is known for its waffle and kumpir stands and its secondhand booksellers. I’ve not tried the waffle and kumpir in Ortakoy, as I’m not the biggest kumpir fan, but their secondhand book stalls are treasure troves, and have decent selection of English-language Great Literature. Last week, I picked up a Wodehouse novel there for 7 lira. There’s also a really great print shop tucked away in a back street where I get all my early-20th-century Orientalist poster prints and Constantinople map copies. They have a surprisingly affordable selection.
During Ottoman times, Ortakoy was a fairly mixed neighborhood, and you can see remnants of that today: if you find the right spot, you can see a mosque, synagogue, and an Orthodox church by pivoting around. One of the neighborhood’s highlights is the Ortakoy Mosque, which Wikipedia tells me is actually named the Buyuk Mecidiye Camii. It’s striking because it’s done in a neo-baroque style, very singular in Istanbul, and dates from the 1850s. The mosque juts out over the water, with the First Bridge in the background, creating a pretty iconic image of Ortakoy.
For weekend afternoons or really any lazy free time I have, Ortakoy is one of my favorite places to while away a few hours. If you can stop by on a weekend it’s a great mix of laid-back shopping, leisurely lunching, and beautiful Bosporus views. What more could anyone want?

 

This is my Istanbul: Falafel House March 26, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 9:30 pm
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One mistake that a lot of folks back home make when considering Turkish food is the assumption that Turks eat hummus and falafel. While these are pretty standard fare southward in Syria, northwestward in Greece, and even eastward in Armenia, by and large hummus is not considered “Turkish cuisine.” Nor is falafel.
The exception to this rule is down in Antakya/Hatay, a little province in the very south, right next to Syria. Actually, it was part of Syria until 1939, when it joined Turkey after a fun and intrigue-filled international political wrangle. This is partially why its traditional food includes hummus. While it was fairly easy to find my go-to hummus place in Antakya (great little hole in the wall called Hummus ve Bakla, they serve 2 things: hummus and bakla), it took a little time to find my place in Istanbul.
Luckily, I have found my Istanbul hummus and falafel place, and it’s even cheap and centrally located. What more can one ask for? Falafel House is an embarrassingly huge part of my Istanbul. It’s located just off Taksim Square, which makes it perfect for after-work falafel dinners, picking up take-out hummus on the way home from an evening out, or meeting folks from other far-flung parts of the city. I am so glad it doesn’t deliver to Fatih, or I’d probably only eat falafel.
Although Falafel House’s location is absurdly convenient, it’s only a small part of what keeps me going back. The food, quite simply, is amazing. Falafel House is run by Palestinians who’ve set up shop in Istanbul, and they know how to do hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, fuul, and a few other Middle Eastern staples. The hummus comes generously slathered on a plate, topped with olive oil, with pickles and spicy red sauce on the side. The falafel is fried fresh and served still-steaming plain, in a wrap, or, my usual choice, in a pita pocket with lettuce, tomato, pepper and yogurt sauce. Phenomenal. The prices are quite reasonable as well: Two falafel pitas, two Diet Cokes and a plate of hummus to split will set you back a princely TL 16, total. Hummus to go is something like TL 4. And, if you’re a student, there’s a 20 percent discount. Score.
I end up at Falafel House absurdly frequently – they recognize me when I come in and know both my eat-in and to-go orders. I’ve chosen to embrace it, and my new goal is to get a special named after me. I think I can swing it with the falafel pita, hummus side and Diet Coke. We’ll see.
Falafel House certainly isn’t a tourist must-visit, and isn’t the kind of snazzy place written about in restaurant guides of the city, but is definitely an essential part of my Istanbul. If you’re passing through and missing falafel, or live here, I highly recommend it.

Falafel House
Sehit Muhtar Cad. 19
Talimhane
(From Taksim, find the Simit Sarayi on Tarlabasi, turn in down the pedestrianized street about a block. It’s on the left)

 

This is my Istanbul: Bodrum Manti March 22, 2010

Filed under: Places — Rebecca @ 9:31 pm
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Fried manti!

For some reason, I never got around to trying manti the first time I lived in Turkey. Maybe it was the description – “Turkish ravioli” seemed like it could be sketchy, so I stuck to my imam bayildi and various kebaps. This was a grave mistake, and one that I’ve spent many meals rectifying this time around. Manti is delicious. Of the many manti places I’ve eaten at, the one I keep going back to, even though it’s currently ridiculously inconvenient to get to, is Bodrum Manti.
First, some background: Manti is made of noodles enveloping minced meat, usually lamb or beef, in little packets. They’re about 3/4” or 1”, depending on who’s making them. Once they’re formed, they’re boiled, and served smothered in a garlicky yogurt/tomato sauce, usually with dried mint and sumac to sprinkle on top. Sumac is a very Turkish spice not generally used in the West; Wikipedia says it’s got a lemony taste, which I guess is a fair description. Basically, manti is hot and filling and delicious.
Still, manti places are scattered across the city. What makes Bodrum Manti so awesome? Several things. First, their manti itself is really good. They have traditional manti, and then they take it to the next level: they also offer manti made with wheat dough and manti stuffed with chicken, potato, spinach or cheese. Even better tastewise, although surely pretty deadly healthwise: they have fried manti. Oh my goodness the taste explosion. If you can’t decide which kind you want, or are new to the world of manti, they’ll serve you a combination of several varieties.
After you finish your manti at Bodrum (incidentally, “bodrum” is the name of a city to the south and also means “basement”), you’ll probably be pretty stuffed. Portions are pretty generous. But the meal’s not done: they include dessert free with every entrée, and it is good. The waiters serve up a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between crunchy waffles, topped with a tart berry sauce. Once you’re done with the ice cream, it’s coffee/tea time – they make very good Turkish coffee.
Rounding out the list of things that make Bodrum Manti one of my three favorite restaurants in the country are its location, right on the waterfront in Arnavutkoy, the fact that it has free wireless, its hours (the restaurant is one of woefully few places in the city that’s open 24 hours – that’s right, I can get manti at 5am should the mood strike me) and its delivery, which sadly doesn’t extend to my current neck of the woods but which I made very good use of when I lived up at Bogazici and when I used to crash at friends’ places over in Arnavutkoy.
If you’ve visited me in Istanbul, I have taken you to Bodrum Manti. If you visit me in the future, we will go to Bodrum Manti. My mom liked it so much when she was in town, we went twice. Arnavutkoy’s not on the tourist trail, and guidebooks will likely never mention Bodrum, but Bodrum Manti is most definitely part of my Istanbul.

Bodrum Manti
Arnavutkoy Iskele Cad. 111
Arnavutkoy
Also 2 locations on the Asian side
Manti TL 12-14ish (also try the piyaz [white bean salad], it’s quite good)

You can also try making manti at home (I know of one successful homemade fried manti attempt as well); this is a recipe from a decent Turkish cooking site to get you started.