Greg and I flew into Istanbul from Rome. Late. We flew into the Asian side – so we had to take a bus for an hour to get to the modern European side. From there we had to take a taxi (a harrowing experience) to the Old City where we were renting an apartment. Our host had written (in Turkish) directions for the driver (who we were not able to communicate with in any other way).
We were dropped off at the bottom of a hill at 10’o clock at night and had to wander on up to find ‘home.’ Did I mention that there are no actual street signs? Well, no street signs, few lights, maze-like cobblestone streets and at this point, very heavy backpacks from traveling all day.
After stumbling on a street party, we found our LOVELY apartment and our host Peter was waiting. He was like a British ex-pat lifesaver in a sea of unfamiliar. When we asked him where in the world to find food he pointed us back down the hill to a restaurant called Agora. Greg already told the story of our coffee ordering mishap that night. There was a lively dinner party going on next to us and all we wanted we some food before we fell asleep on the table. Again, a stranger took pity on us, dug up a customer who spoke enough English to help us order (not a menu in sight).
To this day I am not really sure what we ate – just that there were 13 different dishes. We started with dips, spreads, mini salads, olives and of course the Turkish flatbread. We moved on to a trio of brined, fermented herb salads that were just the right blend of herby, salty, tangy and a good foil to the rich dishes. I think I will try to duplicate them at some point. If they turn our well, I’ll share them here.
Our waiter brought smiles and a dish of braised meat in a clay pot with a rich sauce on top. Istanbul has a 300 year old market devoted to nothing but spices – so you can only imagine the flavors. Next came the best calamari I’ve ever eaten – barely breaded and lightly fried. Istanbul is surrounded by water – the Golden Horn, the Bosphorous Strait and the Sea of Marmara and so the seafood is fresh and a staple.
Finally we had some sort of meat – two or three types rolled up together and then roasted. By this time we were so full we almost couldn’t move and so content that we were not sure we wanted to. The party next to us was still going strong, it was well after midnight and we closed the curtain on our day of travel and bewilderment with stomaches full of adventure and all the flavors of Turkey.
It was not our only food memory that we made. We visited the spice market with spices laid out in bins, Turkish delight set as jewels and teas in barrels.
We had lunch in a literal oasis in the Grand Bazaar where we sat in the shade and quite and talked about how we both wanted to do more traveling and writing.
We were drank enough sweet black tea and rich coffee to make our hearts content and bought bagel-looking-things from street vendors for a couple of coins.
We found a terrace to sit on every night at sunset to take in the evening call to prayer, a drink and the light falling over the city. My favorite terrace was the one overlooking the Aya Sofya. We sat there until it was dark out after I had taken a Turkish bath and my mind, body and soul seemed to be scrubbed clean.
Even as we rushed (packs back on) to the airport to fly back to Paris, we stopped at the weekly street market so I could take pictures. I started and ran a farmers market for 3 years, and Greg is an enabler of my market obsession.
NOW, it is your turn. Please do share in the comments all about a favorite meal / food moment. I’d love to hear!
Lydia, reeling in the food memories