It was a long, long summer, as you know. The good news is, that, despite the stresses and strains, life is again returning to the city. It’s autumn and Istanbul is like that kid in the schoolyard that won’t submit to the bully. Sure it’s taken some hits. But it keeps on picking itself up. That attitude inspires us at Union Pacific. Our sign is properly mounted and lit up. We have a fantastic team led by the inimitable Chris James Maxwell, formerly of Cochine, who are plating up a great mix of flavours and experiences from the vast and varied shores of the Pacific. We have a fierce baker in-house whose skills with sweet or savoury are becoming legend. We have coffee from some of Istanbul’s artisan roasters. We have new items coming to the menu weekly (check up above). But most of all, what do we have? A great time.
Like to travel? You don’t have to go far to begin the journey. Step on in. We’ve got places to take you.
Union Pacific General Store & New World Eatery – Şah Değirmeni Sokak 6A, Şahkulu Mahallesi, Tünel, Beyoğlu,
+90 212 252 7274.
Innes means ‘island’ in Gaelic. Perhaps it’s little wonder, then, that I find myself drawn to islands. I know of some people who feel trapped on an island, but I feel different. Like I have smuggled myself to a new reality. That’s even more true with Burgazada. Despite being within the jurisdiction of the Istanbul megacity in which we live, it’s something of a strange wrinkle in time and space. Plonked in the Marmara between Kınalıada and Heybeliada, Burgaz is nowhere nearly as touristic as its big brother, Büyükada. With no traffic noise other than the clop of hoofs and the clang of the coachman’s bells, the occasional whirr of electric scooters that the locals sometimes use, Burgaz is well removed from the city’s infernal traffic chaos. It’s quite amazing what removing automobiles does for stress levels.
Mornings are a real boon. An uphill walk from the harbour side of the island, dawn light warm on your back, lungs filling with a cool draught of pine-scrubbed air, western vistas tugging the mind towards the kind of calm with which it’s good to begin every day. You’ll meet few people early in the morning. A nod here. A softly uttered greeting elsewhere. There is space. Ocasionally you might encounter an untethered horse nosing around in the grass and weeds roadside. The watchful gaze of a crow. You’re not exactly alone, just temporarily untroubled. Back down in the harbour, an early morning coffee at Burgaz Cafe, or a tea at the patisserie, watching a handful of people hasten to the ferry or seabus is a gentle reminder to you that the fuming city is still there, and how fortunate you are that you don’t have to hustle, at least for today.
In fact, with the exception of Sedefadası, Burgaz must be the most overlooked of the Islands. Therein lies its charm. There is just enough to make this a functioning Island, but no more. There are no chain stores. No big brands visible. A couple of good local tavernas, one solid coffee shop and roastery, Four Letter Word. Faintly, in the distance, looms a large sky and the shadowy tones of newly erected skyscrapers on the Anatolian side, the memory of a city still traumatised by the summer’s events. You can forget you’re in Istanbul for a while. Something most, if not all of us, have needed for a while.
For the smaller ones among us, there are many simple delights. Swimming at the local beach club. The occasional ice cream. New friends made poolside. A tour around the island on a horse drawn carriage. Screen time diminished. Outdoor fun augmented. The echoes of old school summer bliss still seem to resonate here among the youth. I can only imagine and envy the euphoric days spent here by friends in previous decades when school let out and their families empty their city houses and decamp, refrigerators and all, to Burgaz for the span of a summer.
Of course not every day is perfect. There’s a heaviness on the last day. Waiting to cram oneself on the ferry and sail off back to reality, you wonder when, or if, you will return to the same place. Will it remain as untouched and charmed as it is? A place that seems serenely outside the current circumstances that surround us? You hope so. Long live Burgazada.
Summer, when it passes, leaves a certain hazy vagueness. A pleasurable dream reluctantly relinquished. The way the sun warms your limbs. The blueness behind your eyelids as you stretch laze beneath the sun. Some places in the world, they’re about to drift back into that dreamy state. Just before summer disappeared here in Istanbul, I was fortunate enough to complete an assignment for my client, Atolyia, as Kurban Bayram, approached. Hopping on and off a sailboat around the Islands shooting beautiful women in pestemals and beach wraps is not a bad way to spend a few days. Here’s a glimpse of some of the highlights.
All styling by the inimitable Selin Sönmez-Tokgozlu.
Early every morning in the village of Vouno, Elisabeth (pictured above) rises and sorts through what looks, at a distance, like a pile of rocks and twigs. Working in a shed beside her village home, her deft hands, gnarled like the trunks of the trees from which she harvests her treasure, meticulously plucking the sticky resin that drips like angels’ tears from the other detritus that carpets the ground of Chios. Reputed to be the birthplace of Homer, Chios is largely overlooked by the hordes of tourists from continental Europe who descend upon Greece each year. But despite the island’s literary pedigree it is the Pistacia lentiscus variety of gum tree unique to Chios that makes the island famous.
After scraping and scoring the bark, the tree releases resin which subsequently falls to the levelled ground around the tree trunks and is collected by people such as Elisabeth. This local industry is an important part of Chios’ cultural heritage and helps supplement and support earnings. I was told that one kilo of the pure resin can fetch up to 80 Euros. Mastic is used in everything from Mastica liquor, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics as well as instrument and furniture manufacture.
Mastic smuggling also features in Amin Maalouf’s entertaining and erudite novel, Balthasar’s Odyssey in which the “… Turkish authorities only allow it to be used in the Sultan’s harem, where it’s fashionable for the noble ladies to chew it from morn till night to whiten their teeth and perfume their breath. The farmers on the island who grow the precious tree (Pistachio lentiscus), which is very like the pistachio tree we have in Aleppo, have to hand the mastic over for a fixed price, but those who produce a surplus try to sell it on their own account, though if they’re found out they may spend a long time in prison or in the galleys or even be put to death.”
Thankfully for kind and generous Chians like Elisabeth, such penalties no longer exist and mastic can now be enjoyed by a much wider audience than the Sultan’s harem.
Here’s a small sample of photos from a lifestyle shoot I did here in Istanbul with some stunning all-natural textiles hand-loomed right here in Turkey for Atolyia. The shots, which are being used for mail-outs and for the media will also soon adorn their new website too. The collection, which is produced using traditional methods, includes blankets, throws, hamam towels (pestemals), cushions and goat hair kilims all of which possess the sort of amazing lustre you can only really find in traditional craft textiles. On the two-day shoot I was also so fortunate to work with the multi-talented, knee-slappingly funny Selin Sönmez, a great friend from my days at 34 Magazine, as my stylist. With the combination of great content and a superb stylist, the photo shoot was really a rewarding experience.
Atolyia (previously Hamamist) has been enjoying big success lately, growing from both online retailing and wholesale operations and will soon open a shop in Sydney, Australia where two of the partners currently live. I’m really pleased and proud to help communicate the beauty of these unique products which are made using traditional Anatolian methods.
As much as I love the Mediterranean coast, it’s hard to beat the Aegean in July and August. Here’s a handful of highlights from the sun-drenched, salt-splashed days of a summer I won’t soon forget. Endless blue. Endless beauty. Endless days would have been nice too. I think I’ve found my favourite escape. Thank you. Oh … did I mention the wine?
It’s well known Istanbul doesn’t lack for shopping malls. What it does lack for, however, are good, free, publicly available leisure spaces for children. Yet every once in a while something really surprising occurs and you find much more than you expected. Such is the case with the children’s park outside Zorlu Shopping Mall. Other parents had extolled its virtues for some time but I didn’t realise I was in for as much a surprise as my favourite small person. I could go on and on about the clever design by CARVE and WATG LAND ARCHITECTS (but you can read about it here instead) and that it has several different thoughtfully prepared play structures, or that no smoking is allowed on the grass or around the play structures. The possibilities for climbing, crawling, jumping, sliding, exploring, are nearly endless — and more than one adult was unable to resist the gravity of the slide. But the most important case for the park is evidenced in the expressions you see above. And that the person pictured above also slept straight through the night thereafter until 07:10 AM. Just remember to bring at least one change of clothes. The water play zone is particularly irresistible for the little people. The squeals of pure delight still ring in my ears.
Steel and glass swallowed by wood. Trees thick as rooms. Rain soft as seltzer. A bridge. I can’t help but wonder … have I stumbled into Elysium? Difficult to tell. But before the last ship sails into the western light, I trust this will be my port of call.
Today I finally get to share something with you that I’ve wanted to share for a while. One of the reasons my posting has been so spotty of late is that I have been busy working on an interesting new project for BABAJI PIDE, a new venture by famed London restaurateur, Alan Yau, which places pide centre stage while celebrating the many pleasures of Turkish cuisine.
Working with Simon Johnson from THAT Magazine, we’ve been creating content for the new website, which just launched and you can view here. I’m pleased to say that I’ve done all the original photography for the site so far as well as a bit of writing too.
A high point in the work so far was getting to shoot with Ayse Dilek from FOOD PROJECT, who shared this recipe which you can make at home. So as a bonus today, I’m including the extremely delicious pide recipe she shared to make at home and tide you over until you can drop in on BABAJI PIDE on Shaftesbury Road in Soho. Here it is:
MOZZARELLA, COTTAGE CHEESE, SEMI-HOT PEPPER PIDE
INGREDIENTS (Makes 5 pides)
500 grams flour
12.5 grams olive oil
10gr granulated sugar
12.5 gr salt
1 grams fresh yeast
625 grams mozzarella / Turkish string cheese (if available)
375 grams cottage cheese / Turkish Çökelek (if available)
25 small pickled semi-hot peppers
Add fresh yeast to warm water (slightly warmer than lukewarm) and wait until it dissolves, set aside.
Combine flour, olive oil, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Make a trough in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Using your hands knead the dough together until it is smooth and consistent. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rise for minimum 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Divide the dough into five equal pieces. Using a thin rolling pin, shape each portion into an oval.
Place ovals onto an oven tray. Distribute the toppings equally among the ovals.
Drizzle with olive oil and bake for approximately 10 min or until the pide dough is golden and crisp at the edges.
Serve with some fat dollops of Balkan style yoghurt and roughly chopped fresh mint & parsley … afiyet olsun! And drop me a line if you try the recipe at home, please. I’d love to know what you think.