• Istanbul’s Vietnamese Speakeasy

    December 30th, 2012

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    In a recent post I described what I’d do with a leisurely day left to my own devices, and in it one of the places where I said I’d finish my day was Cochine. On Saturday night, however, I was able to put the place to the test with 15 friends for dinner and drinks. From now on, If I have my way, I will never veer from eating out  anywhere but owner-operated kitchens. It makes all the difference. Food preparation is a kind of alchemy. It’s not just the ingredients, or the measurements, it’s the spirit of the people putting it together that determines whether or not they create gold.  There’s a lot of gold at Cochine, located on Kumbaracı Yokuşu, thanks to the complementary talents of its owners Melis Onderoglu Maxwell (pictured immediately below) and Chris Maxwell.

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    It would be all to easy to walk past Cochine’s discreetly marked doorway. From the street you can’t see inside and the entrance is just around the lane with a heavy door and buzzer monitored by  a camera. But don’t be intimidated by the speakeasy appearance of the door or the decrepitude of the graffiti-spattered street. Inside is a welcoming interior put together by the owners, exuding their charm and good taste, bathed in golden-red light. The staff that greet you offered the kind of relaxed welcome you want when the heavy iron door swings open. Now don’t waste anytime. The first thing you need to do is order one of their signature Earl Grey martinis, without a doubt my new favourite cocktail — and don’t be deterred from trying it even if you don’t like the tea of the same name. It’s the best way to shake things up a little before dinner.

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    And the verdict on the food? In a city where disparate far-east Asian cuisines are all too often lumped together and served under the same roof — Japanese-Chinese-Thai from one kitchen? — it’s nice to see one small but adept kitchen focusing on providing food from one region, in this case, Vietnam. Chris Maxwell, who originally hails from New Zealand knows his way around the world of food. His years travelling the globe and working in some of London’s top kitchens have paid off. The vote at our table of 15 was unanimous. The food was a sensation we all wished to repeat. True alchemy. Now all I have to do is find out where they source my favourite vegetable in the world — Pak Choy.

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    By the way, if you don’t yet have plans for New Year’s this year, there are still some seatings available. I know I’ll be spending many hours in 2013 seated in Cochine. Oh yeah, and before I sign off … Happy New Year!

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    COCHINE 

    Tomtom Mahallesi Kumbaracı Yokuşu, Camcı Fevzi Sokak No. 36/A, Beyoğlu, Istanbul
    +90 212 243 92 81

  • Getting behind the bar

    November 29th, 2012
    It’s been busy, busy, busy  for me since my return to Istanbul. I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to devote to the blog. However, I’ve been having a lot of fun working to help the gang at the Bosphorus Brewing Co get things going with their website, writing, shooting and occasionally being used as a “beer test dummy!” — Phil the brewmaster’s words, not mine. Anyway, even though I haven’t had as much time to hit the streets, it’s been a pleasure to interact with everyone here because one thing this place doesn’t lack is personality. Whether it’s out on the floor, or in the kitchen this place is bursting with flavour. Here’s a taste of who and what I’ve been working with over the last week or so, as well as what you’re missing if you haven’t paid this place a visit yet. BTW: there’s some nice dark beer/stout and new IPA on tap but the special brews are going fast. So if you’re lover of real beer, get behind the Bosphorus Brewing Co.
     
     
     
    TÜRKÇE: (+90) 0212 274 87 13 / ENGLISH: (+90) 0212 288 64 99
    info@bosphorus-brewing.com

  • Alıç: the latest street eat

    October 7th, 2012

    Yesterday I discovered another distinct flavor this country has to offer that I didn’t know existed. This time it’s alıç, which after much searching—okay 5 minutes online—for a translation, seems to be the fruit of a species of hawthorn tree. The sometimes orange, sometimes yellow alıç certainly won’t win any beauty contests, but it has a sharp sour taste and is often made into a jam. It’s not a particularly juicy fruit and has more almost as much seed as it does flesh. Still, it’s worth a try. The gentlemen assured me that it’s hormone-free and straight from Malatya. According to The Healing Plants Bible by Helen Farmer-Knowles, the flowers and fresh or dried fruits of the hawthorn are “a cardiac sedative, blood-vessel dilator, and are blood-pressure-lowering.”  The little bag the man is filling only set me back 1TL, so I’m certainly no poorer for trying.

  • XOXO the Mag

    September 5th, 2012

    One of the reasons I’ve been posting somewhat less often these days is I’ve had some interesting work from the  print world. The latest is from the September issue of local Fashion-Music-Art-Design glossy bible XOXO the Mag. In this month’s issue I had the good fortune to work with Turkish wordsmith Lale Kayabey and her chef husband Selcuk Aruk on a food article about Turkey’s Greek community, food and the lifestyle of  Yeniköy living.

    After photographing the food — savory fish soup, cinnamon and rosemary mussels and rice, and güllaç (rose-flavored rice pudding) we all sat back and consumed it. And believe me, after staring at each dish for so long to find the right shot, you really work up an appetite. Directly above and below are a couple of examples of the food. I look forward to working with this talented team again, and hope to steal some more of their recipes.

    XOXO the Mag appears in Istanbul’s cooler local cafes and dining establishments,
    as well as my local balık-ekmekçi (top).

  • Summer Elixir

    July 2nd, 2012

    For some of us, summer isn’t always the holiday we want. Or sometimes it’s too much of what we want—sun, drink, late nights. That’s why when I’m feeling like I’ve overdosed on any or all of these things, I resort to my favorite seasonal elixir, which helps me detoxify physically and mentally. The key ingredient here is fresh turmeric root, something which is not always easy to find in Istanbul. I’ve tried with the powder, but don’t seem to enjoy the same feeling afterwards. Fortunately, as I was watching cool little video the other day, shot by I noticed that the natural food and organic supplier in Besiktas, Kirkambar, had some on the counter. Read More…

  • Carving out hearts

    June 13th, 2012

    On street corners all across Turkey there are men like the one pictured above, brandishing razor sharp filleting knives, mercilessly carving out hearts and plunking them in a sloshing bucket at their feet. And do the authorities intervene? Absolutely not—because the innocent victims deserve it. They’re far too tasty, and far too healthy to go on living. Yes, that’s right, it’s artichoke season again.

    The artichoke is, in fact, a perennial form of thistle native to the southern Mediterranean and has been cultivated since ancient Greek times and was called Kaktos. They are packed with antioxidants and are especially potent in enhancing liver and gall bladder function—although perhaps not so much when turned into the Italian liqueur Cynar, produced by the Campari group. There are also artichoke teas which contain many of the beneficial effects of the vegetable. Personally, I prefer to eat them as an olive oil dish with a squeeze of lemon.

  • Seeing roses

    May 23rd, 2012

    Everywhere I go lately I’m seeing roses — and I don’t mean this in the proverbial sense. In Yeniköy, Tarabya and all sorts of other places there seems to be an explosion of these flowers. Red ones firing off over fences.  Pink ones blasting through slatted rails. Yellow ones bursting through every imaginable crevice. It’s an assault of color like none I’ve ever seen before. Last year I didn’t notice nearly so many. What happened? Perhaps I simply wasn’t paying attention, or perhaps they were simply planning their attack.  I’m trying not to fight it. We can co-exist, right?

    Though to a lot of people they may seem like a cheesy symbol of romance and bad poetry, I have to say I’m beginning to respect them a little bit more, un-plucked and on the vine. Perhaps it’s all the reading I’ve done on alchemy and Rosicrucianism. Perhaps it’s what natural healer Jayda Uras told me about the rose’s unique properties. Who knows? Am I being subdued by flower power? Should I be worried? Don’t know. Maybe I’m just seeing things differently.

  • The Alchemy of Pink

    April 30th, 2012

    Pink, there are times when you come off a little garish, or seem the feebler cousin of Red, lacking that vibrant color’s conviction. For some you can be a little hard to define, your hue being somewhere between Red and Magenta. But when you place yourself in partnership with Green, you truly know how to shine, perhaps even how to heal. You also know how to highlight magnificently the hours of dawn and dusk in between the contrast of slanting beams of light and long layers of shadow. You’re the color of love and the signal fire that says the equinox is here.

    Pink, you definitely have your moments. The spectrum of the universe would not be the same without you. Keep shining.

  • Japon Bahçesi

    April 26th, 2012

    One of these days I will be lucky enough to visit Japan during cherry blossom season. Until then, however, I’m lucky enough to have discovered this wonderful little gift from the city of Shimonoseki, Japan to Istanbul. Since 1972 the cities have been sister cities because of their similar landscapes and straits. This park was built about 10 years ago to commemorate the friendship in Baltalimani, not far from the Sakip Sabanci Hospital.

    The three weeks I spent in Japan a few years ago were nothing less than incredible. Since then, I have a radar for anything reminiscent of Japan. This is the perfect place to take a book or a loved one (or both) and a flask of green tea, and relax and spend a few hours. Don’t know what it’s like on weekends but it is very quiet weekdays. It’s especially nice if you’re a parent because the grass is clean and with the exception of the pond there are limited dangers for the small ones. Sof and I made blossom boats to float on the pond.

    Thank you, Shimonoseki.

  • The Mystic Emptiness

    March 19th, 2012

    Ever have those moments when the light strikes the surface you’re looking at in a certain way and suddenly there’s a change, an almost mystic feel in the air and you want suddenly to say, “Yeah, baby!”

    I do all the time. Then I realize I’m alone, or in a church, a mosque or some sacred site where such an expression would be highly inappropriate. The world really is an incredible place at times, particularly when you get to see the most mundane things all over again, but in a new way.

    Perhaps that’s why I’m so relieved to have my camera and this blog. Being a writer or a creative person is very solitary at times. You’re always trying to capture a moment, hold it, freeze it in glass. Now it’s not so lonely.

    I could say more, but somebody else has already said it far better:

    “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious—the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a god who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with the awareness of—and glimpse into—the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.”

    I don’t generally like to use other people’s words, but Albert Einstein’s, above, hold as much truth for me as any religious text.

    Perhaps that’s why I’m here … this city is full of these moments. There are times in fact when I’m almost paralyzed by the beauty of this place and its almost indescribable quality. You can’t quite fathom it, only goggle at it for a moment or two before you trip over your own two feet. It gets a bit addictive.

    I can be so impatient for this city’s revelations, that I have to remind myself that it’s a state of mind. You’re either open to it, or you’re trapped in a hole of your own digging.

    Do you ever feel that way? Ever want to get lost with someone else in the mystic emptiness? If so, feel free to join me here.