• Food & Drink

    Wood Oven Happiness: Datlı Maya

    Today when I was taking pictures for a Cihangir guesthouse I was fortunate enough to stop in at Datlı Maya, a delicious stone oven bakery. I don’t know about the carbon footprint implications of a wood burning oven these days, but when it comes to pizza, or in this case, pide a boat-shaped Turkish flatbread equivalent (pictured immediately below), it makes a great difference  in terms of taste. This cosy wee spot tucked in behind Firuzağa Mosque is big on both taste and personality. The staff are friendly and boisterous, and the woman running the shop can greet you in Turkish, English or Greek with equal exuberance. From what I understand Datlı Maya sources its ingredients directly from quality farm producers. While they make no claims of being an ‘organic’ bakery, the food is fresh and remarkably economic, probably a benefit of cutting out the middle-man. There’s self-serve tea and glass-bottled water upstairs in…

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    Turkish nuts

    To be honest, the man above is not a nut man at all. He’s a fig man. The title of this short piece should really be Turkish nuts and fruits, but it’s not as catchy. Even more sadly the nut lady beside him wouldn’t let me take her picture. There are far fewer photos of the sweet teyze (aunt) street vendors on this blog than I’d like, but traditional women with headscarves are a bit camera shy, especially when the person holding the camera is a great big male yabancı (foreigner/stranger). However, if I were her, I’d be proud of my nuts. Just look at them. They’re worth a Maşallah or two, don’t you think? Anyway, I love the fact that you never know what fresh produce—whether it’s figs, hazelnuts or walnuts—is going to show up on your street corner, farm fresh and pretty much irresistible. Turkey is one fertile country. Have…

  • Places

    Sultanahmet: a welcoming world of arcaded alleyways

    There’s the Sultanahmet of the Grand Bazaar, Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and then there’s Sultanahmet — backstreets, strange alleyways, crumbling archways, workshops pulsing with odd music. These days there’s an odder feeling then ever, what with the intense heat and Ramazan it’s important to find shaded spots whether you’re fasting or not. I was somewhat surprised just how many people weren’t fasting when I plunged inside the off-street maze the other day, as I always think of the old city as a place where life is lived a bit more traditionally. There are plenty of fasters, don’t get me wrong, most snoozing on rugs in corners to escape the long and trying day. I can only imagine what it must be like to fast this Ramazan when the days are so long. However I also saw plenty of tea drinkers and cigarette smokers puffing away as well, who were looking…

  • Places

    Delicate flowers

    Yesterday as I was walking through my neighborhood, I decided to stop and appreciate the flowers you see above. Right now the area is bursting with them, and has been for over a month. I was thinking to myself, what a paradise Turkey can be with its abundance of flowering trees, fruit and fresh produce. I continued to walk in a large circuit around my neighborhood before going home. The slanting evening light was nice and there’s a sloping street I  like with lots of vines like those above spilling over the high stone walls on either side of the road. You have to be a bit careful on these roads because there are plenty of Range Rovers and Mercedes tearing through the lanes at high speed, usually with drivers nattering away at equally high speed on mobile phones. Mindful of this, I proceeded to take some pictures of the…

  • Places

    Kayseri Han

    Wandering through Eminönü I discovered another interesting han. The light spilling through the atrium was magnificent. It’s too bad such buildings aren’t put to better use, seeing as no one seems to build them anymore. I’m sure the quick answer why no one builds structures like this is economics — but still … couldn’t we make more inspiring architecture for people to work in like this? Such spaces never fail to spark my sense of wonder — it’s interesting to think of all the different tenants in times past, who climbed the stairs, said good morning to one another, shared a conversation over a glass of tea, a cigarette. In my opinion these hans are every bit as interesting as the more famous monuments in Istanbul, mostly because they are mementos of everyday life that has changed so drastically over the years, the minor events, the details that history books…

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    The Pera perch

    When I first came to this city you could acquire yourself a scruffy but livable flat with an amazing Stamboul view for as little as $40,000 US in Galata. The neighborhood did not have an Eczacıbaşı guest house, it did not have nearly so many cafés or espresso corners, boutiques, or the well-to-do expats and visitors to fill them. Today, the old Genoese quarter of Pera is an altogether different experience.

  • Food & Drink,  Places

    Karga: the Kadıköy hideaway

    As I’ve said, one of my favorite escapes these days is Kadıköy. Within the neighborhood, though, there’s a place that’s the perfect cool dark refuge from the intense summer heat and sun. The beer is cold, inexpensive, and perhaps best of all, the music is consistently good, something you can’t often say about a lot of the beer joints in Istanbul. If you like your music a bit dark, a touch alternative, a bit edgier  than the mainstream, you won’t be let down. There’s a distinct vibe in Karga, which possesses that independent Kadıköy feel, and distinguishes it from its more showy, more gimicky or more pretentious rivals in Beyoglu. You won’t find anything quite like Karga there. People here are a little more understated, a little less pushy, and definitely into their music. I really love the building too, the dark, dark wood, the scuffed floors and the unfussy feel.…

  • Places

    Escaping the hottest month

    It’s Ramazan and it’s hot. Forgive me, humid. In any case it’s not the best of times to be in a cramped city of 15 million … or is it that 18 million? Everything is a bit of a blur right now. Anyway, the days are a real test for everyone in the city, especially those observing the fast. As I’m not, the challenge is finding someplace cool and welcoming where you can eat and drink without feeling like you’re rubbing it in people’s faces.

  • Places

    Kadıköy: the book haven

    If the sight of books spilling off tables, down steps and into the street makes you happy, visit Kadıköy immediately. There are many things to like about this Anatolian side neighborhood of Istanbul, but I’m going to start with the vast number of booksellers. There are people selling books on the pavement, in doorways, in the Akmar Pasajı, and in proper good old fashioned stores. 

  • Places

    Cathar Country

    It’s often strange to think that this region of France we’re now in was once the site of one of Europe’s bloodiest persecutions. Hundreds of years ago this was the land of the Cathars, a religious group who believed that the material world was the creation of Satan and that worldly possessions were something that should be abandoned. It wasn’t long before the Catholic Church feared their growing sway over people’s hearts and sent in the Inquisition.