• Food & Drink,  Places

    The real conspiracy

    In a country like Turkey there are plenty of conspiracy theories. Just about every person in the street has at least one they fervently believe. Today, however, I’d like to tell you that I have fallen victim to a 100% genuine conspiracy at the hands of some nefarious yet innocent looking people here in Istanbul. It didn’t happen to me on the proverbial “bridge between east and west” but on the very real bridge between Karaköy and Eminönü, a.k.a The new Galata Bridge. What happened?  Well, I can only tell you that I was minding my own business, wondering about the future of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s republic when I fell prey to the twisted words of a white-shirted, black trousered man, saying, “Cold beer! Cold beer! 5TL! Yes, my friend?” Yes, I thought I was stronger and better than that, I thought I was prepared for the wiles of the…

  • 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

    The nargile fabrikası

    Life takes you on some unexpected turns sometimes, but today when I rounded a different corner in my effort to complete a mental map of Sultanahmet’s hans, I discovered a nargile (hookah/water pipe) manufacturing operation. That’s the thing I love about this area. There’s the tourist attractions, and then there’s the real neighborhood, a crumbling, cracked but still moving area of enterprise and trade. Though it can be a little intimidating at times peering down dark corridors, there always seems to be a reward waiting at the end. As I was exploring another dark tunnel today, a voice cried out and invited me in. That voice was Mustafa’s. He and his good friend, Yusuf, were hard at work hand-crafting the tubing and pipe section of the water pipes for the factory. Mustafa, 30, (pictured below) has been doing this for over 15 years, and has taken over the business from his father who has…

  • 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

    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…

  • Art / Design / Craft,  Places

    Lola

    Yesterday just as I was prepared to admit defeat, I was hauled back from the verge of failure by Lola. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find suitable summertime entertainment for Sof that didn’t involve retreating from the heat to a shopping mall. Fortunately, Lola—which stands for Lots Of Lovely Art—provided me with a new way to entertain my small one. This open, airy environment created by Alara Hindle in a storefront location up above Emirgan Park in Reşitpaşa, is focused on providing children with an entertaining, involving approach to art.

  • 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.