Sunday, September 21, 2014

But wait - there's more!

One walking tour wasn't enough - we followed the first eating extravaganza with another. This one was the Two Continents tour - breakfast in Europe, lunch in Asia. 

First breakfast was a quickie in another han - yesterday was a centre for the coffee folks, today it was metal manufacturing. The building was built in the last 1500's and was stuffed full of little workshops making springs and screws and stuff. 

Second breakfast was at a restaurant that mostly does lunches for the workmen in the area. But they did a beautiful breakfast for us - more Kaymak!  

We walked through the fish market - it is anchovy and bonito season -to get to the ferry to take us to Karakoy on the Asian side. Always nice to ride in boats but especially with views like this:

The Asian side of Istanbul has been inhabited for a very long time, but the area we were in doesn't have quite the same narrow twisty streets as the old city. And it is not a particular tourist destination - it doesn't have the big attractions and the ferry stop for Uskadar is closer to the old town  - so the people were just out doing their own things. On both days it was really nice to be away from the tourist areas - we could walk along without attracting any attention. 

Once again it was a panopoly of food. First up mussels, both stuffed and deep fried. Mussels are in season right now and are sold as street food. I was glad to try them from a proper restaurant - seems like an iffy choice for street food.

Good, but not super mussel tasting - mussels for people who don't like them?

Of course there was a stop at a candy store. Our guide Katerina has a plate of sugared vegetables for us to try:

Sugared cabbage, tomatoes and olives. And walnuts, whole in the shell - the process totally softens them up. Kind of weird. I think I'll stick with the Turkish delight. 

We tried many types of cheeses - mostly goat and or sheep milk of varying strengths. Then there was the goat skin cheese:

Goat's milk cheese aged in a goat skin. Imagine what that tasted like. 

Turkey produces a selection of nuts - almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts in particular. So fresh and so delicious. We saw them piled up in markets all over. But on this tour we visited a store that displayed them like jewels. 

We tried pistachios from different regions (they are different!) as well as such yummy hazelnuts. Turkey has been exporting hazelnuts to Europe for the manufacture of Nutella for ever. Someone finally thought - hmm. Maybe we should just make the stuff where the nuts are, so a factory is opening in Turkey. But I digress. 

After a stop at the green grocers for fresh figs and grapes it was time for the pickle shop. The Turks like to pickle pretty much everything. Not just the usual suspects like beets and cucumbers. Whole heads of garlic? As well as the samples of pickles we got a glass of pickle juice - pale pink in colour, tart - I quite liked it. But opinion was divided on this one!

After a stop for Turkish coffee it was on to lunch. Tough work, some one's gotta do it. We had a selection of regional salads - not green salads, but vegetables mixed with yoghurt and other interesting combos. And stuffed zucchini flowers. To accompany the salads we had deep fried horse mackerel, little fishes about 4" long, gutted but otherwise whole. Opinion was divided about eating the heads.....

In case we were still hungry we stopped for Turkish pizza topped with lamb, then ambled over for tantuni, which looks sort of like a burrito:

Stuffed with beef and accompanied with a nice foamy mug of ayran. We made a stop for Kokorech, which Wilf and I didn't have this time as we had it yesterday and we knew there was baklava in the offing. Must have been done differently than what we had because it was a big fail. Honestly one gal was trying to back away from her own tongue and another didn't get it past her nose.  The only solution was, of course, get something else to eat. So, another round of baklava - so good. The Turks make it with syrup, not honey, which I prefer. Our last stop for the day was for soup made from sheep's heads and feet. Sounds disgusting but was delicious. 

And there we were at 4:00, having put in a solid day of eating. All kinds of interesting foods. It got us away from the tourist treadmill of hummus and kebabs. Some things we liked, some we loved, a few we didn't care for. We learned a lot about the country and its people - it was a great way to spend a few days. 

And just think - soon we'll be on a cruise and you know how hard it is to get anything to eat the !


Chicken breast pudding

No, that's not an auto-correct error. Yes, those are three words that don't really belong together. And yet...      

On our first full day in Istanbul we dove right in with a walking tour. Not just any tour - a culinary walking tour. This one was called 'Backstreets of the Old City' and began at the Spice Market. From 9:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon we walked around - and ate all the things!

Our guide's name was Esim and she did a great job of showing us around. We has a couple from Australia and a fellow from England to round out our group. We began with a little shopping in around the Spice Market to acquire our breakfast, then we were off to a building that once was the coffee business centre. The building is still full of all kinds of businesses - we tucked in a table across from the tea kiosk and got to it.

On the menu was simit (sort of like a bagel), several types of sheep and goat milk cheeses, olives and the nectar of the Gods. Yes, we discovered Kaymak - clotted cream made from water buffalo milk. It is on the list of the best things ever, especially served with honey. We had tea, of course. The word for breakfast in Turkish translates to 'before coffee'. That's because Turkish coffee is so fierce that you don't want to have it on an empty stomach so tea and food happen, then the coffee. I can't say that I liked it the way I like regular coffee, but it wasn't bad. So, fed and coffeed we hit the streets. 

We don't have to get far from the bazaar to lose the tourist stuff and get into things for the locals - pots and pans, for intstance?

They're not just selling them - they're making them. 

Next food stop was to try Kokorech, which seems to be a local hangover cure. Take a look:

Appealing? Turns out to be sweetbreads, wrapped in sheep intestines, which are grilled over the fire. Pieces are then cut off, chopped up, mixed with tomatoes, green peppers, onions and lots of spices, the  sautéed and served on a bun. It was actually very tasty and if you didn't know what the meat was you'd never know. 

Our journey through the streets included tastes of a Turkish form of pastrami, an assortment of baklavas (including one made with the wonderful Kaymak), a visit to a candy shop for real Turkish delight (lokum) and halva. Each stop was at a different store or booth, where we met the owner and learned about the food. There were also many stops just to learn about foodstuffs. 

And that brought us to the pudding shop. Turkish culture is really big on desserts. We haven't seen much in the way of cakes and pies as we know them, but specialty stores for baklava, candy, pudding, ice creams - wow. The puddings are what you'd expect, though more pistachio and milk flavours and not as much chocolate. And yes, chicken breast pudding - wherein said chicken is puréed to a fine pulp and added to a basic pudding. It gives it a different, more robust texture, but no chicken flavour. Why? Because they can? I don't know....

The look on my face is more 'are you taking my picture again?', not a comment on the pudding. 

Another stop for a really spectacular layered donair - look at that beauty!

Slices of beef layered with tomato, onion, green pepper and spices then cooked on the spindle. So good. 

Next stop was for a traditional drink called Boza. It is made from fermented millet, topped with roasted chickpeas and cinnamon. Thick like a milk shake - I think it qualifies as an acquired taste - opinion in the group was split on whether it was a good thing. 

Drinking Boza with the locals - the store has been in the family for generations and is lovely. Looks sort of like a high class saloon. For milkshakes. 

In addition to all the eating we visited mosques and talked and learned a lot about Turkish culture. And then it was time for lunch!

Lunch was pit roasted lamb, chicken and rice pilaf, two salads - and ayran. Another drink with mixed reviews. It is made from yoghurt, water and salt and has air blown through it so the top is all bubbly. Some folks were 'OMG its so salty', others were 'OMG its so sour' and some were 'Yum!'  The lunch was delicious and concluded with a sort of cake stuffed with Kaymak, but man we were picking at our food by this time. We had started with breakfast at about 10:00, and been walking and eating until 2:00, when we tackled lunch. We staggered back to the hotel for a nap and that was the day done. 

Lamb from the pit. 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More adventures in bathing.

And so the great adventure, Autumn 2914 version, begins. We are in Istanbul - we were last here in 1999. It was pretty straightforward to travel from Victoria - Victoria to Toronto direct (~4 hours) followed by Toronto to Istanbul direct (~9 hrs). Long flight, but not complicated. 

Because we arrived at 9:30 am I figured that we'd be too early to check in to our hotel - and we'd be tired. So maybe a visit to a Hamam would be in order. One thing and another, we found a Hamam that met our requirements and made a reservation. 

Most hamami are segregated - there are either seperate facilities, different times of the day or different days of the week. Which is fine, but the first places we found would have had me going in the morning while Wilf did??? And then Wilf off in the afternoon leaving me unattended. But we found a place - for tourists- that is co-ed. 

After a visit to the Hagia Sofia (in the 15 years since our last visit they've moved the scaffolding from one side to the another) we found ourselves at the Hamam, tired, disheveled and hours early for our appointment. No matter - they swept us in and got us settled. 

As is traditional men get a large towel wrap to wear in the bath. To preserve modesty women are given a pair of shorts and a bikini top in addition to the wrap. A pair of wooden clogs completes the ensemble and off we went. 

The main room is a large domed area with a huge marble platform in the centre - 8 people can lay out easily. The platform is heated - as is the floor - and we layed down to relax in the heat. Around the outside of the room are big marble sinks and small basins. We could go and pour water over ourselves - mostly to cool off. After awhile we were called into a smaller room where there were two marble massage tables and two muscular guys. First up we sat down by the big sinks for a rinse and then a scrub. Sort of like being worked over with a potscrubber. 

Once we were scrubbed there was the small problem of hauling my weary slippery self up off the floor, but big guy helped me get the job done. I'd forgotten about the Ottoman sitting on the floor thing...

Next up was the soap bubbles - the masseur had what looked like a big pillowcase in a pail of soapy water - the case would be full of air and bubbles - it was a strange sensation as the hot bubbles poured over me - by the time he was done I was covered from my neck to my feet in a layer of bubbles about 4" thick. 

After the bubble bath and a rinse - a massage. That worked out the kinks! In a more traditional set up there would have been a very thorough scrubbing to take off a couple of layers of skin followed by a massage that takes you apart and then puts you back together. None of this was quite as rigorous but it was just the ticket. 

After it all we changed out of our wet things and into a dry towel. The attendants then used more towels and lots of flapping and wrapping to get us all bundled up - we sort if looked like gift wrapped packages by the time we got to the lounge area to enjoy fresh and delicious orange juice. 

My bathing beauty!