Return to Istanbul

Over the past two months, I have been lucky to have had a large amount of time off from my graduate program and so have been able to return to Istanbul for a few weeks and visit all of the people and places that made the city such and unforgettable and integral part of my life, growth, and learning for the past five years.

While here, I was able to show the city to the man in my life and a friend, who came to visit from Chicago. One love met another. Istanbul is such an easy city to showcase and its beauty and ancient history never cease to wow the pants off of visitors. Being a guide for friends in this city and showing them all of the places that endeared it to me renewed my love for its hospitable people and jaw-dropping sites. Our wandering inevitably turned into a culinary tour of the city as we poked around through neighborhoods. As our departure grew closer, we tried to bottle the sweetness we found here, filling our suitcases with honey and tahini, and plotting our return. Here were some of the highlights from my time in Istanbul this time around:

Crossing to the Asian side 

No trip to Istanbul is complete without a ferry crossing across continents. And though the voyage is under 30 minutes long, the romance of the rocking ferry and views of the Istanbul skyline quicken my heart rate every time. Once we'd landed on the Asian side, we headed for the Kadıköy market- a street a 5 minute walk from the ferry with a star lineup of the freshest ingredients around, from fish and meats, to nuts and dried fruit, seasonal produce and prepared foods such as midye and patlican dolmasi. It is truly a cook's paradise and I could see Faisel's fingers twitching, thinking of the meals he could prepare if he had more time here. We spotted a honey and yogurt shop and stopped in for the heavenly treat of a helping of tart Turkish yogurt topped with liquid sunshine, each spoonful bringing with it simple childhood bliss.

Our next stop was the Moda waterfront, where we strolled, gazing at the historical peninsula beyond, passing strung balloon targets for BB guns, and stopping to have our hand at the city-sponsored exercise equipment. We looped back through Moda and Kadıköy, ending up at Çiya for dinner. I had been before, but it blew me away again with its incredibly varied and flavorful fare. We first got a round of cold meze, weighed by the plate, and then switched counters to point to dishes in pots that struck our fancy- from small köfte (meatballs) with cippoline, stuffed tripes, a variety of dolma and perde pilaf, we slowly transformed ourselves into human dolma. At the end of the meal, we waddled back to the ferry terminal and headed for Karaköy.

Balloon shooting gallery on Kadikoy/Moda's waterfront
Exploring Fatih

We returned to Fatih on two occasions- the first was to visit Kariye Camii/Chora Church and the second to have some boza at the established Vefa Bozacısı. Kariye Camii remains one of my favorite sites in the city, with it's stunning examples of Byzantine mosaic work and frescoes. After craning our necks in an effort to take in all of the meticulously detailed panels, we emerged back into the sunlight and headed out to explore the neighborhood. While meandering down one street and the next towards Fethiye Camii and Fatih Camii, we made stops for small bites of Turkish treats, first at a baklava shop, whose wares glistened like jewels in the window, and then for börek, flaky and filled with meat and cheese. 

On one main road leading to Fatih Camii, we were tugged by the siren call of honey sold on the comb that we spied through a small bakkal window. This particular honey, it turns out, was from Erzurum, the owner of the shop's home town. We had already purchased quite a bit of honey prior to this on our trip and had sworn that we would stop... but this honey was just so tempting. And so the negotiation dance began with the owner originally quoting us an insanely high price and us working him down to a more reasonable one, almost walking out, ruffling the owner's feathers, and at last agreeing on a acceptable final price. He triple wrapped our honey-filled comb and we were off, hoping that our honey would survive the journey back home. 

We ended the night immersed in good conversation with friends and a delicious fish dinner at Cibalikapı Balıkçısı, a fish restaurant overlooking the Golden Horn that remains one of my favorites in Istanbul. Their cold meze were extremely fresh and flavorful and included sun-dried tomatoes stuffed with anchovies, sea bass in a mustard sauce, greens, and the armenian chickpea patties called topik, which I had never tried before. A string of tasty warm meze came next- grilled octopus, clams in wine and butter sauce, langoustine, and lightly fried calamari. We were too stuffed for a whole fish, but made room for baked helva desert made with tahini, honey, and cut up fruit that made the pleasure centers in my brain ring to high heaven. 

The second trip into Fatih was with the aim of sampling boza at the famed Vefa Bozacısı. Since it was my second time going there for boza, I knew to get dried chickpeas from the small bakkal across the street. The shop owner looked at me with raised eyebrows, as he handed me the small brown paper bag, surprised that I knew this step in the boza eating ritual. The shop itself is a neighborhood treasure, with a sunken marble slab at the right part of its entrance designating the thousands of feet that have tread in for this cinnamon-dusted fermented wheat treat since 1876. It was around noon and nearly every one of its small tables was filled with friends and families sharing in a small treat. Fresh people streamed in as tables vacated. The shop, an organism inhaling and exhaling. We scraped the bottom of our boza glasses and headed back out into the neighborhood. 

We tried to visit Vefa Kilise Camii to take a peek at the remaining traces of Byzantine mosaics in its domes, but it was locked. Instead, we walked a few blocks down and popped into the Şeyh Ebu'l Vefa Camii, whose grounds included an area with holy tombs, where people were praying, and an old graveyard whose gravestones serve as lounge chairs for cats. Before heading to Kadinlar Pazari's honey shops and aqueduct view where we finished our walk, we stopped first for lentil soup and a bite of chickpeas, rice, and chicken at a neighborhood shop- one of those ubiquitous Istanbul street treats that I'd somehow managed to skip over in my last five years in the city. And, what a shame that I had, because it was delicious- a wedding of simplicity and taste. 

So there it is, just a snippet of our days (re)visiting Istanbul, and the city was as beautiful as ever. The biggest highlight, of course, was seeing friends throughout my stay, some who I hadn't seen in years. You would think I'd be satiated, but I am already counting down the days until I get to come back. 

Seyh Ebu'l Vefa Camii

Popular Posts