Small Things Savory - Shang's pig’s ear terrine with soy gelée
Turkish breakfastbowl of Turkish sugarSimit at Macakizi

Turkish Delight

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 3, 2006

To celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary we took a family trip to explore Turkey, a culture and country unfamiliar to all of us. Spending four days in Istanbul, one in Cesme and two in Bodrum was not nearly enough to soak up all the goodness of Turkey, but it was a start and I can’t wait to go back.

While planning the trip, I solicited information and recommendations from my Turkish friends here in New York for areas to visit and places to eat. I was also introduced to a new friend, Cem Cantas, who lives in Istanbul. Despite the fact that we had never met before, Cem took us to dinner and gave us helpful information to make our initial visit as pleasant as can be.

Though Istanbul is not the capital, it’s the economic and cultural center of Turkey. This city is unique in that it’s situated on two continents, Asia and Europe, which are divided by the Bosphorus strait. The former capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul is rich in history and culture so we decided to devote four days to this massive city.

Cesme and Bodrum are both great summer vacation spots on the Aegean coast. Though we visited during off-season, the weather was gorgeous, so we enjoyed not only the sun and water, but privacy as well. We explored a quaint little town called Alacati in Cesme, with historic stone houses, antique markets and a harbor renowned for windsurfing. The Times put Bodrum in the limelight this past summer with an article on its rising status as the St. Tropez in Turkey. The bed and breakfast where we stayed, Macakizi, is a wonderful beachfront resort that rivals any five-star beach resort.

Since we spent the most time in Istanbul, I decided to focus on a couple of exceptional restaurants and stores there. The images I’ve chosen to showcase do not directly correspond to the restaurants I discuss. One image depicts my adoration for the simplicity and freshness of Turkish breakfast — an enticing selection of vegetables, cheeses and breads. Another reveals my love for the bread ring covered in sesame called simit, or the remnants of one from Macakizi. I just love how the plate becomes littered with a zillion little sesame seeds. Even the bowls of individually wrapped sugar cubes were beautiful.

The colors for this feature are a representation of both the popular evil eye amulet that can be found in every corner in Turkey, and the blues of the amazing bodies of water we came in contact with, whether dining along the Bosphorus or sun bathing on the coast of the Aegean Sea in Bodrum.

I hope you will become as intrigued and enamored with Turkey as I am.

Turkish Delight

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 3, 2006

Cevdet Pasa Caddesi 58k
Bebek, Istanbul

Two Turkish friends of mine had, on separate occasions, recommended Poseidon as their favorite seafood restaurant in Istanbul. My visit confirmed that it’s an unforgettable experience. Poseidon is located along the Bosphorus coast in Bebek, the poshest area of Istanbul. When the weather is nice, they open up the outdoor terrace, which has an amazing view of the Bosphorus and of the Asian side of Istanbul. Scenery aside, the food at Poseidon is excellent! From the mouth-watering meze to the fresh fish and delicious desserts, I enjoyed every bite of our meal. After starting with a selection of cold and hot meze, including eggplant dip, peppers stuffed with cinnamon rice, artichoke, marinated white fish, pickles, salad and grilled squid (the freshest and most tender I’ve tasted), we selected the bonito because it was in season. My Turkish friend Cem explained that the bonito would be better fried than grilled, because it was early in the season and the bonito had not developed enough fat to remain juicy after being grilled. The fish was pan-fried so it was not greasy but had just the right amount of flavor and oil. The meal was delicious and the service excellent. Poseidon is just one of the many lovely things about Istanbul, but it’s certainly at the top of my list.

Seyit Hasan Kuyu Sokak 50
Sultanahmet, Istanbul

Sabahattin is another popular seafood restaurant in Istanbul. It’s situated in the historic part of town, Sultanahmet, where the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace are located. While this is more of a tourist area than anything else, Sabahattin is one of the few exceptions that draws the locals to this district. That’s a pretty strong endorsement. This was our very first meal in Turkey, and it was a wonderful way to start the trip. The weather was lovely, so outdoor seating was available. The restaurant encloses the stone-paved road in front of the building with grape vines and sets out tables for outdoor seating. So charming! The only disadvantage to sitting outside was the stray cats lingering around for scraps of delicious seafood — lucky cats! We chose a good selection of cold meze. One of the reasons I love Turkish food is the meze — everything is fresh and you get to open up your appetite with a variety of tastes. One dish that stands out in my memory is the cinnamon rice with mussels. I had not tasted anything like it before and we made sure to order it, or a similar dish, at subsequent meals. After finishing our starters, the catch of the day was brought to our table on a tray.  We chose the bluefish, which was in season, and a sea bass, both to be grilled. The bluefish was tasty and juicy but the sea bass was lackluster and dry. The waiters as well as the other diners were friendly and had a good sense of humor, making it a relaxing and fun meal.

Turkish Delight

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 3, 2006

Tahmis Caddesi Kalcin Sokak 17
Eminonu, Istanbul

Hamdi is renowned for their kebabs. The restaurant has been around since the 70’s although not always at its current location. It’s well situated, next to both the Spice Market and the Grand Bizarre. On a day when you plan to tackle both markets, Hamdi is the ideal place to have lunch. We were seated on the fifth floor by the window, overlooking the Golden Horn, the fresh water river that divides Old Istanbul from the modern part of the city. As with every meal, the cold meze were delicious — the grilled eggplant was a standout at Hamdi. The Turkish pizza also seemed to be very popular, so we each indulged in a small order before proceeding on to the kebabs. The day before, we called to order the testi kebabi— small cubes of lamb meat, peeled tomatoes, small onions, garlic and green pepper fill an earthware jug that is then sealed with dough and cooked for two and a half hours. Once ready, the jug is then presented at the table and cracked open in front of you, letting the juices and aroma ooze out as it’s being served. It was such a delight! Since there were only four of us, and more than enough testi kebabi, the waiters served the remainder to our neighbors at the next table. They graciously responded by urging us to taste the pistachio kebab ( fistikli kebap) they had ordered. The pistachio kebab is not to be missed! Even if you do order the testi kebabi(which you must order in advance since it takes so long to prepare) don’t forget the pistachio kebab! It’s made of minced lamb meat mixed with crushed pistachios and I swear it is a gift from the heavens!

Mim Kemal Oke Caddesi 21
Nisantasi, Istanbul

Hunkar was yet another totally fabulous dining experience, this time in the upscale shopping area of Nisantasi. Serving traditional Ottoman cuisine since 1950, Hunkar has the classic ambience and easy-going yet professional service of an old-school restaurant. Though its current location is deemed modern, the ambience is definitely that of an established restaurant. It also has a historical feel to it, if only because the interior is decorated with street signs from past locations. The restaurant is known for its Hunkar Begendi or meat stuffed eggplant. Chef owner Feridun Urgumu not only cooks but also comes around to chat with customers. He’s jolly and warm, adding to the appeal of the restaurant. It’s home-style Turkish cuisine and everything about the restaurant makes you feel at ease. It’s almost bizarre that this “neighborhood restaurant” is nestled in the midst of fancy antique stores, art galleries and designer boutiques. As always, the meal starts with a wide variety of cold meze, which included a wonderful dish of marinated celery root. We were a bit confused once we were ready to order our mains, but then realized that for those of us who don’t understand Turkish and are not familiar with the menu, the entrees are displayed at the counter in front of the kitchen. Besides the stuffed eggplant, we also ordered lamb served over a mashed eggplant, which is another popular dish, but I found the eggplant part rather disappointing as it was too thick and lacked flavor. The side of chard we ordered was masterfully cooked to retain freshness and flavor. Mmmm! Just thinking about this meal makes me hungry. Unfortunately, it’s not just a subway ride away.

Turkish Delight

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
October 3, 2006

Cevdet Pasa Caddesi 53c
Bebek, Istanbul

This little candy store in Bebek is a treasure that gracefully produces and displays traditional Ottoman sweets and chocolates. Meshur Bebek Badem Ezmesi is a stand-alone store in Bebek that was established in 1904. The name of the store translates to “famous Bebek almond paste.” Rather than offering the ubiquitous “Turkish delights” on display at the famous bazaars, here their specialty is marzipan. There are two flavors: the cream colored one is the traditional almond paste marzipan, and the green one is a very rich pistachio marzipan. You can buy them in beautifully packaged gift boxes or in little plastic bags for smaller quantities. The marzipans don’t hold well in the plastic bags and need to be consumed immediately. The storefront displays other Turkish treats like chocolates, candies and nuts. In fact, the marzipans are slightly hidden, as they are stored under the wood counter in what I thought of as a secret chest (actually designed to keep them out of the sun so they don’t melt). The almond marzipans are stored on one side and the pistachio on the other, and an ornately carved wood panel slides either way to reveal the secret treats. The chocolate covered pistachios are wrapped individually in beautifully colored wrappers, adding a layer of luxury to this tasty experience. It is easy to lose oneself in a confectioner’s shop as gorgeous as this one, but make a note that the treats here are pricey. However, it’s not every day that you are in Istanbul, so why not indulge?

Arasta Bazaar 93
Sultanahmet, Istanbul

Kucukayasofya Caddesi13
Sultanahmet, Istanbul

Of the markets or bazaars we visited, the Arasta Bazaar was the loveliest. It’s a small and simple market consisting of about forty stores lined on both sides of a single lane, selling traditional artistry like carpets and ceramics. It’s right by the Blue Mosque, and used to be stables during the Ottoman period. There were fewer people at this bazaar and less salesmen trying to harass us, a great contrast to the craziness of the bigger bazaars. One store stood out from the crowd, Cocoon. The window display showed a number of interesting felt hats, which caught our attention. Inside the store, there were more felt hats, bags, textile, rugs and costumes. The store is small but all items were simply beautiful and eye-catching. Seref Ozen, the co-owner who is considered to be one of the foremost authorities in the world on Central Asian textiles (which we didn’t know at the time), told us that they had a bigger store down the street with more selection. So we went to the larger store, which is called Tribalchase, and is the gallery extension of Cocoon. Indeed, there was a much larger selection in this six-story building and everything was elegantly displayed like in a gallery. From small knit change purses to theater costumes, it was a treat for the eyes to see so many beautiful objects. The other co-owner, Mustafa Gokhan Demir, patiently walked us through the floors (even though it was 7pm, which during Ramadan is the time of the breaking of the fast). I was fascinated by all the felt products and their different textures. There was a piece of wrinkled fabric that I kept eyeing that looked like it was a made of silk but had the soft texture of cotton. It was so thin and delicate that I was surprised when Mustafa said it was also felt, thinly pressed. Both owners were kind and helpful. You could tell from the store and the gallery that they had superior taste and were authorities in their field. Mustafa also let us take a peek on the roof top terrace to survey the area. After all the flights of stairs we emerged to a lovely outdoor space with the most amazing view of the Blue Mosque at very close range. My recommendation would be to skip some of the crazier markets like the Grand and Egyptian Bazaars (go take a quick look just to know what they are about), and instead spend time at Cocoon and Tribalchase to study the multitude of beautiful artistry that they collect and sell.

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