Today, my spouse and I packed one large suitcase each for a summer we will spend in Ankara, Turkey. Difficult decisions were made: bring the food processor, leave the hand mixer. Fortunately for us, deciding to make the move to Turkey's capital for the summer was far from difficult. I'm so thrilled to be here!
Ankara is the real capital of Turkey, though many mistakenly think it is Istanbul. Ankara is the second largest city next to the 'bul and boasts a quieter, more subdued feel. Think: NYC is to DC as Istanbul is to Ankara. All 'big cities' but very different in character, layout, and demographic make up.
View from our new apartment's balcony!
While many Istanbullu are wary of Ankara's summertime heat and its considerable distance from open waters, Ankara has a dry heat compared to Istanbul's wet humidity. The summer weather here in Ankara is rather ideal despite its location in the center of the dry, arid Anatolian plateau. Highs are in the mid-80s with lows at 60F, averaging about 73-74F on most summer days. It's the perfect summer weather to enjoy BBQs (mangal) and beverages on our new balcony.
Here's a historical token I love about Ankara. In 278 BC, Ankara, along with the rest of central Anatolia, was occupied by a Celtic group, the Galatians, who were the first to make Ankara one of their tribal centers. (You know the Galatians... Remember that epistle the Apostle Paul wrote to a number of early Christian communities in the Roman province of Galatia in central Anatolia? Well that's Ankara today!)
Wikipedia's Angora rabbit. Ha!
This city was famous for its long-haired Angora goat and its prized wool (mohair), a unique breed of cat (Angora cat), Angora rabbits and their prized Angora wool, pears, honey, and the region's muscat grapes, from which a supposed great many Turkish red wines are made. (I say this somewhat sarcastically as I drank an Azerbaijani muscat wine during my Peace Corps service that was downright terrible!) I hope to visit a Turkish hamam, vineyard and maybe even see one of these special Ankara rabbits!
Ankara'dan görüşörüz! Expect photos from our new apartment and top-floor terrace soon...
As we celebrate Easter here in Istanbul, it is a reminder that we are fortunate, blessed beyond measure. Though we may be hundreds of miles from our home church, our families and loved ones, and the Easter bunny as we know it, we find that celebrating the resurrection of Christ can be done in our hearts. It certainly helps to share good food in great company though!
This Easter we celebrated by attending Easter morning Mass at Istanbul's second largest Cathedral, St. Esprit Church or Cathedral of the Holy Spirit (see map below). The church happens to be in our lovely, old neighborhood of Pangaltī in Osmanbey. Pangaltī is a brisk 50 minute walk from our current apartment in Gayreteppe, and this morning we ventured on said walk with mass in our sights.
Dramatic interior of the Cathedral
Mass began promptly at 10AM and, like many Catholic churches on Easter and Christmas, the church was packed to the brim, but what it lacked in seating it made up for with spirited singing and unity. I say 'unity' not only in the sense that most in attendance are Catholic in this predominantly Muslim country, but more so in that the church had a congregation unlike any other I've seen. This congregation was made up of mostly ex-pats from the Philippines, Western and Eastern African countries, and a handful of Western Europeans. It was another world inside this huge metropolitan city. During mass we sang songs in Latin, English, Tagalog, and what I think may have been an African language.
After mass, we wanted to stop by our favorite bakery in Pangaltī, Harbiye Firin. When we lived near here, there was never a day when we did not smell the heavenly scent of freshly baked treats wafting out of its doors and onto the sidewalks of Pangaltī. It was difficult to not indulge daily on their baked goods, everything is delicious!
Paskalya Çoregi (left) & Çoban salatī (right)
Today, we ordered two of our usuals: zeytinli açma (olive bread) and üzüm çerez (raisin scone). We also picked up an Easter favorite for Greeks and Armenians: Paskalya Çoregi (literally, Easter bread). This Easter bread reminds my spouse and me of a braided Swedish cardamom wreath that I make every year from my grandmother's recipe.
Paskalya Çoregi is a braided, yeast bread made with the mahlep spice. A fellow cook here in Turkey has posted her recipe for Paskalya Çoregi. It is a straight forward recipe worth a try and leaves your home smelling of warm, fragrant mahlep.
Our beautiful breakfast spread. Blessed.
In preparation for Easter, a few other splurge items were purchased (bacon and avocado). Bacon is outrageously expensive at $25 USD per pound and is somewhat difficult to find here too. Our breakfast spread included two other Turkish breakfast regulars: çoban salatī (tomato and cucumber salad) and kaymak (clotted cream) served with honey.
Kaymak with honey & egg scrambles
I even baked off a speciality dessert by request - classic cheesecake! A traditional cheesecake takes adequate preparation in America, here in Turkey it takes double the time from sampling krem peynir (cream cheese) to hunting down the perfect faux-graham cracker. Check my recipes page for my attempt at making a Turkish cheesecake!
Wishing all a blessed, happy, and delicious Easter!
We are about to set off an another one of our Turkish adventures. This time we are going to go WWOOFing. WWOOF is an acronym that stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it is frequently used as a verb by those who participate as volunteers or guests. WWOOF is a loose network of national organizations that facilitate placement of volunteers on organic farms.
Narköy's tented greenhouse
The Turkish brand of WWOOF calls themselves Bugday (wheat in Turkish) or TaTuTa. Their website, Bugday.org, isn't particularly user-friendly until you've paid membership dues (45USD/person) and then you've earned access to the details of over 80 organic farms across Turkey. Our first attempt to WWOOF begins on April 1st at Narköy Çiftlik (Pomegranate Village Farm), a farm in Kandira, Kocaeli near the Black Sea, just one and half hours north of Istanbul. One previous volunteer had this to say about Narköy: "Beautiful spot and super-nice owners and staff. There's a variety of things to do and learn." And while the listed volunteer duties for April indicate we will be harvesting and planting, one can never be quite sure what exactly is in store when you are earning your housing and meals through farm work. We are after all working six days a week, five hours a day for our stay.
The last basil plant that I killed, taken before it died.
I've never considered myself a gardener, and frankly I am more inclined to believe I have more of a black-thumb than a green one. I've killed three (or more) basil plants during my two years living on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I even have limited success with cactus, and they tolerate water-deprivation and neglect as long as they are somewhere near accessible sunlight. To say the least, I'm a bit nervous about all that WWOOF might have in store for me. My Peace Corps motto may serve me well while I am at Narköy: try everything once. So I'll hold true to that motto once again since, after all, it is only a three-week commitment and I can do anything for three weeks. I think fun, experiential learning, and light-hearted spontaneity is in store for me these next three weeks.
***Note: due to unforeseen events, we only stayed at Narköy Çiftlik for a day and then returned home to Istanbul. The farm itself was beautifully kept and serene; and the Narköy staff were incredibly hospitable, happy and generous. We thank them for their understanding and wish them a fruitful planting season!
Caramel-colored stone homes of varying square sizes dot the eskiśehir (old city) of Mardin. To walk up towards the outcropping of honey basalt stone on the hillside feels like the best type of 'urban' hiking (if you can call Mardin urban at all). Outcroppings next to old castles and cobblestone walkways, Mardin is quite picturesque. The view from the top shows the flat stretch of agricultural land with not much more. Mardin feels like an oasis in the middle of southeastern turkey. An adorable tourist hot stop for Turks and foreigners alike, even at the end of March you'll find that you won't have Mardin all to yourself.
The cobble stone pathways weaving up and around and back down are endearing and exciting to explore. While you might not know exactly where the next cadde (street) will lead you, it's impossible to get lost in Mardin. The Main Street, fondly still called Birinci Caddesi (first street) even though several years ago it was formally renamed Cumhurriyet Caddesi (Republic Street). Birinci Caddesi holds within it many hidden pathways that lead to some of Mardin's best gems. Ulu Cami'i is one of those gems, colloquially called Büyük Cami (big mosque). Ulu Cami'i's minaret is exquisite with detail and script displayed on it that dates back to the 12th Century. Ulu Cami'i also has a somewhat strange display of a few hairs from the Prophet Mohammed's beard.
Mardin is a treat to visit, even with the natural tourist pitfalls of being beckoned to purchase a trinket by shopkeepers and heckled by young guys on the street. Mardin is a terrific city well worth the visit, even if Anatolia or southeastern Turkey is not on your travel route!
My spouse and I have had our fair share of yabancī (foreigner) rip-offs since arriving in Istanbul in January. I once paid 16TL for 3 small cups of Turkish black tea, a normal fare would have set a Turk back 6TL, an average of 2 TL per cup. Our most recent rip-off occurred at Beşiktaş Kaymakçī, a whole in wall eatery revered for its kaymak (clotted cream) served with honey and fresh bread. For 2 plates of 50gr kaymak, 2 fried eggs, and 2 small cups of tea, the owner of the joint attempted to charge us 30TL. The math just doesn't add up here. We were disappointed given the pricing and review we had read on Istanbul Eatsstating one plate of kaymak even served with hot milk is only 4TL. Even is everything we ordered was 4TL each, our total still wouldn't have exceeded 24TL. We've learned our lesson now the hard way, twice: always see a menu with prices before ordering. No menu? Go somewhere else. It's not worth it.
Kirpi Cafe's Breakfast Menu
Our dismay in Beşiktaş Kaymakçi led us to wonder the many side streets near Beşiktaş's main square. We happened upon an adorable and atmospheric cafe called Kirpi Cafe. Kirpi is hedgehog in Turkish and sure enough the cafe's logo displayed just that: an animated red-and-yellow hedgehog.
Kirpi Cafe's breakfast menu is extensive and even includes varying sizes of Turkish kahvaltī (breakfast) depending on your appetite. We ordered one büyük kahvaltī (big breakfast) and one Kirpi kahvaltī. Both breakfasts included tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, two types of Turkish cheeses, kaymak and honey, and fresh herbs. The Kirpi kahvaltī also included an omelette, two additional types of breads, Nutella spread and homemade quince jam. Both came with complimentary tea and our total was 21TL. Now doesn't that sound more like it? Yum. A full Turkish breakfast that was delicious and included attentive service and atmospheric outdoor seating for a fair price.
If you are looking to visit Beşiktaş' Kirpi Cafe, you can locate it easily on Dursun Bakan Sokak No:23.
Guesting with a host family is an incredibly wonderful and fulfilling experience. This trip to Diyarbakir was 5 days, 4 nights and each morning we woke up to the most glorious breakfast spread.
Like I have mentioned in previous posts, Turk kahvalti (Turkish breakfast) is DONE, not eaten. I love the leisurely attitude toward the most important meal of the day.
Every kahvalti includes tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and bread. Any additional items are just a treat! The number of cheeses at a breakfast table also varies; one morning we had FOUR different types of cheeses to enjoy, from dry and salty to seasoned with baharat spice and herbs.
One of my favorite additions to the 'normal' breakfast fare was a Turkish take on French toast. The büyükanne (grandmother, or literally 'big mother') made her French toast from old ekmek (bread). It was dense and gooey but not heavy. It was neither sweet not savory, and she indicated that was intentional when I asked her. She explained that this way one could enjoy it with either one of the many cheeses or with honey and kaymak (clotted cream).
The Diyarbakir family we stayed with was more than generous. Beyond the delicious food that was lovingly prepared for everyone, we enjoyed long, deep conversations after dinner each night about American culture, Kurdish traditions, Turkish weddings, and even world peace. All our conversations were conducted in approximately 80% Turkish and 20% English, with a small smattering of Azerbaijani thrown in for good measure just when our own native tongues failed us.
Overall this guesting experience was unforgettable. I couldn't have imagined celebrating this beloved Kurdish holiday without a Kurdish/Turkish family in tow. It was a vacation that will be remembered for a lifetime. Breakfast and all.
Diyarbakir is a diverse city with bright tricolored flags dotting the urban landscape. Known widely by Turks as the Kurdish capital of Turkey, Diyarbakir is unlike any other place in the country; nowhere else will you find people so proud to be Kurds. Roz baś (good morning) and spas (thank you) are just two of the Kurdish phrases I learned while staying with a generous Turk/Kurd host family in Diyarbakir.
Enjoying the view from Diyarbakir's Sur
The city's most obvious and highly talked about feature is its black basalt walls that likely date back to the Roman times. Diyarbakir has been fortified by its current walls since the early Byzantine times (AD 300-500). It is also said to be second in length only to the Great Wall of China!
Diyarbakir's sur (city wall in Turkish) can be a bit scary with few railings and staircases with a 10% grade. The manzara (panoramic view) from the wall is breathtaking, particularly at sunset. The colors of Diyarbakir's sunsets are so vibrant and varied and unlike any I've seen in smoggy Istanbul.
One of my favorite tourist spots in Diyarbakir was a bit off the beaten path: Ön Gözlü Köprüsü (Ten Eyed Bridge). Ön Gözlü Köprüsü is a ten-arched bridge over the mighty Tigris River (above). Apparently it has remained very low in recent years. The Tigris River is the eastern most river of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. In the Book of Genesis, the Tigris is one of four rivers branching off the main river issuing out of the Garden of Eden. It is said that if you write your greatest wish on a piece of paper and drop it into the Tigris from Ön Gözlü Köprüsü, your wish is taken directly to God. (I couldn't resist to participate in this wish endeavor, as evidenced in the left picture above.)
Rich in history and culture, Diyarbakir has no shortage of mosques and churches. The more unique mosques and churches quickly became my favorites, particularly the Şeyh Mutahhar Camii and the Meryem Ana Kilisesi. The Şeyh Mutahhar Camii built in 1512 is most famous for its detached minaret that stands on four slender pillars about 5 feet high – rightfully earning it the name most locals know this mosque by Dört Ayaklı Minare (Four-Legged Minaret). Meryem Ana Kilisesi, which translates to Mother Mary Church, is still used by Orthodox Syrian Christians today. The church is beautifully maintained and lovingly cared for. Flash photography wasn't allowed in the church, so please excuse the quality of those photos in particular.
Newruz was quite different than how I had celebrated 'Novruz' in Azerbaijan. The Newruz of Diyarbakir was less about the sweets and games, and more a declaration of independence and freedom for Kurdistan. While I am not opposed to delving deeper into matters of Kurdish politics, this is a food blog and my intent here is to simply share my personal experience where the culture, food and people are central. Check out my recipes page for a look into making Turkish içli kofte(meat-filled bulgur dumplings) with the generous host family we stayed with in Diyarbakir.
And if you are at all considering a trip to Turkey's southeast or anywhere in the Anatolia region, don't miss Diyarbakir! (Or Mardin...post to come soon!)
I won't be whipping up any home-cooked meals this coming weekend. We fly to Diyarbakir, Turkey on Thursday, March 20th for the weekend in celebration of 'Newruz'. Whether you spell it Newruz/Novruz/Nowruz, you are sure to marathon eat delicious dishes that are traditionally served for this Persian New Years.
Check back Tues, March 25 for a full post and full spread of photos from Diyarbakir's Newruz Festival.
During my two years in Göyçay, Azerbaijan, I celebrated Novruz with my host family and community. Göyçay city actually has a fairly active 'Göyçay City' Facebook site in which it posts photos from the town itself, community festivals, etc.
Here is an excerpt from my Azerbaijan Peace Corps blog from March 2010:
This past weekend we celebrated the spring holiday Novruz. The word is actually Farsi and means ‘new day’ and has been celebrated as far back as 505 B.C. Prohibited but celebrated discreetly in Azerbaijan during its years as a Soviet republic, Novruz is now one of the most anticipated holidays to be openly marked in Azerbaijan. Preparation for Novruz begins one month prior to the holiday itself. Several major preparation days representing the four elements of nature take place on the four Tuesdays leading up to Novruz. The traditions are many and wonderfully different then any American traditions I’ve experienced; here are a few:
Pinching designs into shekerbura
Families prepare special Novruz desserts to reenergize bodies and spirits after a cold winter. Pakhlava (baklava) and Shekerbura are the two Novruz desserts and no Novruz table is complete without them! (You may remember I sent pictures of the shekerbura process from New Years; reminded me of tamales-making.)
This was a great holiday and I was thrilled to celebrate it with Rikki, my sitemate, and her wonderfully warm and kind Azerbaijani family. I know Rikki is eager to bring this holiday back to America with her and I would agree it is a terrific way to welcome spring and to bring families together to help awaken Mother Earth after her winter sleep.
On any given day, at any given time in Karaköy, you will find the Turkish version of the American food cart craze. These carts are mobile, fully stocked, and on fire - literally. Generally, two men work hard to meet the high demand for their freshly-caught fish sandwiches. Balīk ekmek is very popular and very delicious.
Balīk ekmek literally translates to 'fish bread', but there is so much more to it than fish and bread. The particular vendor of the three stationed steps away from the Karaköy tramway and spitting distance to the Bosphorus. Both men were friendly and çališkan (hard-working) had a long line (always a good indication of tested quality). As one warmed the bread while simultaneously monitored his grill with 6 to 8 fish fillets, his mate took orders and payments while dressing the warmed bread with a tomato-parsley schmear, a fresh spicy chili pepper, and sumac-rubbed sliced onions. The finished product is a balīk ekmek not to be missed!
Lunch at Cuma is a very laissez-faire event. We sat down for a light lunch at approximately 1:30PM on a damp Sunday in Beyoglu and didn't leave until 4:30PM. We were not there for an extended 3-hour period because we ate for 3 straight hours (though the food is so delicious it would be possible), we were there because Cuma has such a warm atmosphere that encourages slow eating and meaningful conversation that continues even long after the food has all been consumed. As a contextual note from my Turkish language learning, Cuma means 'Friday' in English, and the philosopher in me wants to believe that maybe the sentiment of this delightful, petite establishment is to live each day as if it is Friday. (Though this remains unconfirmed, I am happy to believe this to be true. After all a statement on their website leads me to believe I am somewhat on the right path: "Özel günlerinizi Cuma'da kutlayabilirsiniz" which would roughly translate to "You can celebrate your special days at Cuma".)
Local street art in Beyoglu
We had settled on this second-story cafe located on Çukur Cuma Caddesi by the recommendation of a friend who had happened upon it a few days prior. It's a wonderful thing when a menu holds something for everyone. An afternoon meal at Cuma starts off with a rosemary-infused red tomato feta and croutons. This complimentary appetizer is then followed by a limitless basket of homemade buttery black olive focaccia and whole wheat sourdough. Both breads were divine and it was clear then that our meals would most likely follow suit. Two in our party ordered tost (toasted bread topped with select ingredients). One tost is particularly notable; piled high with perfectly ripe avocado, sweet cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil and then topped with a heavy dousing of aromatic garlic olive oil. It was tasty, filling, and healthy to boot.
My spouse repeatedly clings to the tried-and-true Turk kahvaltī regardless of the time of day. I appreciate an establishment that doesn't take itself too seriously and is willing to offer their breakfast selections for any meal. Thankfully, all of Cuma's breakfast items are served all day here. And this breakfast spread did not disappoint; it was complete with çoban salatī ('farmer's salad' of tomatoes and cucumbers), 3 different types of Turkish peynir (cheese), and hazelnut butter (the long lost and extra exotic cousin of American peanut butter). I indulged in an exquisitely executed Ispanklī gnocchi (spinach gnocchi). The gnocchi itself was green, spiraled, and spinach-flavored - and perfectly fluffy! It was topped with steamed spinach and parmesan and the sauce was immaculate, a creamy tomato-based sauce with hints of basil and roasted red pepper. Prices were commensurate with the other posh, hipster cafes that dot the Beyoglu streets, ranging from 12TL to 25TL per plate.
The modern rustic interior design is beautiful to look at. From its wooden communal tables and white-washed brick walls to its chic exposed venting ducts, Cuma is an enchanting restaurant that has it all. It was a delicious end to a lovely weekend in Istanbul.