Monday, May 30, 2011

New and tasty things I've tried recently

Even if you've figured out that there's more to Turkish cuisine than just kebabs, it's easy to feel after a while that there's nothing new under the sun, culinarily speaking. The seeming boom in Black Sea restaurants in Istanbul has been a bit of a revelation -- I can't remember the last time I went to a Turkish restaurant where there were so many completely unfamiliar items on a menu. OK, just three or four, but still! And sometimes, if you look hard enough, even the most traditional spots can hold a few surprises.

  • Tahinli pastry -- Something like a cinnamon roll with a thin coat of peanut butter between each layer. (Possibly an Armenian recipe.) At a small, nondescript take-out bakery on the shore road in Beşiktaş.

  • Kaygana -- Reminiscent of a crepe, an omelette, and a potato pancake, but made with kale, leeks, and hamsi (anchovy) filets. At the Black Sea meyhane Mohti.

  • Gelincik suyu (poppy juice) -- Ruby red and refreshing, if a bit of an acquired taste. Can also be served hot in a tea-like form. No narcotic properties that I could discern. At a cafe on Bozcaada.

  • Kabak ezmesi (pumpkin dip) -- Creamy and just a bit smoky. At Zübeyir Ocakbaşı.
Know of any other little-known sweets, snacks, or meals I should try to track down?

NOTE: In other food-related news, I've got a guest review of the fabulous restaurant Lokanta Maya up today on Istanbul Eats, the best website in town for people who love to eat.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hiding in plain sight

Though the weather isn't quite sure yet if it's summer in Istanbul, the tourists definitely are. My tram rides over to the old city for my Saturday-morning run along the Marmara Sea are so full of German, English, and other languages that I sometimes find myself surprised to hear a conversation in Turkish. Four massive cruise ships docked along the Karaköy shoreline are a regular sight, as are unfurled maps and perplexed expressions.

Like most anyone who lives in a popular tourist destination, I sigh at the arrival of the summer hordes. (Though I was once among their number, I never would have blocked the sidewalk like that or made such loud, dumb comments, tabiiki.) But occasionally they offer a good reminder or two. I'd walked in the shadow of this gold-trimmed outcropping dozens of times on my way into or out of Gülhane Park without sparing a single thought as to what it might be. Recently, though, I saw some tourists staring at the ground beneath it and took a discrete peek as they passed.

A plaque I'd never before noticed explained that this was the Parade Pavilion (Alay Köşkü), the sultan's favored viewing point to watch ceremonial processions make their way down this wide boulevard before it became clogged with carpet shops and "authentic" Turkish restaurants. The caged windows kept the unwashed masses from catching a glimpse of his majesty -- or, surely more importantly, his majesty's ladies. As the trams and tour buses rumbled by, for a minute I could almost hear the clip-clopping of horses and the steady stamp of Ottoman soldiers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bravo, güneş!

Perhaps everyone was just in a laudatory mood after spending the afternoon cheering runners (myself included!) as they passed the finish line set up in the little town square during the first Bozcaada Half Marathon and 10K Run. Or perhaps it was an island ritual little observed by big-city dwellers.

In any event, a few hours after the run concluded, as the warm early summer's day began to draw to a close, caravans of cars headed to the far side of the island. There, a long stretch of rocky cliff near a row of wind turbines overlooked the ocean, offering an unobstructed view of the setting sun.

In groups and pairs, people chatted and drank wine and snuggled up and plucked out a few tunes on a guitar. The blue and gold sky turned to shades of pink and purple as the sun dropped toward the horizon, casting a long glowing reflection on the Aegean Sea. When it finally dipped out of sight, everyone applauded.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Around the world with 40 travel bloggers

I don't think of myself as a travel blogger, really. The blogs of people who spend all year (or many years) on the road seem as far removed from my life in Turkey as, well, my life in Turkey probably does for many folks who've never lived away from home. But my musings on learning a foreign language, trying to understand a different culture, and, yes, sometimes traveling were apparently enough for me to qualify some while back for Lonely Planet's "Blogs We Like" program -- later dubbed the "Blogsherpas."

I stayed on the margins of the group for some time, occasionally reading a discussion thread here or tagging a post there, until I saw a notice seeking contributions to an e-book. Intrigued, I spent a few hours on the terrace of my pension in Ayvalık (for once, I was actually traveling at the time) putting together two pages of photos and text that I felt represented my blog. Thirty-nine other bloggers -- expats, adventurers, and family travelers -- did the same.

This week, the final product, the free e-book "Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers," has been released, full of inspiring photos and commentary on destinations from Alberta to Uganda. As Lonely Planet put in it their writeup of the book, it "explores our beautiful world from street level through the eyes of travel bloggers." I hope you'll find a new blogger or two worth following in its virtual pages.

NOTE: The Blogsherpas also have a World Travel lens on the website Squidoo, where you can read the latest posts by bloggers from around the world, all in one place.