Get ready for a sappy post.

You’ve been warned.

It is with both sadness and excitement that I write this post görüşürüz or “see you later.”  It is my final day in Istanbul.  I have lived in a tiny room overlooking the Black Sea for exactly one month.  Every day I awoke to a fantastic group of people.  Through attempting to navigate Turkish public transportation, exploring the markets at Kadıköy, and eating way too much cake at Bilir we grew extremely close.  I have met some truly incredible people that will be friends for life.  Aside from the memories and the promises to correspond, my Turkish has improved significantly and I was able to explore Turkey beginning as a tourist and ending as a local.

Last night we gathered at a restaurant in Şile where glass windows exposed the most beautiful view of the Ottoman lighthouse.  We ate calamari (still better in Seattle!), drank red wine, and laughed about who knows what.  As a food historian I recognize that food brings people together, and for the last month I’ve sat across the table from these incredible people and learned not only about Turkey but about their cultures as well.




Mia is so lovely and brilliant, I am going to miss her so much!

Today we explored Istanbul for the last time this trip, although everyone has vowed to return.  Our first tour was guided by an professor who specializes in Ottoman sociology.  Instead of leading us around throngs of people flocking to the mosques we took some back alleys to explore the transformation of Ottoman architecture in the 18th to 19th centuries.  Our first stop was a mall (we think he said mall? it functioned more like an inn) which had a remarkable view of the city.  We wound through dank corridors where craftsmen used to sell their work and climbed onto the roof for this gorgeous view.  Does it look familiar?  This is also where they filmed the scene of Bond running on the rooftops in From Russia with Love.





this door is older than the Unites States

After viewing the city from a building of questionable structural integrity we walked back through the markets to some buildings that exemplify Ottoman Revivalism.  As you walk along the streets you can look up and see ordinary buildings with Iznik tiles decorating the under side of roofs.  This is perhaps my favorite part of Istanbul.  The Ottomans were patrons of the arts and decorated every inch of their building so that you can always find something new, even in a post office.



this post office was built in 1909. the symmetry shows modernity whereas the tiles and basilica shape speak to the Ottoman era. similar to the mosque, the immense size of the interior is meant to show the authority of the government rather than the prestige of Allah


the legacy Ottoman hotel



this is my absolute favorite mosque in Istanbul, this is the fourth time I’ve visited it this trip!



can you spot the Iznik tiles?



view from the restaurant

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that overlooked the Bosporus and the Galata tower.  After eating I quickly ran through the market to grab some last minute spices.  Cross your fingers they will get through customs!  After this our professor who gave a lecture on “Istanbul in Movies” led us on a tour of the Bosporus.  It was a three hour tour that perfectly summed up our program.  We had an uninterrupted view of the mosques, palaces, and castles belonging to empires from the Byzantines to Ataturk’s Turkish Republic.  My favorite thing about being on the Bosporus is that the skyline has remained virtually unchanged since Ottoman times.  This means that attackers and merchants alike sailed up to this exact view.  Can you image how awe-inspiring and menacing it was?


I would like to make a small aside here.  As we got on the ferry a large crowd filed out of the mosque and began rallying with Palestinian flags.  We waited on the ferry for about 45 minutes and watched the flags waving and listened to the chanting.  It was a remarkable sight.  It was refreshing to see Turks taking an interest in foreign issues and feeling a kinship with Palestinians when this has not always been the case.  I have been reading up on the tragedies in Palestine and it feels more real being geographically closer.  I really do think that if enough countries hold protests such as these we can demand change and make progress.  This picture is also very special because protesting is illegal in Turkey, so these people were ready to face tear gas and rubber bullets in the name of peace.

Now back to the cruise!




my darling Froso who is from Greece.  she wants to get her PhD in Ottoman history as well, so we always have a lot to discuss!  We decided to say “see you soon” instead of “goodbye” and meet again in Istanbul



you could say the trip was a little windy

Unfortunately I do not know much about the ensuing pictures.  Mia and I had such a wonderful time sitting near the edge of the boat taking in the sights that we didn’t hear the professor!  I think we had more fun this way, but that means I’m going to show you a whole bunch of castles that I don’t have the names for.




one of Ataturk’s palaces that we passed



the most whimsical mosque built for an Ottoman princess


we cruised under quite a few bridges





the least expensive house on the Bosporus goes for 10 million lira (roughly 5 million dollars) which is quite a lot considering the average Turkish salary is $12,000 American dollars


the magnificent Ottoman castle. there are two on either side of the Bosporus and they were used to throw cannon balls at ships trying to invade Istanbul


seeing as this is also a food blog I should probably include something edible.  Mia and I shared this chocolate on our Bosporus cruise date but by the time we opened it the chocolate was completely melted!  Mia said she never thought she would be cruising the Bosporus pulling apart melted chocolate with a girl from Seattle. I said we would return together and do the exact same thing again!

I apologize for the short post and the lack of Byzantine princess jokes.  I need to wake up in three hours to catch my flight back home and I don’t have time to write more.  I wanted to thank all of you: friends, family, and people who follow this blog around the world, for taking the time to experience this with me.  Writing the blog was therapeutic for me when I was homesick and it was a great way for me to educate people about Turkey.  The blog won’t be receiving new posts until I return to Turkey, which will hopefully be soon.  Until then: afiyet olsun!




10 Ingredients Found in Turkish Cuisine

Turkish cuisine is a blend of savory, succulent, sugar-coated goodness.  Due to Turkey’s location between Eastern and Western powers Istanbul is a confluence of civilizations culturally, linguistically, and gastronomically.  Think of your favorite ethnic foods.  Greek food is defined by rich cheeses, olives, and marinated meats.  Travel further south to Egypt where you’ll indulge in garlicky hummus and falefel wrapped in warm pita.  Turkey draws from all of these traditions while contributing its own edible creations.  After eating incredible food every day for the past month I wanted to put together a list of the 10 ingredients most commonly found in Turkish cooking.  Read along and grab a napkin in case you start drooling.

1. Cinnamon (tarçın)

When I first told my brother that I was going to be living in Turkey he smiled and said “sis, you have to promise to bring back some cinnamon.”  When our family traveled to Turkey five years ago we wandered aimlessly through the spice market in awe of the mounds of spices unknown to our taste buds.  In an attempt to sample the local flavors we purchased a bag of cinnamon.  When we arrived home I whipped up a batch of cupcakes with a dash of Turkish cinnamon in the batter.  My family and I felt like we had been introduced to a whole new spice.  And we had been.  The cinnamon sold in the United States is called ceylon and is extracted from the shoots of the plant prior to maturity.  Turkish cinnamon, which is called cassia, is made by grinding the cinnamon bark.  Cassia cinnamon is rich and aromatic compared to drab ceylon.

Being a food historian I’ve delved into the history of these ingredients to give you a more robust read.  In the Middle Ages the Arabs had a monopoly on cinnamon which made it extremely expensive.  Those in the upper class sought luxurious goods that would complement their social rank.  These individuals imported spices such as cinnamon to showcase on their tables.  In order to boost prices Arab merchants teased consumers with outlandish tales about the origins of their cinnamon.  Herodotus (the first historian) wrote that huge birds transported cinnamon sticks to their nests which were located on a mountain so high it could not be climbed by humans.  The merchants supposedly lured the birds down with ox meat and when they approached the birds would drop their cinnamon sticks.  Fortunately, cinnamon is not found atop a rocky outcrop inhabited by pterodactyl-like creatures.  Today cassia cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka and exported to Turkey.  Cinnamon is most commonly used on Turkish salep, a winter drink made with hot, frothy milk and sweetened with orange, rosewater, and cinnamon.  Salep is generally a winter drink but I was able to taste some tonight in a bakery and it was divine.  I had Mia and Aisha try it as well because I found the taste difficult to describe.  The closest description we got was “warm milkshake” but I would say a milkshake is far sweeter than this drink.  It tastes like a white hot chocolate with hints of orange and rose.

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salep with milk, orange, rosewater, and cinnamon




cinnamon sweets


2. Clotted cream (kaymak)

Hands down kaymak is my favorite Turkish food.  It reminds me of sitting with my mother at a cafe in London, spreading clotted cream and jam on a piping hot scone.  But make no mistake, kaymak is not English clotted cream.  Although clotted cream is an English invention kaymak has found its own place on the Turkish breakfast table.  Turkish clotted cream is made with domesticated water buffalo milk.  That’s right.  Some guy has a farm of water buffalo bred specifically to produce this stuff.  The specific buffalo that make the cream are called manda in Turkish.  I have a special spot in my heart for water buffalo so it’s no wonder I could live off of kaymak.

I’ve found that it’s extremely difficult to explain clotted cream to someone that has never tried it.  Kaymak is similar to milk but less of a liquid, and somewhat like whip cream but more solid and sweeter.  Think sweet, whipped butter.  Kaymak is made by boiling buffalo milk and then simmering it over low heat for many hours.  Once cream starts to form it is skimmed off the top and refrigerated.  The cream ferments slightly to give it a sour taste.  The cream keeps for a mere day so it must be consumed immediately.  Did I mention kaymak is 60% fat?  Yeah, it’s heavenly.  Kaymak is always served in a traditional Turkish breakfast and is best paired with sour cherry jam and honey on fresh Turkish pastry.  There is also a dessert called ekmek kadayıfı which is a cake with layers of clotted cream.  I still need to try that one!

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3. Feta

This is where Istanbul’s Greek roots come into play.  Cheese is a Turkish staple but the only kinds I have been exposed to are mozzarella, goat cheese, and feta.  Feta cheese is served at every meal and accompanies nearly every dish.  Ordering kebap at a restaurant?  Feta.  Chicken wrap?  Feta.  Side of fries?  Feta.  The feta here is more creamy than crumbly and is made from sheep’s milk.  I love taking a wedge and putting it on a tomato or cucumber in the morning.

According to Homer, Polyphemus was the first to make feta cheese.  If you’ve read the Odyssey you’ll recall that Polyphemus was a cyclops who also herded sheep.  He stored milk in sheep’s skin but he left the milk in the bag for too long and when he looked inside the milk was curdled.  Although the history of feta is obscure this is actually the leading theory for the origins of cheese and yoghurt.  Storing milk in animal hides allows the liquid to interact with bacteria in the stomach lining to transform it into something new.  The Turks still employ this tactic today when making cheese.  On the streets you can spot large animal hides that house cheese in the making.  The first written record of feta cheese comes from the Byzantine Empire, so it may have origins in modern day Turkey rather than in Greece.  However, the word feta comes from the Italian fette “to slice”.  Regardless of where feta originated, you can’t beat a thick slice of cheese on a seasoned tomato wedge.




feta always accompanies a Turkish breakfast


they’re making cheese in there!

4. Tomatoes (domates)

I have never been a fan of tomatoes. I’ve grown them in our garden, I’ve sauteed them with, piled them on noodles, thrown them on salads.  I cannot get into tomatoes.  This changed when I came to Turkey.  The tomatoes are so large you need to use both hands to hold one.  They are also a deep red color all the way to the core and there is less gooey jelly inside.  All meals in Turkey come with a sliced tomato on the side along with a wedge of feta.  Sometimes the tomatoes are grilled but they are usually raw.  These tomatoes are rich and sun ripened and they go well with every Turkish chicken dish that I’ve tried.  I may now be on team tomato.

Tomatoes only appeared in Turkish cuisine in the late 1800s.  However, they have quickly found a home nestled into kebap and tantuni.   Red tomatoes are almost always be found on the table whereas green tomatoes are used for pickling.  The Turks use tomatoes in soups, salads, and delicious sauces.  I wrote about this earlier, but there is a famous Turkish saying that happiness is “a dish cooked in tomato paste by a woman with big hips”!  The spice market is full of mounds of tomato paste and I wish I could take a whole bucket through customs!


there are always sliced tomatoes

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there are tomatoes in all four of these dishes

5. Pistachio (antep fıstığı)

Pistachio may be the most Turkish of all the ingredients on this list.  Pistachios are native to the Middle East and archaeological evidence suggests that they were eaten in Turkey in 7000 BCE.  Muslim legend claims that pistachios were brought to earth by Adam from the Garden of Eden.  I think it’s safe to say the Turks take their pistachios very seriously.  Pistachios have been used medicinally for toothaches and liver problems.  Like trail mix today, pistachios were a common food eaten by travelers because they have a long shelf life and are easily transported.  And did you know?  Pistachios are not nuts!  They are actually seeds that look like nuts.

Pistachios adorn most Turkish desserts.  They are commonly sprinkled on top of baklava, cakes, and pudding.  Pistachios are also the key ingredient in katmer, which is essentially a fried baklava.  Clotted cream and pistachios are wrapped in philo dough, fried, and topped with butter and more pistachios.  I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to eat American food again.



pistachio cake



pistachio ice cream sprinkled with pistachio




pistachio on all the desserts

6. Rosewater (gülsuyu)

When you eat something with rosewater the word “exquisite” comes to mind.  Rosewater is the delicate, sweet kiss at the end of a Turkish delight that makes you feel like a Byzantine princess.  (Note: this is a terrible analogy, Byzantine princesses were married off as child brides or exiled to remote islands.  Eat rosewater-flavored foods but don’t become a Byzantine princess.)  Rosewater is made from the process of distilling rose petals.  Rosewater is downright romantic.  It gives sweets a subtle hint of rose and the taste gets stronger with each bite.  Rosewater livens up dairy dishes like yoghurt and milk as well as desserts such as rice pudding and cakes.  Putting a hint of rosewater in a dish gives it an extra dimension that is both elegant and fragrant.

7. Sesame Seeds (susam)

The word sesame comes from the Arabic simsim and was widely used by Muslim empires.  The Assyrians had a myth that the gods had drank sesame wine before they created the earth.  The Egyptians ground sesame seeds to use as four and in 5000 BCE people in China burned sesame oil to make soot for ink blocks.  Sesame was believed to have mystical powers as evidence from the expression “open sesame” in the Arabian Nights.

In Turkey sesame is generally used as a garnish on breads.  Simit is traditionally coated in sesame seeds as are croissants and sandwich breads.  Whenever I eat a simit my lap is completely covered in sesame seeds!  There is no proper way to eat these things.  Turks also enjoy tahini, the paste in hummus, which is made of crushed sesame seeds.  (Note: hummus is not Turkish and cannot be found in Turkey.)


8. Mastic 

As we hiked down a steep, uneven cobblestone road in Assos I stopped part-way down to catch my breath and noticed a conveniently located coffee shop.  I sat down with our program director and one of our professors and they ordered Turkish kahve with mastic.  In Assos, a few hundred kilometers South of Istanbul, mastic flavoring is very popular.  Mastic is a resin that comes from an evergreen tree that grows on one Greek island called Chios.  Mastic has a slippery texture and tastes like a mix of olive oil and mint.  Mastic makes Turkish coffee go down smoother and it softens the taste of the bitter coffee granules.  Because it is so refreshing mastic has been renowned for its ability to reduce plaque.  The resin was popular among women in the Ottoman harem because it gave them fresh breath and white teeth to impress the Sultan.  About half the Turkish coffee shops I have visited offer coffee with mastic but it is also common in ice cream, pudding, and Turkish delight.



from the top: mastic, sour cherry, pistachio

 9. Pomegranate (nar)

Pomegranate is perhaps the most popular Middle Eastern fruit.  Native to Iran, pomegranate has been eaten in this region since 3000 BCE.  Pomegranates are also said to have been the favorite fruit of Muhammad, which only serves to increase their popularity.  Even King Tut was buried with pomegranates in order to ensure his passage into the afterlife.  And you know if King Tut was into pomegranates they must be something special.  The Ottomans used pomegranates as a stand in for lemons.  Like the pistachio, pomegranates are used as embellishment on Turkish desserts.  I’ve mainly eaten them scattered over pastries.  I’ve also heard from many Turks that pomegranate jam is the most heavenly thing on this planet.  Every time I to into the city I find a jam shop, pop in, and ask nar?  But the answer is always no.  One day I will find this allusive pomegranate jam!

10. Sour cherries (vişne)

I had never eaten sour cherries until I came to Istanbul.  Sour cherries are different from regular cherries and they’re sold side by side in open air markets.  Sour cherries are smaller and a darker red color and, as their name suggests, are tart compared to normal cherries.  Their season is from June to August which means we currently have access to the best sour cherries.  Turks are so enamored with this fruit that they preserve it and make jam so they can eat sour cherries year round.  On campus we drink sour cherry juice everyday.  Sour cherries are also used in rice dishes and in stews.  The Turks aren’t afraid to mix their sweet and savory.






Şile’de Gidiyoruz

As we start to wind down the trip and pack our luggage there has been a significant shortage of things to blog about.  We haven’t been able to venture into Istanbul so for the past few days Rebecca and Mia and I have further explored Şile.  That’s why this post is titled “Şile’de gidiyoruz” or “we are going to Şile.”  That’s also because I’m excited about being able to form sentences in Turkish!

If you’re new to the blog, we are living at Işık University which is near the town of Şile.  Although Şile is technically in Istanbul it is over an hour away from the city center.  As you drive into Istanbul the landscape is dotted with apartments.  There are multiple construction sites for shopping malls which are literally right next to each other.  Istanbul is a chaotic symphony of Turkish chatter, car horns, and the call to prayer.  The journey from Istanbul to Şile feels like you are traversing space and time.  Şile’s residents live in tiny bungalows on the Black Sea.  The beaches fulfill the cliche of white sand and turquoise waters (which is interesting because turquoise is French for “color of the Turks”).  In Şile everyone is on island time.

Every trip into Şile requires a stop at Mado.  I realize how cruel I am to go on about this ice cream when you haven’t tried any!  Mado is made of goat’s milk and crushed orchid roots, which I learned is a fairly common ingredient in Turkish food.  The dondurma (ice cream) is much denser than normal ice cream to the point that you need to cut it with a knife in order to eat it!  Luckily the cartons had been baking in the sun all afternoon so when they scooped the Mado onto cones sticky goodness starts to drip down your arm.  So far I’ve tried chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, and something like almond.  None of us were really sure about ice cream names in Turkish so we just pointed, saying “bu”, and took our chances.  Luckily everything at Mado is divine.  Rebecca had orange and what we believe was chestnut while Mia ate a mixture of orange and sour cherry.  Sour cherry flavored everything is huge in Turkey, almost as big as pistachios.  Each morning warm bread is served with sour cherry jam that has actual cherries inside.  When you go to the market cherries and sour cherries are separately labeled.  Sour cherries, which are a deep burgundy color, are smaller and more tart than normal cherries.  I don’t think we have anything like this in the states.




I had a mixture of chocolate and almond.  Mado really likes to put flat pieces of ice cream on a cone rather than scoop it into balls


me, Mia (England), and Rebecca (Canada) with our dondurma

The best part about Şile is the beach.  If you know me you know I’m not a huge beach person.  However, it’s refreshing to get off campus, eat ice cream with these wonderful ladies, and lay in the sun while studying Turkish.  (Side note: since Mia and Rebecca already speak Turkish they make me do all the ordering and then make fun of me for asking horribly phrased questions about ice cream).  There’s also an Ottoman lighthouse to gaze at while at the beach which means it’s the most historical beach I’ve been to after Gallipoli!  After the beach we always eat in town because a few people have gotten food poisoning from the food served on campus.  Besides, eating cake at Bilir will always trump chickpeas and rice.


pistachio cake


some delicious concoction of strawberries (the only ones I’ve found after 4 weeks in Istanbul!)  they drew us some flowers and the Ottoman lighthouse because we spoke Turkish to them



aside from the cakes Bilir has a gorgeous view (Ottoman lighthouse far right) and the friendliest people

Rebecca and I thought the beach in this part of Şile was nice until today when we ventured beyond the town center to Aquabeach.  We took a cab after Turkish class and immediately wished we had discovered this spot a month ago.  It is much cleaner than the regular beach, the water is clearer, there are fewer people, and there’s a restaurant right on the water.  Rebecca pointed out that this was the first time she felt like she’s been on vacation since we arrived in Turkey.  I agreed!


the view from the restaurant at Aquabeach


Rebecca ordered this gorgeous Turkish breakfast. I want to be a Turk so I can eat like this every morning


…and this is what happens when you order an omelette in Turkey. apparently the Turks don’t know how to make anything at this hour besides Turkish breakfast

Aquabeach is located in a little cove surrounded by cliffs and rock formations.  It was about 90 degrees but there was a steady wind which helped cool us down.  After laying on the beach and studying Turkish we walked along the water to one of the rock formations.  There are caves inside but we weren’t too sure about scaling the rock face to get to them.  After exploring the beach we bravely decided to go swimming.  The sea is so warm!  I would like to point out that this area is free of rip tides so we were safe.  The entire swimming area is fenced off and you can always touch the bottom.  We floated on the water and tried (and failed) to bodysurf the five foot waves.  When we found an aquatic caterpillar-like creature stuck to Rebecca’s swim suit we quickly ran to shore!



panoramas of the beach



the waves were quite violent at times


of course they sell simit on the beach


Rebecca and I had a lovely time spending five hours on the beach!  My sunburnt nose is proof.  Since we are terrified to eat on campus Rebecca asked the taksi driver to take us to a market where we could buy food to sustain us for the next four days.  Remember what I said about there being no grocery stores in Turkey?  These convenience stores mainly sell produce and dairy products, but yoghurt and apricots are a welcome change.  I love the packaging and the Turkish writing so I took a photo.


bananas, dried figs, and a bottle of milk which says günlük taze süt or “daily fresh milk”. see, eating is a great way to learn Turkish!

In other news, I finally have the link to the interview!  A few weeks ago I was interviewed on national Turkish television about the program we are doing here.  If you’re curious here is the link!  The entire thing is in Turkish so if you want to skip to our part it starts at 6:25.






I almost didn’t write a post for today  It was quite a lovely day spent with two remarkable ladies, but we didn’t journey to Troy or ride a horse drawn carriage to a hilltop monastery.  Instead, we ate cake.  That is literally all we did today.  I could have called the post “cake” but this translates to pasta in Turkish, and that’s just confusing.  So the post is called “dessert” instead.

Every shop on the main road of Şile is uniform.  It either sells pide (Turkish pizza), kitchy magnets, or baggy cotton clothing.  I adore Şile but there is very little variety.  Last weak when I found Bilir, a cozy bakery perched above the Black Sea, I was smitten.  I only had time to grab cookies for a picnic but I vowed to return and sample their repertoire of sweets.  Today Mia, Aisha, and I took the shuttle into Şile to eat lunch at Bilir which lasted 3 hours and consisted 90% of pasta (the kind that you put frosting on).


I love this view and the potted plants on the window sill. bilir has the most modern architecture of all the restaurants in Şile 


the walls of the restaurant have little niches filled with model cars and old clocks

The entrance to Bilir is lined with pastry cases.  Today the bakers were putting the finishing touches on rows of strawberry cakes.  The cakes here are small and made for one or two people to share.  There must be at least fifty different types of cake.  Some are made of pistachios, others dipped in molten chocolate, and one is crowned with ferrero rochers.  Not only are these cakes deliciously diverse, they are almost too cheap too comprehend.  An entire cake sells between 5 and 10 lira ($2.50 – $5).  How is that possible?!  I’d pay $25 for this stuff at Whole Foods and it wouldn’t be nearly as good!


we did eat some real food beforehand. as I mentioned in the last post, this is what the Turks eat. it’s Westernized Turkish food which tastes better than it looks.  they pack these wraps full of fresh ingredients and spices

Now to the cakes.  I have been practicing how to order cake for this very occasion.  If you want to get the waiter’s attention you say bakarsiniz which literally means “look at me”.  It’s more polite than yelling garson!  Cake is pasta, we already went over that.  Chocolate is çikolata and strawberry is çilek.  The cake I wanted is called prences and what does that sound like?  Yes, a Princess!  Prences has layers of çikolata with çilek in between.  So I said, bakarsiniz, çikolatalı pasta istiyorum!  Turkish is starting to come easier to me and this time it ends in a sweet reward.  Note: if you say bekarsiniz instead of bakarsiniz you are asking if someone is single.  Don’t make that mistake in Turkey!


Prences pasta


I ate this entire thing by myself and I don’t even care



Aisha had the opera cake. it’s hard to tell but this is about three times larger than a normal slice of cake

The waiters also brought us free eclairs dusted in pistachio and lemonade. I asked Mia what these round things were in the lemonade and she said to me “you have a food blog, how is it that you can’t identify a grape?!”


After we got back to campus I sat outside on my picnic blanket ready to devour a history book and sunbath and within ten minutes the sun was gone and I was completely drenched.  It looks like we left Şile just in time for the next storm to roll in.  It’s currently thundering but the weather should cooperate for Istanbul tomorrow!





I have never experienced so much sunshine over such a long period of time.  Each day I wake to a cloudless sky and a view of the Black Sea.  Once I’ve walked to class the temperature is about ninety degrees.  It’s intensely humid but most of the buildings have air conditioning.  Over the past few days it has even hit 100 degrees which has made walking up hills all the more interesting.  Now that I’ve given you an idea of Şile’s typical weather you can imagine how shocked I was to wake at six in the morning to the loudest thunder I have ever heard.  It shook the building and echoed over the Black Sea.  I waited under the covers for Godzilla to shriek!  When I peered out the window it was like looking at a blank wall.  There was so much rain I couldn’t make out the sea, the town, or the tree right in front of the window.  I’m fairly certain this qualifies as monsoon weather.  No power, no internet, nothing to do.

This is my first weekend staying on the campus rather than taking an overnight trip to another part of Turkey.  If you know me you know I don’t take relaxation or boredom very well.  Despite the weather Mia and I took a bus into Kadıköy, which is my favorite part of the city.  It is located on the Anatolian side where we spent the majority of the food tour.  Kadıköy is filled with markets and coffeehouses and many locals to practice Turkish with.  This is also where the majority of Istanbul’s residents work and live, so it feels authentic.

The university shuttle droped us off at the ferry station which is dotted with simit carts.  Mia and I were too famished to walk to the market so I ordered a few while Mia helped some other students navigate Istanbul’s ferry system.  Simit is by far my favorite Turkish food and it will be hard to part with it when I leave Istanbul!  To give you an idea, I ate four simit today.  In fact, that was the majority of what I ate. I have no regrets.  Every morning I grab two, run them through the toaster, and dip them in Turkish honey and sour cherry jam.  When paired with a cup of çay you feel like you can do just about anything.  Simit Seni seviyorum.


iki simit lütfen!


Mia is very excited to eat breakfast at 1 pm


During the food tour two weeks ago we entered the markets in Kadıköy and I saw something glorious.  Fazıl Bey Kahve.  Months ago I found this shop on a website that claimed Fazıl Bey was one of only five places to drink authentic Turkish coffee in Istanbul.  I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Fazıl Bey but the university shuttles are erratic and taxis are expensive, so I figured I would never make it.  When we passed by on the food tour my hope was renewed but I couldn’t stray from the group and I had consumed about three days worth of food, there was no room for coffee.  Today I remembered where Fazıl Bey Kahve was and Mia was nice enough to accompany me.




I couldn’t tell you why Fazıl Bey is authentic coffee.  In fact, I’m fairly sure the stands on the street sell better coffee than this place.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun, though.  The coffee beans are imported from Brazil and when Mia explained that I am a coffee historian the people working there gave us some of the roasted beans to eat raw.  They were very potent!  They briefly explained how they grind the beans into a fine powder so that it can be added to the coffee rather than filtered through.  While we waited for the coffee Mia and I talked about the activities within the Ottoman coffeehouse such as storytelling, poetry reading, and backgammon.  It almost felt like we were in the Ottoman coffeehouse discussing scholarly topics.




Mia asked about the coffee cup reading and one of the men working there perked up.  He said he had a little experience reading coffee cups.  This is not an Ottoman tradition but it is fairly common in Turkey today.  Once the Turkish coffee is consumed a pile of sediment remains at the bottom.  You flip the cup over onto the dish and wait for the sediment to run down it and dry.  After this an experienced fortune teller reads your fortune.  Fortune telling is huge in Turkey and the Turks take it very seriously.  Many people see a fortune teller once or twice each month and pay 100 lira ($50) for five minutes!  But Turkish coffee reading is very light and fun compared to those fortune tellers.


When you look inside the cup you will see two very faint drip marks.  The man told me that I will be faced with a situation that has two possible outcomes.  I will choose the hard path and hold a mistake in my heart (Mia was translating and this is literally what he said, a mistake, we were thinking it was regret).  I will choose the right path and it will be beautiful in the end but the journey will be difficult.  This eerily relates to something Mia and I discussed on the bus about graduate school and it really got me thinking for the rest of the day.  The man then took the dish, where some of the sediment collected, and tipped it so that it was perpendicular to the ground.  Again, two streams of coffee rolled down the dish to reinforce his reading.  When he turned the dish again the drips did not go past the lip, which means the outcome will be favorable.  Obviously fortune telling is all for fun, but I thought it was fascinating!

Unfortunately our final few minutes in Fazıl Bey left a bitter taste in our mouth (no pun intended).  We went to pay from another man and he realized we were English and America.  He told us that he wanted to show us something and we were excited that it might be coffee related.  He grabbed his phone and pulled up pictures of mortally wounded Palestinians and started berating us in Turkish.  Honest to god yelling at us.   I understood from his body language what he was on about and Mia starting yelling back trying to defend us.  He was infuriated because our countries weren’t going anything to stop the bombings.  He said it was our fault personally.  Mia explained that we were just people that didn’t represent an entire government and that we didn’t necessarily agree with what our governments were doing.  Then he kicked us out.  We were absolutely furious.  Here we were having a delightful cup of coffee and it was ruined by horrendous pictures and yelling.  It took an hour or so for the effects of the encounter to wear off.  I would like to point out that these encounters are extremely rare and do not represent Turks as a whole.  Mia has been to Turkey twenty times (no exaggeration) and this is only the second time anything like this has happened to her.


after our incident I told Mia, “why did we even try Fazıl Bey when this is obviously the best coffee shop in Istanbul?!”

With no plans for the rest of the day we simply walked around the market.  I used cafes that we visited on the food tour as reference points so we wouldn’t get lost.  We noticed that different streets on the market are reserved for specific things like clothes, fruits and vegetables, and pubs.  Down one of the side streets we stumbled upon a bookstore.  I love Turkish bookstores because I can stock up on complicated books that I will one day be able to read.  We were pouring over the novels and all of a sudden Mia pointed out an old box filled with Ottoman writings.   Genuine, original papers from the Ottoman Empire.  This may have been the most exciting moment of the trip for me.  I spent far too long flipping through the delicate papers.  Some of them were a single page, others loosely bound books, and even some newspapers, all written in Ottoman Turkish.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to own something that had been created by the hands of an Ottoman.  I can read a few words on each page because they are the same in Arabic but when I start learning Ottoman Turkish I will use these as a reference.


the sign says “in the box Ottoman books and magazines” for only $5!  the newspaper I bought was pricier but worth it


all of these are Ottoman, there must have been at least 50 newspapers and books


the bookstore also had old Ottoman photographs

We spent the majority of the afternoon and evening in a cafe.  Our table was right by a huge open window which provided a view of the market streets.  While sipping ayran Mia and I conversed for hours.  She is so easy to talk to and she is interested in everything.  She also enjoys listening to me rant about the Ottomans, which is an impressive quality!  We also spent this timing reviewing Turkish grammar and afterward I taught Mia the Arabic alphabet.  We wanted some authentic Turkish food but when it arrived it looked very American!  I pointed this out to Mia and she suggested that this is Turkish food because the Turks really don’t eat anything authentic anymore.  It is sad but true!  Tomorrow we are planning to visit some Ottoman ruins and drink more çay regardless of the storm.


the new “authentic” Turkish food, a chicken wrap and some fries


For those of you who are unfamiliar, Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkish), is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  Muslims observe this month by fasting between sunrise (sahour) and sunset (iftar).  This fast is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, although the tradition is very loosely followed in Turkey.  Fasting indicates a deep relationship with food as abstaining from eating not only shows devotion to Allah but the importance of food culture in Islam.  While the day is spent fasting the majority of the activities during Ramazan involve planning and cooking complex meals.  This year Ramadan is between June 28 and July 28 which encompasses our entire trip.

The Iftar, or breaking of the fast, occurs the moment the sun sets.  Every Muslim observing Ramazan knows the exact moment that the sun will go down and the feasting can begin.  Last night at 9:26 the call to prayer rang through Istanbul and all the fasting Muslims began their meals.  Families spend the entire day preparing for the evening feast.  The Prophet broke his fast with a date so this time of year dates, which must be imported, are extremely popular.  Traditionally, Turks eat a date, walk to the mosque to pray, and come home to a stew and bread.  Iftar meals are eaten out of doors as a community.  Because Turkey has modernized from their political system to their alphabet Ramazan looks quite different in Istanbul than it would in Saudi Arabia.  Only about half of Turkey participates in Ramazan even though 99% of the country is Muslim.  Families can choose to break the fast in whichever way they prefer, but the urban youth flock to posh restaurants with friends to participate in Iftar.  Although this is a new development it doesn’t diminish the feeling of brotherhood.  Last night our university took a trip to the Anatolian side of Istanbul to break the fast and experience this sense of community.

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the restaurant where we broke the fast


the restaurant had a gorgeous view

If we examine the traditional model in which Muslim men work and the women stay at home, Ramazan is quite fascinating.  Life generally slows down during the ninth month and the hours are used for reflection and visiting the mosque.  While the men spend their day contemplating their relationship with Allah their wives and daughters are frantically shopping at the market and working in the kitchen.  Soup is a tradition first course in an iftar meal because it is so light and simple to prepare.  When we arrived at the restaurant bowls of lentil soup were already sitting on our plates an hour before iftar.  The table was also set with warm bread and a plate of sweet snacks such as dates, raw honey, grapes, and buffalo clotted cream.


sweets and cheese on the table used to delicately break the fast

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a close up of the honey because it is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. far less sweet and granular. you can still see the honeycomb inside

Iftar is a multi-course dinner.  When we began eating live music started playing and everyone in the restaurant was clapping and singing.  We nibbled on raw meatballs (remember them?) and a salad alongside cold vegetable dishes like dill yoghurt, tomatoes, and peppers.  Everyone was reaching around the table and laughing and telling jokes.  The waiters placed an entire pitcher of ayran (the salted yogurt drink) on our table and I drank two full glasses.

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the second course, entirely vegetarian



my lovely friend Mia from the UK who is already fluent in Turkish! and she taught herself. she’s my role model

With each course the sky grew darker and it became harder to take pictures.  She waiters delivered huge bowls of rice and flatbread with roasted vegetables and meats and yoghurt sauces.  You have to pace yourself in iftar!  The evening is not about stuffing oneself but there is certainly a lot of food to choose from.




meats with vegetables and flatbread

Ramazan calls for special desserts.  After the meats were cleared away we drank çay and ate dates stuffed with walnuts.  There was also a tray of baklava made with shredded wheat and walnuts as well as Güllaç.  Güllaç is an Ottoman dessert served cold and the texture is slightly slimy.  It is made by soaking sheets on philo dough in milk, sugar, and rose water.  Coconut is added between the layers and the entire dessert is topped with pomegranates.  About 85% of Güllaç is consumed during Ramazan in Turkey it is so fresh and light weight.

After eating for almost three hours we left the restaurant and we returned to campus after midnight.  The freeway was completely jammed from everyone trying to get home after Iftar.  Next time I would love to try fasting for a day as I’m sure the food would taste even better!

Afiyet Olsun Part Two

Note: Today’s post is titled “Bon Appetit” in Turkish and covers the food tour I took on Saturday July 5th.

The suspense is over and part two has arrived!  We we’re getting to my favorite part and I didn’t want to throw the rest of the post together and deprive you of all the tantalizing foods I wanted to discuss.  We left off with the Turkish sandwiches, called tantuni, and the ayran yogurt drink.  But the best is yet to come!  Next stop: döner kebap.

Döner Kebap

At Bonfile Döner they make only one thing: döner kebap.  They don’t even have a menu because it is made one way, from one rotating rotisserie, and when the meat is gone the shop is closed for the day.  In lieu of a menu there is a place mat on each table that says şehrin en iyi dönercisi olmak kolay gelil or “it’s not easy being the best döner kebap in town.”  The meat, which is entirely local and made of the best part of the cow, is marinated for 4 days prior to cooking.  The kebap consists of meat layers which are roasted on a vertical rotisserie and shaved off when a kebap is ordered.  The meat is then tucked between two pieces of flat bread, which are baked in the shop next door, and nestled amongst sliced tomatoes and peppers.  Because I don’t eat beef I opted out of eating the kebap, but everyone on the tour agreed that it was one of the best things they had ever tasted.


döner kebap is made in sight of those passing by which entices them to come into the shop. in fact, this restaurant doesn’t even have a door


the menu. only döner kebap and some classic Turkish drinks


a peek inside

Raw Meatballs

No, I’m not kidding.  Raw meatballs.  Well, the name is slightly misleading.  These meatballs are made of bulgur, chopped onions, pepper, tomato paste, and spices, so no raw meat here!  Raw meat balls were originally made with raw meat, beef to be exact, but in the summer heat people started falling ill so the meat was simply taken out of the recipe.  The meatballs were actually quite disturbing.   They were neither liquid nor solid so you can’t chew them or slurp them down.  I gave one a nibble and then I gave up.  The soup served alongside the meatballs was certainly more interesting.  Our guide refused to tell us what it was made of until we sampled it, but he warned me that it was lamb so I didn’t take part.  It turns out the soup is made of a sheep’s face.  He explained that this meant the cheeks, lips, and tongue, but I wouldn’t be surprise if there was a little brain in there as well.


raw meatballs, which are neither meat nor ball


the soup wasn’t very photogenic

Turkish Coffee

We are finally to my favorite part!  I needed a full tank of energy to write this part of the post.  If you don’t know already, I am an Ottoman historian and I just published a paper on the establishment of the Ottoman social sphere through the coffeehouse.  Needless to say this was my favorite part of the food tour!  Today the Turks consume more tea than any other country in the world and as a result the coffee culture has withered away.  This is because after the world wars coffee was too expensive to import.  Turkey has the perfect climate for growing tea so tea gained popularity.  There was no hope of finding an authentic 16th century coffeehouse in Istanbul, but Starbucks hasn’t won over Turkey’s coffee drinkers.  At least not yet.  Prior to the trip I had read that it was nearly impossible to find a coffee shop in Istanbul that sold actual Turkish coffee as opposed to a latte or americano.  However, this was entirely wrong.  The markets of Kadıköy are brimming with coffee stands.  Coffee is brewed on the street without a store front, so you order from a cart and then take a seat on the street.  I must have seen twenty coffee stands on our six hour walk!

Here is a quick history lesson for you:  Coffee originated in Yemen in the Sufi orders and was brought to Istanbul by traders Hakam and Shams in 1554.  Within 15 years there were over 600 coffeehouses in Istanbul alone!  So while coffee is not native to the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans were the first to commercialize the beverage.  So next time a fancy coffee shop tells you their French or Italian blend is pure and original, think again!  In Ottoman Istanbul the coffeehouse was a place for Muslim men (and some women) to visit between prayer times.  Today in the states our coffee culture is quite simple; we either run into a mainstream coffee shop to grab our brew as we’re running late to work or we meet at the coffeeshop to gossip with friends.  Ottoman coffeehouses were more intellectually oriented.  Turks attended the coffeehouse to exchange information in the absence of newspapers.  The only place to sit in the coffeehouse was a bench around the perimeter, which meant that patrons were required to sit with strangers and converse.  Topics could include anything from the latest news in Istanbul to heated debates on science, literature, and art.  With the open floor plan patrons were encouraged to stand up and share their poetry in front of the group.  Games like chess and backgammon were also offered.  As you can see the coffeehouse was a multidimensional space in which individuals engaged in scholarly activities.

Although I brew Turkish coffee at home the drink was even more bitter than I make it.  Turkish coffee is unique in that it is not filtered before serving.  Rather, the fine powder is added to the water and this creates a thick, robust brew.  It also means that sediment will collect at the bottom of your cup when you are done drinking.  Traditionally Turkish coffee is served without sugar or spices, so that’s how I ordered it.  You drink Turkish coffee in 3 oz ceramic cups (fun fact: this is where the name “China” comes from because the cups were imported from Asia.)

A modern development of Turkish coffee is reading the fortunes from the sediment left behind in the cup.  This is not Ottoman but it’s still fun!  Our tour guide took pictures of our cups after drinking and showed them to his mother, who is a coffee fortune teller.  This is an actual thing that takes legitimate skills.  He said he will email us the results in a few weeks!


 small stands where Turkish coffee is made over charcoal on the streets



Turkish coffee is brewed in a cezve


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Turkish coffee grounds for fortune telling (and my notes for this blog). if you read them the notes are going to look a bit weird, but it fits into a funny story that I will tell you when I get home!


some people opted for a steaming up of çay instead


We left the market and walked to a more cosmopolitan area of Kadıköy which was full of small businesses and more places to lunch.  Our guide wanted us to try katmer, a pistachio filled dessert which goes perfectly with a glass of lemonade.  Katmer is made by spreading out a sheet of philo dough, filling it with pistachio and buffalo clotted cream, wrapping it up, and then frying it in butter.  I would venture to say that katmer is even better than baklava!  The outside is crunchy and nutty from the pistachio coating but the innards are light and creamy.  Katmer is served warm so it just melts in your mouth.  We devoured them so quickly we had no idea how many we had eaten!  Cold lemonade is katmer’s soulmate.  Turkish lemonade is simply real lemon juice, water, and a little bit of sugar, which they make right in the shop.



this is what heaven looks like


This is our final stop!  Istanbul is littered with ice cream shops, but Mado sets itself apart in its presentation and rare ingredients.  Mado has been crafting ice cream in Istanbul for over 250 years.  Each of their 30 flavors is made of goat’s milk and crushed orchid roots which gives it the consistency of frozen butter.  The ice cream is so dense that it needs to be cut with a knife and fork!  And I’m not talking about gently cutting into it, I mean desperately sawing at the ice cream until a chunk breaks free.  I wish all of you could sample it, because Mado is in a category of it’s own, and now you can!  In the next 10 years Mado is opening stores all over the world, in addition to the shops it already runs in Istanbul, Sydney, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and Bulgaria.  Look for a store in New York City soon!



we sampled a plate of chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio. each flavor is tangy like goat’s cheese


attempting to cut it with a knife!

After 6 hours the food tour came to an end and we said goodbye to our new friends.  With all that eating Linden and I decided to refresh ourselves by walking around the Bosporus.  Until now I had no idea that there was a park that lines the entire sea!  It was the perfect space to walk 6 kilometers and deconstruct our scrumptious day.

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