Istanbul – 25 must eats

I remember arriving in Istanbul on a cold cold afternoon. I was wearing every single bit of clothing in my wardrobe in a futile attempt to ward off the cold (that based on everyone else’s attire, only I was feeling). Atul met me at the stop where the airport bus dropped me, laughed at my snowman attire and then walked me to the artist’s house in Beyoglu that we were to stay in. We were in Istanbul!!

chestnuts
Bags in hand, we walked across Taksim square only to stop every chance we saw a vendor selling something edible. Ofcourse roasted chestnuts had to be bought given the weather, baklava because that must be ritual, simit at a handcart because I had already baked it and I was curious about how right or not mine were and borek from a borekcisi because..umm I was a bottomless pit of greed for uneaten foods. That evening as Atul hauled me across the bridge and up and down the hilly roads of Beyoglu, one thing already became clear to me. There was no dearth of unexplored food in this beautiful, grey city that felt so familiar and yet so foreign.
To me, this supposedly exotic, affordable travel destination felt like much more than the sum of its beautiful parts. I found the greyness stark and arrestingly beautiful. As I commented to our Air BnB host Amilyn (who incidentally turned out to be an artist I was following and yearning to buy art from on Society6!!), I was a rather startled that all those monotoned pictures of the Istanbul skyline I had seen weren’t color corrected at all. That was winter in Istanbul – painted in neutral, grey, earthy almost bleak shades – a lot because of the light and the building facades and then some because of the clothes people wore.. On the other hand Amilyn explained to me that a lot of the locals felt strongly about what they felt was a stripping of color (and identity) in a deliberate process of ‘cleaning up’ to curry favour with the European Union.
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Over the days, I started to understand what Amilyn meant about the greyness being a recent, superficial construct. And yet, as I learned to read between the beautiful soulful lines that is the fantastic skyline of Istanbul, it became more and more beautiful to me. Fighting to retain its older character and struggling to redefine itself as something new, contemporary and ‘developed’. Amilyn and I spent hours exchanging impassioned notes about what seemed like strong parallel political situations between India and Turkey. Thankfully, history and culture are not so easily mouldable to convenience, will and political avarice. After all the food of Istanbul was anything but grey. Rich, varied, deeply flavourful, the food was as full of layers, stories and complexities as it’s myriad monuments with mind-bogglingly beautiful detailing. It’s true, I could see change through the numerous fast food outlets, sanitized pastry shops that sold bread and French style pastries and the tres leeches outlets that were sprouted all over. Yes, the change that Amilyn spoke of was visible in the removal of the fish sandwich boats from the banks of the Bosphorus but the cities abiding love for its food was visible in the many establishments that seemed to strive to preserve the old.
adana meal

Asmali Cangrim Cigerim on Istikal cadessi (street), serves up some of the best kebabs I’ve ever had. With every accompaniment as perfect as possible, thsi meal was an orchestra by a master conductor.

Establishments that still pay obsessive attention to every detail of the dishes they produced, dedicated to creating the perfect balance as taught and learnt over time. Nuts, olives and even butter etc are categorized and sold according to where they were grown and the many varieties of other indigenous produce still preserved with a clear emphasis on flavor and texture that come from traditional techniques of production. Unlike a lot of the world where the emphasis in agriculture has shifted from quality to quantity, in Turkey she said, they still care passionately about the flavor of produce and you can clearly taste that in the food. True to the cliche about the Mediterranean, the quality of produce actually was unbelievable and the resulting flavors in seemingly simple dishes, astounding. Far from flavorless as they are often labeled by Indians who are used to a spicier palate, the meat was rich in flavor and diverse in variety. But the kebabs are only the tip of a magnificently delicious iceberg. There were so many treasures I found in this city of nostalgia and dreams. In January I wrote an article for NDTV about the best budget restaurants in Istanbul but irrespective of where you eat, there are a few things that must absolutely NOT be missed by anyone who travels to this food lover’s haven. Here are some favorites.

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The Guppy PopUp at Olive

the space

You’ll notice that there’s a review tab up there and not many reviews to speak of. Well, there’s a reason for that. Truth be told, I’m a little ambivalent on the subject of reviews. To start with, as someone who cooks herself, I know that each dish is an individual entity. And every time you…

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