Showing posts with label UNESCO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UNESCO. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Istanbul Food Tour with Olga from 'Delicious Istanbul'

Olga and me
"I'll tell you a secret," my Russian friend Olga Tikhanova Irez said. My husband and I are moving from Istanbul." 

I was shocked. Olga had built a business known all over the world giving culinary walks in Istanbul. She had foodies beating a path to her door. The seats for her monthly breakfast cafes were so coveted, Istanbullians were lucky to get a spot. How could she give that up? 

"We purchased a place in Alaçatı, Turkey and we're going to create a restaurant there. I want to feature the food of our grandmothers," she added.

Alaçatı is a well-known resort area on Turkey's North Aegean coast where many Turks go to vacation. Every year it hosts the world wind-surfing championships because its bay has the perfect conditions for windsurfing.

I had been to Alaçatı and knew how fantastic its open-air produce market was, how the relaxed resort atmosphere would contribute to joyful gastronomy and a wonderful experience for her future diners. "I haven't announced it yet," she added. 

I was so grateful to know! I simply had to go on one of Olga's culinary walks before she left Istanbul and began her new life. I immediately cleared the next day of any other activities. This was an Istanbul experience on my bucket list that I simply could not miss.

"Try not to eat before you come. Come hungry." Olga advised with understatement.
"Let's take a group photo
while we're all still skinny!"
My fellow foodies on the walk were two couples from Hong Kong, fast friends for twenty years, who had travelled the world together. They were in town for a medical convention where the two doctors would be presenting. The couples' warm friendship and enthusiasm for life added to the joy of the day. 
Three different kinds of menemen,
wonderful Turkish comfort food.
We started at the dock in Kadiköy, a beautiful neighborhood for culinary exploration because so much of what makes Istanbul famous for Turkish food is all available within a couple blocks. Our first stop was a breakfast featuring two Turkish classics: menemen and Turkish tea.

Olga knows her menemen; her own recipe for the dish had been featured in the Guardian. So if she said "this is the place where you should come for menemen," I knew it had to be incredibly special. To preserve her 'secrets' I won't show you the names of any of the places she took us.
A beautiful Turkish tradition:
soldiers write notes on napkins here
and pin them to the wall,
as they come to eat
one last menemen
before leaving for their service,
or return for one
in celebration
 of surviving it!
I loved the pride of these men -
all proud menemenciler!
Fıstıklı dürüm.
Dürüm is a Turkish word
used to describe
anything rolled,
making this
rolled-pistachio baklava.
Next up was a specialty of Gaziantep, Turkey, baklava. Gaziantep is famous as the culinary capital of Turkey. The number one thing to eat there, on a very long list of gastronomic treasures, is baklava. I had never tried fıstıklı dürüm baklava before this day. It has become my new dessert obsession.

How good is this baklava? Just to learn about this one particular type of baklava would be enough of a culinary education to make the whole day a success. I love it that much. Yet, we were just getting started!
The walnut-based baklava in back
is topped with kaymak,
a very fragile Turkish
clotted cream
that can make one swoon.
a pillow of extraordinary excellence,
must be eaten
the day it is made.
There are no words.
The taste! The perfection!
The tradition!
I love all of the imagination
Turks bring to making nuts sing
in their desserts.
 And then they add: kaymak!
People travel
from all over the world
to eat this.
The green baklava
is fıstıklı ezme.
Think of it as pistachio marzipan.
Isn't that a brilliant idea?
Pistachio marzipan?
It is every bit as fantastic as it looks.
What brilliant imagination!
The other baklava
features a bit of crunch
paired with the pistachio goodness.
As global as
Western markets have become,
there are still
many, many produce surprises
to discover via travel.
Here are three offerings
I had never seen
until moving to Turkey.
I love the mystery of them.
What does one do with them?
We passed many mysteries
as we walked around
Kadiköy's open-air market.
Olga would
patiently explain each one.
Next up, was one of the most beautiful of Turkish food ideas:
mezes. Mezes are usually the appetizer to a meal and Turks have hundreds and hundreds of different recipes for them.

The meze tradition is to offer a little taste of this and a little taste of that. I have always thought it was the perfect way to acclimatize children to more sophisticated tastes. "Just try a bite," I can imagine Turkish parents saying.

We popped into one of my favorite spots in the open-air market of Kadiköy, a great gastronimical shop showcasing tantalizing mezes and superb regional food products.
Olga had her favorites
she wanted us to taste.
There were so many choices!
Olga assembled a
model meze masterpiece.
Most of these mezes
are vegetable-based.
You can't go wrong
they are so delicious and healthy.

I love the taste combinations
new to my American palate
like the carrot and eggplant meze
right in the middle of the plate.
I've gone back for it again and again.

If I could popularize
one vegetable
back home in America
it would be eggplant.
I never grow tired
of all the different ways
Turkish cooks use it.
It's fantastic!
If you had told me that,
I would never have believed it
because I really
hadn't experienced it before.
The meat on the left is pastirma,
a specialty of Kayseri, Turkey.
I lived in Turkey a year before
I had the guts to try it.
It seemed so different:
dried meat with a paste around it?
How could that be good?
Sounds like something
mountain men
would pack in a duffle.
Then I had pastirma in menemen.
Wow. I'm hooked. 
On the right
a meatball new to me
that was a more subtle
taste sensation.
The mezeci loved giving
Olga a hard time
as they posed for photos.
All kinds of Turkish cheeses
to take home to Asia.
Next stop: a UNESCO
"intangible cultural heritage"
'Turkish kitchen' isn't just about the food. Yes, the food is fabulous. 'Turkish kitchen' is also about the rituals that go with each different food. Our next stop was to try a Turkish ritual so globally cherished UNESCO has labeled it "an intangible cultural heritage."
Around the corner
from our meze shop
was one of Istanbul's
most beloved Turkish coffeeshops.
It was the perfect spot
to wind down
from an exciting morning
before venturing out
for more discovery.
Each Turkish coffee
is accompanied by a
glass of water
and a single bite
of sweetness.
See the lokum?
In English,
it's known as 'Turkish Delight.'
Turkish coffee is exquisitely satisfying. The first steaming hot sip of the foamy concoction sends a signal to all nerve endings: slow down, enjoy, relax.
Me telling fortunes
Photo by Olga
Each sip is savored as simply as the conversation and fortune telling that ensue when the cup of coffee is finished. The cup is turned over and the pattern of the coffee grounds fortell one's future as a friend 'reads' the inside of the cup.

The ritual of it all is enough to make an overseas Turk cry out with homesickness at a mere photograph of Turkish food rituals.

Pickled cabbage
There were more specialty food stores to explore after our coffee. We were off to the pickle place next. It seems everything can be pickled!

Olga offered us
a cool refreshing glass
of pickle juice.
She also offered us
fresh turnip juice
called şalgam.
Don't turn it down
because it sounds odd.
It's fantastic,
especially when paired
with the
specialty meat kebabs
from the cities
out East.
Şalgam is zingy, fresh, delicious!
All of these
fresh regional food products
can be vaccum-packed
to take home in one's suitcase.
You didn't think
we would go through an
Istanbul culinary adventure
without fish, did you?
This gorgeous plate
of fried hamsi
is from the Black Sea.

The Black Sea
has its own special culture
and hamsi (fried anchovies)
makes a Black Sea Turk
puff up with pride.
Bet you can't eat just one.
I forgot the name
of this spicy chicken dish
but it was tender and juicy
and yummy over rice.

After our lunch
of fish and chicken
Olga had one last
produce market
she wanted to show us.

It was huge,
stretching for several blocks.
We walked through it all,
pausing here and there
to explain
produce new to us. 
They taste as wonderful
as they look -
Çanakkale tomatoes.
Why can't we have
tomatoes like this
back home?
Skinny green peppers
are the Turks' favorite;
They are frequently grilled
and served with kebab.
Even before I went on
this food walk
with Olga,
I think of her whenever
I see beautiful market greens.
She knows exactly
what to do with them.
Foraging for nettles
and spring greens
is a beautiful Russian
childhood tradition.
These flat beans
which I've never seen
for sale in America,
make a delicious cold salad
called Ayşe Kadin Fasulye
(the woman Ayse's beans).

Plan on buying a lot?
Porters will carry
all of it for you
as you make
your selections.
I was so grateful to experience 'Olga's Istanbul' before she moved.
I can't wait to follow her restaurant adventure. You can follow her restaurant adventure too via her blog, Delicious Istanbul, or make reservations directly at the Babushka Alaçatı website.

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy these other foodie posts about Istanbul:

Enjoying Olga's #Istanbulbreakfastclub

The Days of Wine and Roses and Tulips: Wine Tasting at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet

Dinner on the Bosphorus at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski's Bosphorus Grill

Afternoon Tea and Pastry with Guest Chef Yann Duytsche in the Gazebo Lounge at Çırağan Palace Kempinski

"Midnight at the Pera Palace Hotel" with the Global Minds Book Club

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Thanks for reading!
Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

World Press Freedom Day: Lara Logan Breaks Her Silence

Today, May 3rd, has been designated as World Press Freedom Day by UNESCO.  Blogging has made me acutely aware of the toll bloggers and journalists all over the world have paid for bringing stories to their communities.  Here's the toll from just one country, Bahrain: one publisher & one blogger killed, 68 journalists and bloggers arrested or fired, and 20 investigated.

Do you know a journalist you can thank today for bringing you the story? If it was a dangerous story, please thank them for the risks they took.  If it was a meeting that went on for three hours at night and they're attending it rather than tucking their kids in at night, a little appreciation would go along way.  Journalists provide the sunshine on democracy and human endeavor.

This World Press Freedom Day I am in awe of the courage shown by one South African journalist reporting on behalf of the #1 TV news magazine in America.  Her name is Lara Logan.  The name of her show is 60  minutes.  She agreed to do one interview only about what she experienced trying to bring Americans the story of the Egyptian Revolution. The courage this woman displayed in breaking the code of silence on sexual assault is a gift to women everywhere. May the rest of her life be truly blessed. Click on my title to see her interview and remember, hug a journalist today. Tell them they make a difference.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Track Trip To Kutna Hora

It was February of last year, and my friend Nhan needed a break - a road trip out of town.  Only this was the Czech Republic and why take a road when you can take a train on the densest railway network in all of Europe?  We threw around ideas of where would be a good place to go.  Wanting to save places that would look best in Spring and Summer, I suggested Kutna Hora cause going to see a pile of bones is the same in February or July.  No amount of spring flowers will change the view.

We got into our train compartment and marveled at what a relaxing way this was to travel.  Nhan originally hails from Orlando. He remarked how wonderful it would be to have a train like this for day trips from the city to the beach.  Instead, after a day of unwinding, a Florida beachgoer has to experience the stress of the traffic back into town. We would get to chat the whole way to Kutna Hora with nary a thought about traffic, gas tanks, or directions. The cost round-trip was less than $5 for each person.

Being the dear friends they are, Gulnara and Nhan greeted me with a box of chocolates, even though I had lost, yes, lost the Christmas present they gave me before I even opened it.  Did I say they were dear friends? Simply the best.

Gulnara and me in the deserted Square at Kutna Hora

It was one c-o-l-d day the day we decided to go.  I think we were three of 12 tourists in the whole town. We definitely did not have to fight off the crowds to go visit what was our first UNESCO Heritage site that we visited simply because it was a UNESCO Heritage site.  We decided to save the Bone Church, the reason everyone comes to Kutna Hora, for the end of the day.

The Alchemist's Shop

Immediately we spotted a beautiful building with tourist information and a purported alchemist's shop.  I would like to say we were all filled with a burning desire to learn how to turn ordinary objects into gold, but mostly we were just freezing our tushes off and needed someplace, anyplace, with heat!

 Investigating Alchemy

There were all sorts of mysterious mad scientist apparatus and giant bellows and a tunnel that lead who knows where.  All of it food for the imagination of a young person raised on tales of King Midas. But what Kutna Hora is known for besides the Bone Church, is the real wealth, not pretend wealth that came out of this town.

Kutna Hora was the center of a mining operation that created coinage that was traded so widely you could call it unintentional medieval Euros. We began walking toward the famous Church of St. Barbara's (named after the patron saint of miners and anyone working with explosives) that had been built with all of this fantastic wealth that Kutna Hora produced.

The Walkway to St. Barbara's

The walkway to St. Barbara's was so romantic -- or it would have been if it wasn't 0 degrees centigrade.  Along the way were numerous statues of  saints and people in various states of torment, along with the beautiful paving and stonework that Czechs do so well.

Over the stone fence to the left, there was a magnificent view of Kutna Hora, the town, and the surrounding countryside. There are around 21,000 people in Kutna Hora today but at one time Kutna Hora rivaled Prague for economic dominance of Bohemia. The mines have played out, however, a new source of wealth has been found: growing tobacco for Phillip Morris.

 Gulnara and Nhan
with St. Josef's Church
in the background

As we walked toward St. Barbara's Church, I was fascinated by the competing church St. Josef's, easily seen from this walk way and the spectacular St. Barbara's.  I marveled at what politics would motivate the building of a smaller, less ornate church when there's a perfectly magnificent church already started in town in the 1300s.  Maybe it's like American churches that divide and divide into smaller and smaller congregations over minute theological questions, I don't know. Or maybe the townspeople viewed St. Barbara's as a money pit. It didn't get finished until 1905.  It was fun to think about.

 Approaching the flying buttresses
of St. Barbara's Church

I ask you gentle readers, especially my male readers, you know what flying buttresses are as an architectural detail, don't you? Simply because it's so much fun to say "flying buttresses," right? Can you say the same for knowing what crenelated stoneworks are? Sounds like a detail on a petticoat, doesn't it? I was just wondering if my theory that you know what flying buttresses are proves correct.  The inner 8-year-old in all of us loves to say "flying buttresses!"

 One of many beautiful baroque altars
and stained glass windows within the church

The beautiful Gothic
arches and ceiling
within the Church
After thoroughly exploring the unheated church we headed back toward the center for a long leisurely lunch of Czech specialties, mead and beer.  There were more interesting sites along the way to our next stop.

For example, they don't make
water towers like this back home.
 Two wild and crazy Czechs
from back in the day.

Many European communities
have one of these:
a Plague Column
to commemorate and give thanks for the end
of the Bubonic Plague's rampage.

We were all excited when we saw this truck
because we thought we were going to get to say hi
to American military overseas.
It was three Czechs moving carpet.

The Italian Court
Our next stop was the Italian court, a former royal residence and mint. We took a tour that showcased some of the coins and manufacturing operations of those times.  I remember being impressed with medieval loss prevention techniques.  Nobody was sneaking home with any coin molds in their lunch pail.

The keys our guide used to enter
the doors at the Italian Court.
Good thing she had them.

 She was so nervous
giving her first tour in English
she accidentally locked up a few tourists
on our tour.

Luckily Gulnara asked,
"Hey, where did the Germans go?"
Otherwise they might still
be locked up in the tower.

The drop-dead gorgeous chapel
in the Italian Court.
 Every wall was achingly beautiful.

Oh, the Bone Church.
We ran out of time. Never saw it.
Ice cream and good conversation
got in the way. 

I hope I come back this way again.
I'll do the Bone Church and the Silver Mines time.

You might enjoy these other train-related posts:

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