İSTANBUL’DA GEZMEK

First of all, thanks for putting up with my lack of posting for a couple days. I was quite sick. Thankfully, my sickness coincided with a break from school for kurban bayramı, the most important Islamic holiday of the year. I celebrated this holiday with my roommate Ruşen’s family. It was a pleasant occasion full of food, pretending I knew what everyone was saying, tea, food, and excellent hospitality. And beef. I’ve been feeling much better since yesterday morning, so I’ve had the chance to do some exploring.

Since the primary posts have been so information-dense, I’ve decided to make this one a little friendlier and base it on photos and descriptions of what it’s like to spend a day wandering around Istanbul. Before we start, I apologize for the varied photo quality. My camera, the iPhone 4S, doesn’t handle night very well, and I took some photos discretely or while rushing to catch a train or kitten.

Let’s start with a map of Istanbul. The Bosphorus Strait separates the European side from the Asian side. I live and go to school in Sarıyer. The most historically-rich part of town is Fatih, which was the city center when Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. These days, Beyoğlu, which features Taksim Square,  is like Istanbul’s downtown. I spent most of this day in Fatih, which is about 45 minutes away.

CakalliMenemen

Menemen and çay (not my photo)

A proper Turkish morning starts with a huge breakfast featuring eggs (hard-boiled or scrambled), tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, honey, Nutella (if you’re at the right place), green olives, fruit juice, and çay (pronounced like ‘chai’), strong Turkish black tea served straight or with sugar in a tulip-shaped glass. Poor college students like yours truly tend to eat a more basic breakfast. I learned how to make menemen, a delicious breakfast dish consisting of sautéd onions, Turkish spicy green peppers, and tomatoes, scrambled eggs, and thyme. It’s simple and substantial.

Twins

Twins

After breakfast, I meandered toward the bus stop and took a picture of a couple impeccable kittens on the way. My ultimate destination was Fatih, sometimes referred to as the Old City, but I stopped at Taksim square.
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To get to Taksim, I have to take a bus and a subway. The subways in Istanbul are new, immaculate, and very timely; that is to say, if you’ve experienced New York subways, these are roughly the opposite. Like New York’s subways, they get very crowded, however. This was probably the most empty I’ve seen the Istanbul subways.

Chestnut roaster in Taksim Square; Atatürk monument in background

Chestnut roaster in Taksim Square; Atatürk monument in background

Taksim Square, located in Beyoğlu, is the main social hub of Istanbul. In its center is a statue of Atatürk (or four Atatürks in one statue, actually). There are hundreds of restaurants, shops, and nightclubs on the streets surrounding it. The buildings in Taksim are several stories high, each floor accessible by narrow spiral staircases. Because of this, for every door on the street, there are usually five or six unmarked businesses. This makes it hard if you’re trying to meet people in this neighborhood!

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While I was in Taksim, I stopped at a free art exhibition on İstiklal Street. It was called Annem, Ben Barbar Mıyım? (‘Mom, am I a Barbarian?’). Most everything in the exhibition was made of litter. It appeared to be a commentary on consumerism. I found it to be very cynical and funny. Here’s a mannequin with a stack of simitlar (Turkish round pretzels), a wildly popular street food snack, where her head should be.

Young buskers and a passerby sharing some tulum (Anatolian bagpipe) music with his phone conversation partner

Young Turkish buskers and a passerby sharing some tulum (Anatolian bagpipe) music with his phone conversation partner

There are always droves of people on İstiklal street. Many are shopping at the many name-brand outlet stores located there. Some are visiting beautiful old international consulates or cathedrals. Some, like me, are just wandering. Many come to İstiklal to make their day’s wages on the street selling snacks like chestnuts or mussels, or by playing music. Most of the music is Turkish folk, but I’ve also seen Gypsy jazz musicians and American buskers á la Hawthorne Blvd.

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Beyran çorbası. In Turkish, we “drink” soup, but this I still needed a fork.

After walking on İstiklal for a bit, I decided to look for some food. Finding a meal is no difficult task in this city, but I wanted something other than typical quick food like döner kebap (seasoned beef roasted on a vertical spit), “wet hamburgers” (I haven’t dared yet), or fish sandwiches, so I traveled to a place that insiders tell me is the absolute best for a soup called beyran çorbası. While I wasn’t sure what this was exactly, soup sounded perfect since I had been sick, so I tried it out. It was outstanding – a rich and complex Middle Eastern lamb soup, and definitely the spiciest dish I’ve had in Turkey. I hadn’t been this excited about soup since I had pho on 82nd in Portland.

After soup, I wanted to do some sightseeing, so I met up with my roommate to visit one of the oldest churches in Istanbul. Now, before İstanbul was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, it served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire. As you likely know, its name at this time was Constantinople. The Byzantines were Christians and left behind some beautiful churches, most of which the Ottomans would later convert to mosques. The grandest and most famous such case is the Hagia Sophia. On my day out, I visited the Kariye Kilisesi (Chora Church), a Byzantine church-turned-mosque-turned-museum that predates the Hagia Sophia by about 100 years. It is a small church in the Fatih neighborhood that was constructed in the 4th Century.

After wandering through this magnificent old church, Ruşen and I walked to the Şehzade (prince)  Mosque. This mosque was commissioned by Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and built by architect Mimar Sinan (aka Sinan the Architect) in 1548. Sinan is undoubtedly the most important figure in Ottoman architecture, responsible for typifying the Ottoman style, and one of the most famous architects of all time. He worked under three sultans and designed over 300 structures. Şehzade is one of them, though it’s not considered his grandest. Instead, it’s just one of the numerous breathtaking mosques that cover Istanbul.

Since then, it has remained a mosque, but like all mosques in Istanbul, visitors are welcome as long as they abide by a few rules: no shoes, long pants for men, headscarves for women, and no photos while people are praying. No problem. Istanbul mosques are very hospitable to outsiders, and any religious persuasions aside, they are architecturally and esthetically compelling places that are perfect settings for just sitting and pondering or meditating.

Şehzade interior. Ottoman mosques feature massive, open sanctuaries with a central dome. Note that there are no representations of humans. Depictions of Mohammed are considered idolatrous and thus blasphemous. Instead, Islamic art relies on Arabic calligraphy (as in the medallions) and abstract shapes, always symmetrical.

Şehzade interior. Ottoman mosques feature massive, open sanctuaries with a central dome. Note that there are no representations of humans. Depictions of people, even Mohammed, are considered idolatrous and thus blasphemous. Instead, Islamic art relies on Arabic calligraphy (as in the medallions) and abstract shapes, always symmetrical.

We spent a good while in Şehzade, then had some spicy kidney beans for dinner and split ways. It was getting late, but I wanted to have a lot to post about for you guys, so I continued. I went to another Mimar Sinan mosque called Süleymaniye, but it was closed. Nonetheless, I enjoyed walking around the huge compound, which features mausoleums, a quranic school, and a Turkish bath. It’s considered one of Sinan’s finest works, and its minarets (the tall, narrow towers outside of mosques) can be seen on the Istanbul skyline. The weather was warm, nobody was around, and I felt lucky to be meandering around this peaceful part of town.

On my way back home, I wanted to try some classic Istanbul desserts. One is called boza. It’s a pudding-like dessert made from fermented millet. The place I visited – Vefa Bozacısı – is Istanbul’s only faithful boza maker. The drink reminded me of baby food, slightly sour, not too sweet. Across the street from Vefa Bozacısı is a chickpea roaster. Voza drinkers visit him first so they can add roasted chickpeas to the drink. We could call the resulting confection Istanbul bubble tea. I didn’t love boza, but I’ll come back. There are few things I appreciate more than an exotic drink, really.

I call this "çöp çarşısı" (garbage bazaar).

I call this “çöp çarşısı” (garbage bazaar).

On my way home, I walked through a bazaar strip that was closing down. Since it was almost Kurban Bayramı, a big shopping holiday like Christmas, the shopkeepers were cleaning out and getting ready.

The last destination of my adventure was Karaköy Güllüoğlu, reported to be the best baklava maker in Istanbul – a lofty claim! Nonetheless, I must say it’s the best I’ve had so far.

Well, that was my day. I wish you could have all been there with me, but I’m glad I could at least share a bit about what it’s like to wander around this city. In the comments, just share your thoughts or questions that came up when you read this.

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25 thoughts on “İSTANBUL’DA GEZMEK

  1. Hahahaha,
    Sounds like you had an interesting time in Istanbul so far! But the breakfast looks really good. I wish Portland could provide exotic foods. Do the Turks use spices a lot in their foods/How much of the food has many seasonings or is spicy? How much of the area is religion based – are there many mosques in a city or just a few? I’m not much into religion but the mosques look great! The only reason I would want to show patterns instead of faces is that I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of perfecting every detail – the human face is hard to draw when so many people know what it looks like and can criticize every flaw! But I guess they have a valid reason as well. Thank you for sharing your adventures today!

  2. Hello!
    It still sounds like you are having fun in Istanbul. I had a bit of a similar experience of seeing a cathedral in Korea. Only it was a Buddhist temple. On the outside was a giant dome and in the inside was a giant gold statue of Buddha. On the ceiling was a complex painting of some sort. Anyway it was kind of like the cathedral you saw. And inside you could meditate and do your religious affairs. (I always try to connect somebody else’s experience with my one). Remind me… did the Ottoman Empire have Muslim or Christianity as a religion?
    Trying Turkish cuisine sounds fun. I some times have different themed take outs every once in a while. Like Thai and Vietnamese food, Japanese food and Middle Eastern Food. All though it is kind of hard to try new things for me. What is one Turkish condiment that is common in all dishes? In Korean food it’s almost always rice on the side or in the dish it’s self.
    Some unrelated questions I have are: Which animal do you like better, Cat or Dog? Do they have an American food in Turkish restaurants?
    It’s good that your feeling better because being sick is no fun. Hope you explore new things!

  3. Hi!
    When you typed that it was easy to find food anywhere it reminded me of the times I visited Singapore!. In Singapore, there are literally, restaurants everywhere. In the city area, there is about a restaurant every 100 feet.
    Anyway, Turkish cuisine sounds fun to eat. Those foods remind me of whenever I try to make soup by mixing a bunch of random stuff, except the Turkish soups probably taste much better. The weirdest foods I have ever eaten were snails (tastes like weird clams), fried crickets(tastes like potato chips with extra salt) and fried worms (tastes like non edible powder with a bit of cheese). I tried the crickets and worms in Legoland, California, not some fancy restaurant by the way.
    The mosques look really interesting… and so do the desserts.
    Some random questions I have are: Are there any McDonalds in Istanbul?
    It’s great that you feel better!
    I hope you continue having a fun time exploring more in Turkey!

    • Yeah, I’ve eaten fried crickets as well on a dare from my dad for $10 at a restaurant, I’ve had beef tongue, liver, and all sorts of nasty meats that all sort of tasted the same (but Spam has been by far the worst). I’m vegetarian now, though, so that adventure’s over. 🙂

  4. Hi! I liked hearing about the food you ate. I’ve never heard of most of the food you mentioned. It sounded like all of them had meat in them. In our class there are a lot of vegetarians, including me. Have you had any good vegetarian meals there?

  5. Hi Seth,
    Wow! It seems like you had a great adventure, from delicious meals to visits to interesting places. Now I wish I were in Turkey!
    My favorite topic that you mentioned in this week’s post was the transportation system and how it’s like the subways in the U.S. I like it when you add little things about Turkey’s society and how it relates to our cities. I found it really surprising when you said people have nutella! I mean, that’s something I eat- I would never expect it to be popular in a country across the world.
    Some questions I had while reading this were:
    -What is “çöp çarşısı” for?
    -How big is the Chora Church?
    -Are the Byzantine churches surrounded by normal houses? Or are they near places like a town square?
    -Do you enjoy drinking bubble tea or boza better?

    Thank you 🙂

    -C

    • Hey Caroline,

      Thanks for your response. Nutella is a pretty big deal here. Turkey is the world’s number one producer of hazelnuts, and I’d guess Nutella buys a lot of them. PS Guess who the number two producer is… Oregon!

      I’ve heard the Belgians are also fiends for Nutella, but that’s no surprise.

      -Çöp Çarşısı means “garbage bazaar.” It’s not a real thing. I was just making a lame joke 🙂
      -The Chora Church is tiny compared to the mosques. If I had to guess, it’s maybe 5,000 square feet.
      -The Chora Church is surrounded by old and modern houses. One of the coolest things about Istanbul is how there’s history everywhere. Just when you think you’re in the “new city,” you see a garden full of old broken columns or a big, beautiful mosque.
      -I prefer boza. Working at a teahouse has kind of burnt me out on bubble tea. Psst – don’t tell anyone!

      -Seth

  6. Hi Seth!
    You looked like you were having a great time wandering Istanbul, I was very interested in the exotic and delicious foods they served there. I never tried a baklava before what’s it taste like? What other special foods do they serve in Istanbul? Please post more about food from Istanbul! The old churches and mosques you and Rusen walked around are pretty cool I like how the mosques are designed symmetrically and when I look at some of the shapes, it’s like looking into a kaleidoscope! By the way, what’s your favorite church/mosque? My favorite mosque would probably be Şehzade, because it has very cool and interesting shapes and was built by Mimar Sinan, an architect who designed over 300 structures I hope you get to show us more architecture of Turkey! Remember to blog more about FOOD! Have a great time in Turkey and I hope you feel better!

  7. Hey! Is all the food there the traditional food? It seems like when you travel to most places there are stillBurger King and McDonalds (eewwww!!!) and other fast food restaurants. Is it like that in Turkey too? In the mosque, why are men not allowed to where long pants? What is baklava?

  8. Wow! Sounds like a long but fun day. Most of that food sounds pretty good (even though I don’t eat meat), but there was one food that sounded kind of weird: the boza. One: the taste as you described it didn’t sound so amazing. Two: chickpeas in a drink? That sounds interesting. I couldn’t tell wether you put them in, but if you did, what did it taste like. Did it actually taste like bubble tea? Thanks for the post!
    -Anandi

  9. So they “drink” soup like in Japan? I’m glad you’re feeling better, I got over a cold recently myself. I am curious though about those wet hamburgers. What makes it wet? Is it undercooked or some sort of sauce? I liked the look of the cathedral, it looked amazing. I’ve heard Turkish baths are really good as well. It was a long post, but a very interesting one.
    -Youki

    • Yes they do. They also “drink” cigarettes. Maybe they drink wet hamburgers too. I think the reason they’re wet is because the bun is soaked in some sort of tomato sauce. I’ve had wet hamburgers in the US, but they were just poorly made 🙂 I had a regular hamburger here and the patty tasted like meatloaf.

      I have tentative hamam (Turkish bath) plans, so stay tuned! Let me know if the posts get too long or tedious.

      -Seth

    • HA! Nice name, Youki.

  10. How amazing. I have to say, I would probably hate most of the food there, especially the spicy food. I’m a bit picky. If I visited, I’d be the one subsisting off a diet of cucumbers, fruit juice, and pretzels. No spicy soups for me.
    I have always been a fan of tile tessellations like the ones in that mosque. M.C. Escher once took a trip to Istanbul (or some other mainly Islamic city- I forget) just to study the tile patterns. These were very reflected in his works of perspective and tessellation.
    I have to say…when you said “running after a train or kitten” I imagined you running after a giant kitten with people on its back, trying to hitch a ride. And you thought magic carpets were cool…

  11. First off, Is the Asian side and different from the European side? As you said the subways there are roughly the opposite of New York subways, i wanted to ask, have you ever been to New York? And on a scale of 1-10 1 being the lowest how much cleaner (not better) are the subways there? It’s awesome that there are free art exhibitions there. Meandering around a foreign place must be really fun! To just walk around and explore would be so cool!

    -Gabe

  12. I would have to say the food there looks and sounds fantastic. I wish I had the luxury of going to Turkey and tasting the food there. Also like Rebecca, I like tessellations and other visual patterns. And when you said the Vefa Bozacısı reminded you of baby food, does that mean that you eat baby food?

  13. We studied Islamic art last year, and it’s really cool to see such awesome real-world examples! Even the Christian churches in your pictures involve Islamic art, which is pretty cool. I wish art and architecture of that style was more prominent in Portland.
    The food looks delicious! And I know exactly the pho place you’re talking about. 🙂

  14. Sounds like a fun day! I personally love trying new foods, so that would probably be the highlight of the day for me, even with the awesome mosques and architecture. I have to say, the camera was struggling there with that lighting, but good thing they fixed that in the iPhone 5! That thing has a sick camera. Also, it’s awesome that you have an iPhone! =) Okay, I might be getting a bit off topic here…
    It sounds like you like spicy food, which I do too! I eat a lot of Thai food, and usually spicy red curry is my food of choice. Also, I love baklava, but I bet it’s way better over there in Turkey!

  15. I am envious. I wish my day could be that interesting!
    A quick note, Jesus wasn’t human, but only looked/seemed like one. At least, from what I understand (I’m not religious)
    Sounds like you had a great day!
    -Liam Z.

  16. I’m glad you are feeling better! I remember how much fun the street scene was and I definitely remember the hagia sophia! when I went there was a ton of construction and scaffolding supporting the dome,is that all still there? also have you been to the blue mosque yet? if not, you should! My mom also recommends the underground cisterns of istanbul.

  17. Glad you’re feeling better- sounds like you’re still having a lot of fun and learning a lot! (Breakfast sounded awesome- someday my family will have to try to make it.) It’s also awesome to see that Nutella is as big a hit there as it is in Portland, if not more popular. That stuff’s awesome. Some of the art and architecture you photographed was really amazing, and it’s really interesting to see it in the context of both its actual location and what we learned about Turkey and the art there last year. Hope the rest of the trip is as awesome as that day!

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