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24 hours in Istanbul

August 29, 2012

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I am in a taxi, hurtling down narrow streets at great speed, passing parked cars and people with millimeters to spare. It’s 11pm and we are trying to find a restaurant that has been recommended to me. There are two branches and the first one we visit is closed. My friendly taxi driver is happy to drive me to the other branch. We attempt to hold a conversation about why I must go to this restaurant..lots of sign language, a little English on his part, and no Turkish on my part. We manage somehow. He tells me not to worry, if this second one is closed, he will find me somewhere else with good Turkish food. By this stage it has been about 10 hours since I last had something to eat, and that was a dodgy roll at the airport that I forced myself to eat a few bites of. All day I have been thinking of eating some real Turkish food in Istanbul. I have pictured plates of food overflowing with succulent and tantalising foods that are bursting with colour and flavour. Spices, dried fruit, sweets dripping in syrup. But now I am so hungry that the hotel restaurant is starting to sound like a reasonable option. “Good thing I have a recommendation” I tell myself. “Otherwise I might have chosen one of these other great looking places we are passing that are bursting with people and energy.”

So the second branch is open and the taxi driver and I are both equally happy. He promises to come back for me in an hour and I happily walk into the restaurant. I sit at my table and ask for the seven course tasting menu (remember, 10 hours no food, the hour trip from the airport that took two and a half hours…). Ah, sadly the restaurant is about to close the waiter tells me. But he can find a few things for me to eat. I agree. Bring me whatever you can/recommend I say. The owner comes over and we have a nice chat. He is very welcoming and that stops me from feeling quite as disgruntled as I really wanted to feel. The food comes out and…..I am disappointed. There is nothing wrong with the food. It is perfectly fine and some of the things are pretty damn tasty. But there is no atmosphere in this about-to-close restaurant and I feel like I am eating the left over scraps. The chef manages to coax a few coals back into life and grills a lamb kebab for me. It is cooked beautifully….but is a bit lacking in flavour (compared to what I have been imagining all day as I held on to my hunger). Let’s face it, nothing was going to be able to live up to my expectations which are unreasonably high (when it comes to food) on the best of days. Dessert was a highlight, though somewhat spoiled by the now empty restaurant and hovering waiters. It’s all over in half an hour and I wonder if I should wait for my friendly taxi driver or just take one of the 100 other taxis that are cruising past. I decide to go for a little walk. I want to get a proper feel for this city. My experience so far has not made me feel like I am actually here, in this city, getting to know. I should have trusted my instincts when it came to picking a restaurant. My instincts are rarely wrong when it comes to picking a good restaurant. Or I should have accepted the offer to go to dinner with that very nice Frenchman I sat next to on the way from the airport to the city – he was meeting a local friend in the city and I am sure it would have been a more fun experience. Boring conservative me!

So there I am at midnight, strolling around the streets of Istanbul. I don’t feel in the slightest bit anxious. There are a few people around and lots and lots of stray cats. Then all of a sudden heaps of people appear as a nearby jazz concert finishes and my taxi driver appears. I am glad I spent that 15 minutes walking around to get a little feel for this tiny part of this immense city.

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As we drive back to my hotel we come over the crest of a hill and the view below of the Bosphorous that divides the Asian part of Turkey from the European part, the twinkling lights and the gorgeous mosque that sits right on the water make my breath catch in my throat. I could get to love this city. I must come back again and give it a proper chance.

The nicest thing I eat in Istanbul is the amazing Turkish ice cream at the airport. So good I went back for a second one. Ice cream that you can bite despite having the silkiest texture of any ice cream I have ever tasted. Yum!

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. theintolerantchef permalink
    August 29, 2012 7:00 PM

    I have a bowl exactly like that gifted to me from Celia! I hope the rest of your Turkish food experiences are better 😦 I have always wanted to try that special ice cream, its made with a special ingredient called salap- lucky you !

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      August 29, 2012 7:24 PM

      The bowls are gorgeous aren’t they? I bet you treasure yours.
      I have had ice-cream made with Salep before, here in Sydney. But it was not even close to being as nice as this version. If I remember rightly the one I had here was just strange and not that pleasant. I am not a big eater of ice-cream so for me to eat two is really telling you something! (Did you know that Salep is the flour made from ground orchid tubers? Freaky!)

  2. Clarissa permalink
    August 29, 2012 9:41 PM

    I have heard that Istanbul is a great place to visit because of its food, culture and monuments. The best part is art and food, but also this place is quite expensive in comparison to rest of the places in Turkey.

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      August 31, 2012 2:18 PM

      I would love to visit other parts of Turkey too….hopefully one day soon!

      • Clarissa permalink
        August 31, 2012 2:26 PM

        Yes you can all the best for your upcoming trips.

  3. August 30, 2012 7:15 AM

    I have a blogger friend in Bosphorous. She posts amazing images of the town. Sorry to hear that all you managed to enjoy was the ice cream. But that ice cream looks sensational xx

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      August 31, 2012 2:18 PM

      The ice-cream made up for it (almost). It was really sensational.

  4. August 31, 2012 2:41 PM

    I just came to check out your blog. Very nice, especially this post! I was in Istanbul earlier this year and it was AMAZING. If you get a chance, have a cup of salep. It’s orchid tea and it’s to die for!

  5. September 12, 2012 8:33 PM

    I’m with you on the Turkish ice cream! The blackberry one at Mado cafe here in Sydney is divine and I’m sure even better in Istanbul! 🙂

  6. September 24, 2012 3:07 PM

    Great article. I’ve enjoyed this contribution. Its nice to see every questions answered in a blog post like this. I will add this post on my blog and link to it. Thanks for a clear informative post, I’ve learned a lot. I hope to see videos though as I can be A.D.D and reading articles is not my favorite thing to do online. So what I do sometimes is just print the whole thing and read offline.

  7. September 27, 2012 2:10 PM

    I enjoyed your post – shame you didn’t quite get the Turkish food experience you were after, particularly after 10 hours of no food at all! Strolling around and the view of the Bosphorous afterwards sounds lovely though. I love Turkey and Istanbul is one of my favourite cities … a wonderful place for the senses and so alive! Those bowls are beautiful – I have a few in my kitchen cupboard!

    • spiceandmore permalink*
      October 8, 2012 11:13 AM

      I really hope I get to go back to Istanbul one of these days….it certainly looks and sounds like an incredible city. You sound like you know it well – lucky you!

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