Less than 10 minutes from my apartment lies a magical place. The streets are filled with toy soldiers, sparkling lights and even a Christmas Tree (or more accurately ‘A New Years Tree ‘ for the Turks). Stars and lights hang from restaurant windows, store entrances are decorated with ornaments and to my surprise , even familiar Christmas music plays in the stores. For this homesick American, it is to my sheer delight to see familiar symbols, decor and music to celebrate the holiday season in the Istanbul neighborhood of Nisantasi. Read the rest of this entry →
Nestled along the Bosphorus is a mansion on a hill overlooking the Asian shore. This was once a embassy and then home to one of the richest families in Turkey. Now, it houses a museum which brings some of the most famous artists to Istanbul. People still talk about the Dali exhibit that occurred 4 years ago, and now Monet sits at the heart of the exhibition space of the museum. The pieces are on loan fro the Marmottan Monet Museum, which holds the larges collection of Claude Monet’s work. Read the rest of this entry →
Sumela Monestary: South of Trabzon, this monastery hangs off the rock walls, overlooking a forest. It was founded in the Byzantine times and abandoned in the 1920s at the founding of the Turkish republic
Safranbolu: An UNESCO World Heritage site, this old Ottoman village is located in the middle of a valley in the center of Turkey. The beautiful Ottoman buildings and the old city center have been perfectly restored, making this town a perfect retreat.
Mount Nemrut: The natural treasure of eastern Turkey, this mountain offers more than scenic views and a beautiful natural landscape. At the top of the mountain lies pre-Roman statues and tombs of a local King and the gods he worshiped To add to the mystique, it was not discovered until 1881, when the Ottoman Empire commissioned a German engineer to explore alternative trade routes.
I am always searching for authentic Turkish restaurants that will impress visiting guests, appeal to diverse culinary tastes and offer a unique dining experience. I must admit: when we go out to dinner, we rarely go out to Turkish meals. We seek out Japanese, Thai, Italian and other unique flavors, simply because we are lucky enough to taste a variety of different Turkish foods on a regular basis. Thus, the conundrum Where do you take guests who are visiting Istanbul and want to eat Turkish, and only Turkish food. Here are my recommendations:
Also located in Taksim, this restaurant is down Bekar Sokak at the top of Istiklal, 5 minutes from Taksim Square. It is famous among Istanbullians, foodies and sadly, it is probably in every major guide book by now. The Ocakbasi refers to the traditional grills that kebaps are prepared upon. Immediately upon walking inside, you will see (and smell) their large grill, and notice the photos on the wall which showcase all of their famous patrons. This place has a very special place in my heart because it is where we brought our two families together before our wedding. The service is spectacular. The environment is lively. Everything on the menu is fresh. And, every bite melts in your mouth. Be prepared to splurge a little bit to truly experience this place. It is best to come here with a large crowd. Select at least 6 of the appetizers from the appetizer plate. Order a big bottle of Raki. Drink and be merry! Be sure to make reservations or go early…
Located in Kadikoy, this restaurant has become the gem of the Turkish culinary scene. It was founded by a chef who wanted to reintroduce Turkish cuisine to the world, and show the diversity of ingredients and flavors that exist within Turkey’s borders. There are numerous things that make this restaurant unique. I will share 4 of them with you. First, there is a buffet of various Turkish appetizers. You will be given a plate and you can (and should) fill your plate with each and every dish. The plate is weighed to determine the price. Secondly, the menu is comprehensive and informative. Next to each item, you will find the city it originated from. It is wonderful to see the diversity and learn about regional specialties we rarely get to experience in Istanbul. Thirdly, the walnut dessert (Ceviz Tatlisi) is the most incredible and indulgent thing I have ever eaten. Be prepared for your mouth to water. Finally, Ciya is located in Kadikoy, a lively neighborhood on the Asian side. Come early to walk along the waterfront, explore its lively food market and to sip coffee at any one of its cafes. You will observe a young, hip and liberal crowd that call Kadikoy home. After dinner, stop for a beer and sit outside for some excellent people-watching.
Asmali Cavit has the best Turkish mezes (appetizers) in the city. Each and every dish is fresh and flavorful. The waiters are friendly and helpful. The atmosphere is lively and warm. It is the perfect place to go if you are looking for a traditional Turkish restaurant with GREAT food. You will start by being summoned to the display case, where you will select the cold appetizers that appeal to you. Once you select them, they will be brought to your table in small plates. I predict you will quickly devour them and want more. Next, move on to the hot appetizers. I recommend the borek and some fried hamsi (small fish). If you still have room, tackle the menu. Oh, and do not attempt to drink anything but Raki for this meal.
When reviewing the alphabet in my Kindergarten phonics lesson last year, I once had a student volunteer the word ‘God’ as we attempted to brainstorm words that started with ‘g’. I was shocked that this English word was familiar to 5-year-old Turkish students. So, I asked my students to define it. One of my favorite students-charming, precocious and wickedly smart-blasted his arm into the air. I could not resist. I had to call on him. His definition?! ‘Ataturk’.
While this may offend or surprise some, it stuck with me. To this 5-year old, Ataturk was the most important person, figure and symbol he has ever encountered. As the founder of the modern Turkish state, his vision transformed the people, the land and the nation of Turkey. He introduced reforms that promoted the arts and education. He empowered women as equals in society and gave them the right to vote. He oversaw the introduction of the Latin alphabet and established the modern Turkish language. There are very few other examples in history, where one man’s vision and actions shaped an entire nation (or to my 5-year old student…his world)
Located on a hill overlooking the city of Ankara, this impressive monument celebrates the life, accomplishments and vision of Ataturk. Admittedly, I am a fan of monuments and museums, especially those that are particularly nostalgic and ambitious in their efforts to establish the legacy of whatever they attempt to memorialize. I was not disappointed.
Anit Kabir presents Ataturk’s vision and fight for a modern Turkish state. At the entrance, three men and three women stand equally to greet visitors. Intellectuals , democratic ideals and youth are presented as the face and future of the nation. This monument houses the body of Ataturk, but also the vision. It serves as a regular meeting place to celebrate the country’s progress and potential. It features stone from every corner of the country and showcases the sculpture and design of Turkish artists. Read the rest of this entry →
We went to Ankara for the weekend to see family and explore the city. Located in the middle of Turkey, Ankara is the geographical and political heart of the country. It is also the second largest city in Turkey. This astounds me considering it was a small village just 100 years ago. When Turkey was founded in the 1920s, Ankara was established as the political capital of the country. However, it is somewhat cursed by history. The country developed in the 50s, 60s and 70s…a very unkind period of time in the history of architecture. As a result, large cement blocks line the tree-covered European boulevards.
Istanbullians joke the best view of Ankara can be found on the train ride home, a rather pretentious opinion that admittedly was difficult to shake off. Ankara lacks the culture, history and Bosphorus view that makes Istanbul so enchanting. It is more conservative and in many ways does not feel as modern, dynamic and culturally rich as other capital cities. However, it has traces of a strong vision for the modern Turkish state and its capital city. There is an efficient metro system. There are parks and trees everywhere you look. The streets are clean. People are friendly. There are wonderful museums (The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and Ataturk’s Mausoleum). Embassies have a prominent role in the city’s design and functionality. The president’s residence sits atop a hill overlooking the city. The parliament building stretches across a city block in the heart of the city.