The eyesore seen from Yoros Castle

Controversial construction projects have become one of the defining marks of Erdogan’s reign, and the Third Bosphorus Bridge is perhaps the most conspicuous of them all although the recent presidential palace has certainly garnered its fair share of attention. Critics say the 3rd bridge will irreparably damage the environment and surrounding natural area, not to mention it will cast an iron silhouette over the once pristine view of the waters where the Bosphorus and Black Sea meet. Those wild boars running around Istanbul? You can also chalk that up to the 3rd bridge.

My first view of the infamous bridge was when my friend Heidi  was visiting from the States. Instead of doing the typical tourist activities, we escaped the city and headed out to Anadolu Kavağı to see Yoros Castle. It was a gorgeous May day (the best time of year to visit Istanbul), the sun high and weather breezy. We took a ferry from Sariyer which turned out to be only a short 5 minute jaunt across the Bosphorus and found ourselves in the sleepy fishing village of Anadolu Kavağı. Yoros Castle is located uphill from the main square and instead of hiking our way up, we flagged a taxi and paid a premium price for the 5 minute ride. I recommend doing the same.

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The ferry landing at Anadolu Kavağı

Once we arrived at Yoros, I was surprised to find that there was no official museum kiosk; instead, people were haphazardly milling around. One area – the side facing the water – had been gated off, and a man who was neither in uniform nor wearing an official tour guide badge appeared to be the guardian of this gate. Every 15 minutes or so he would let a handful of people pass to the other side, close the gate behind them, and give them just enough time to take in the view and snap a few photos before signaling to them that it was time to wrap up.

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The ruins of Yoros Castle

From the side of Yoros which faces the water, one has a clear view of the construction of the 3rd bridge. The picture below was taken in May 2014 and one can see that already a good deal of green space has been cleared and the supports erected. .

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The view of the 3rd bridge from Yoros Castle

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The view coming down from Yoros Castle

On the way down, we passed a multitude of cafes with great views but shady menus (i.e. the kind with no prices). We snapped some pictures but passed on what I assume were extremely overpriced mezzes and drinks.

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Delicious fried mussels at Kafkas Cafe & Restaurant, located right at the main square and ferry landing

Back in the center of Anadolu Kavağı, we had fried mussels and fish sandwiches at Kafkas Cafe & Restaurant. The fried mussels were delicious, light and crispy, and hot from the grill. Whenever I think about the best fried mussels in Istanbul, Kafkas is the first place that comes to mind. Heidi who hails from the land of seafood has vowed to bring fried mussels to the East Coast. I think it’s guaranteed to be a hit.

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Heidi finds a little munchkin in AnadoluKavağı

How to get there:

From Beşiktaş, take a minibüs/dolmuş from Barbaros Blvd to the Sariyer iskele and then a ferry from Sariyer to Anadolu Kavağı. The ferry doesn’t run frequently so do check the schedule ahead of time otherwise you may find yourself in Sariyer with hours to spare.

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Homemade food with a twist of Tarsus

Not only does Dört Kadıköy serve up good coffee  and hospitality, they also get a thumbs up for their recommendation to visit Sımsıcak Ev Yemekleri, a restaurant just a few storefronts down the street. At first my friends and I were just going to stop in for a tea since we had had our fill of coffee and desserts at Dört, but we certainly couldn’t say no to all the mouth-watering dishes on display. We ordered a huge spread and sat down to eat while at the same time informally interviewing the owner.

Sımsıcak Ev Yemekleri (translation: really hot homemade food) features a set menu of dishes which customers pick from the display up front, and they also rotate in different dishes depending on what’s fresh and in season at the local market. The owner’s family is originally from Tarsus, and thus, he also tries to incorporate goods from the Tarsus area when possible such as olive oil and pomegranate sauce, dried veggies, and spices.

Like Helvetia in Asmalımescit, Sımsıcak has several dishes for the vegetarian crowd, and for everyone worried about whether the veggies we eat in Istanbul restaurants are cleaned well, don’t fret at Sımsıcak. They wash all their vegetables three times, yes that’s right, three times. First in water, then in vinegar, and again, rinsed in water. And for those lamenting the amount of plastic bottles used in restaurants, Sımsıcak has one large water cooler where you can fill up your water glass, enormously cutting down on the amount of wasted plastic.

In addition to an amazing karnıyarıkone of my all-time favorite Turkish dishes – the restaurant’s two standouts were the eggplant puree and çıntar mantar. Eggplant puree is a standard Turkish dish made by roasting eggplant over a gas-burning stove and then pureeing it. Delicious, right? Well, as much as I like eggplant, I often find the finished puree to be too strong on the palette, either because of the burnt flavor or the bitterness of the fruit. Sımsıcak’s eggplant puree, however, was so smooth that for a split second, I doubted that it was even eggplant. When we asked the owner about his magical puree, he told us about a secret ingredient he incorporates into the dish. Where he got the idea for it is baffling since it’s not a common ingredient  used in traditional Turkish cooking, but it’s genius all the same. He did, however, ask us to keep the secret ingredient a secret, so I’m keeping my word.

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Karnıyarık, split eggplant stuffed with minced meat

The other highlight was the çıntar mantar, a mushroom which grows in Tarsus on the cedar tree but can also be found on kızılçam (red pines) in the Kanlıca area of Istanbul. I had never heard of çıntar mantar before, and in fact, I have been struggling to find the correct English translation but another blogger has referred to it as a Saffron Milk Cap. To be honest, I thought it was ciğer (liver) at first  due to its meaty appearance, and when I tasted it, it certainly had a meatier texture (& better taste!) than the standard table mushroom. For this very reason, the çıntar mantar is an ideal meat substitute and may feature in some of Sımsıcak’s dishes traditionally made with meat. Mushroom-stuffed mantı, anyone?

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Chopped çıntar mantar with grated vegetables

Just when you are starting to think that you might be enjoying a homemade meal made by your favorite Turkish abla, teyze, or kaynana, you are kindly reminded by the mustachioed Charlie Chaplin on the wall that you are in Kadıköy after all, and that you’ll step out into the streets to be swept up in the energy of Istanbul. But don’t forget to pay the bill first, and trust me, Sımsıcak Ev Yemekleri is quite the deal!

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Zucchini stew with mint

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Lentil balls (mercimek köfte) with assorted pickles

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Saçaklı köfte (meatballs with shredded potato) on a bed of potatoes, peppers, and eggplant with yogurt

Istanbul’s post-modern neighborhood cafe: Dört Kadıköy

 “A post-modern neighborhood cafe.” That’s how Neylan Öğütveren, one of the owners of Kadıköy’s newest cafe – Dört Kadıköy – describes it. Her goal is to create community and do something good for the neighborhood in a time when people aren’t sharing enough and need to know each other more than ever. From my perspective, her and her three business partners (and very close friends) Fahri, Emrah, and Ürün are off to a running start. I connected with Neylan over Twitter @dortkadikoy and set up an interview with her shortly after the opening of Dört Kadıköy earlier this month.

Due to Neylan’s welcoming spirit and outgoing personality, the interview turned out to be an informal chat between friends. I got to hear all about her inspiration and vision for Dört Kadıköy while enjoying a refreshing cold brew and warm walnut brownie topped with ice cream, followed by an artisan latte.

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Latte art, the way to my heart

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Cold brew drip mechanism

Dört Kadıköy isn’t your normal Istanbul coffee shop; in fact, it’s much more than a place that just serves coffee although they do that well, too. The cafe promotes a healthy lifestyle and welcomes four pawed friends. Don’t forget to say hi to Zeus, Neylan’s and her partner Fahri’s, Doberman in the back, and if you bike to the cafe, you get 20% of your purchase. The coffee and tea are organic and Neylan expects to expand their menu to include organic and vegan selections. Now, that’s something I can get behind.

The cafe is already holding Friday night Spanish language tables and plans to expand its community events to include long-table discussions and workshops including topics such as: COFFEE. The owners completed an extensive coffee training course here in Istanbul and they want to pass the information they learned onto the greater community – how to select beans, which brewing system to use, etc. Thanks to Dört Kadıköy’s partnership with Petra Roasting Co., a roasting company that made a big splash on the Istanbul coffee scene earlier this year, Dört Kadıköy is serving top of the line beans from one of Istanbul’s leading roasters.

Neylan’s background in Performance Art Management and Digital Performance also comes through loud and clear, and no detail has gone unattended to. The cafe’s interior design channels the Brutalist style, and in fact, the cafe was previously a repair shop so this too was an inspiration for the cafe’s design. The walls will soon be home to installations of local artists (first up is Çandaş Şişman) as well as permanent artwork. The logo’s design by Emre Parlak was inspired by the Bauhaus Movement and it’s an aesthetically pleasing logo that jives well with the cafe’s trendy brand.

Oh, did I mention the baked goods are homemade by women in Moda? That’s community for you.

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Syphon coffee with baked goods

 

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My lovely ladies enjoying the goods. The more the merrier when exploring new places!

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Sample menu (subject to change)

Exploring Istanbul’s urban food system on the Princes’ Islands

I’ve started writing for the Miracle of Feeding Cities, a website that explores the urban food system in some of the world’s major cities. The project is supported by the University of Texas at Austin and it is a great initiative that has got me thinking more critically about Istanbul’s food system and the sustainability of our current food practices.

Check out my article on the Princes’ Islands where I took a look at the islands’ food distribution system and its opportunities and challenges. A big shoutout goes to Gurkan for helping me with the interviews and research and Becky Altinman for being extremely helpful throughout every step of the process – providing first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to live on Buyukada, how the locals navigate the local food landscape, and connecting me with the friendly people of Plus Kitchen!

Learning to make Iznik tiles in Bursa’s Yeniceabat village

One of the reasons I love Istanbul is because there is always something new to explore – a new neighborhood or a new restaurant – the possibilities are endless. Bursa, on the other hand, has always been a place of familiarity for me. I’ve memorized the bus and dolmuş routes, I know the downtown area like the back of my hand, and I don’t get the same sense of overwhelmingness that tends to befall me in Istanbul from time to time. In fact, I thought I had explored every nook and cranny of Bursa until I visited Yeniceabat village earlier this summer.

The village is discreetly tucked away behind Bursa’s otogar (bus depot) and despite all the times I took buses to Istanbul and Ordu, I never knew the village existed, and even more surprisingly, neither did Gurkan. We were in Bursa a few weekends ago for a mini-holiday, and we had plans to visit our good friend Cat who is leading this year’s NSLI-Youth program – a program which I led in 2012 and I highly recommend to any American high school students aspiring to learn Turkish or other critical need languages.

Cat was taking her students on a field trip to nearby Iznik (Nicaea), and on the way out of Bursa, they had planned to stop at an Iznik tile workshop in Yeniceabat. After perusing a map, Gurkan and I were surprised to find ourselves only a five minute drive from Yeniceabat – we had been having coffee at Anatolium waiting for Cat’s call. We headed out to the village and despite it’s deserted appearance, we found it was home to not just one, but three different tile workshops. One of the NSLI-Youth drivers met us on the main village road, jumped in the car and directed us to the correct workshop (take a right at the kiraathane located on the main village road).

When we arrived, the workshop was bustling with activity. One group of students was milling around outside chatting, another was hand painting tiles in the workshop, and still another was preparing for a tour of the kiln room. Gurkan and I chatted with one of the artisans and saw how the tiles were glazed and fired. We learned that the workshop uses quartz which is more difficult to work with (it shrinks when fired and needs to be done in small batches) but of higher quality than the material most workshops use.

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Glazing tiles in the kiln room

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Dipping tiles in the glaze

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A close-up of some traditional Iznik designs

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A variety of pieces waiting to be glazed and fired

I noticed the workshop had a small showroom off to one side, and Gurkan managed to persuade one of the workers to let us have a look inside. It was a very small space but had pottery stacked in all corners and spread across the floor. On some of the pieces, we were surprised to find Paşabahçe – one of my favorite Turkish home goods store – written underneath. According to the worker, the workshop sells their items to Paşabahçe which in turn sells them in their retail locations at three times the price. Although I would have loved to fill up a whole box to take back with me to Istanbul, I used my discretion and ended up purchasing just a couple pieces for wedding gifts.

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Painting pomegranates with Iznik designs

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The workshop’s small showroom

Afterwards, Cat and I talked with one of the workers who I assumed was the owner about the possibility of returning in the fall for informal classes for just the two of us. At first, he seemed hesitant – the art of making tiles isn’t just a hobby, something you can learn over a few days he said – but he softened up as the day went on. Maybe Cat and I will get our very own private Iznik tile class after all.

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Even the outside of the workshop is stacked high with pottery