Turkey day in Turkey

I’ve been sharing a lot of fun and quirky articles this past week about Turkey in Turkey. If you missed them, check out Why Americans Call Turkey ‘Turkey‘ and What’s the Word for Turkey in Turkish. Instead of heading out to one of the city’s swanky hotels for Thanksgiving, we decided to pull together a potluck Thanksgiving dinner with American colleagues from work. After several trips to Macro Center for supplies and a few nights in the kitchen, I finally pulled off the two dishes I was responsible for – deviled eggs and green bean casserole (next year, I want to make this cranberry sauce with figs). I substituted Ayşe Kadın beans for İzmir fasulyesi, the type most similar to American string beans, since the haricot vert style were nowhere to be found in my neighborhood. The turkey was prepared by Macro Center; they had accidentally given away the turkey my colleague had reserved and in order to make up for it, they cooked and delivered a turkey just in time for dinner.

If you are heading out for turkey in Turkey, be wary of the hotels’ Thanksgiving dinners. Last year, the same group of colleagues and I went to the Renaissance and many of the dishes looked like traditional Thanksgiving dishes and that’s where the resemblance stopped. The cranberry sauce? Yeah, they were sour cherries and the stuffing nothing more than spiced couscous; they also served the turkey with the neck still on! The Conrad, however, comes highly recommended  by a very reliable source so if I head out to a hotel again for Thanksgiving, that’s where you’ll find me.

Our Thanksgiving view, overlooking Istanbul:


Istanbul cityscape

My family’s Thanksgiving view:

winter trees 3

A wintry Wisconsin wonderland

A great contrast, don’t you think?


Turkish gastronomy at the ITEF Festival

This weekend was a whirlwind of events. Saturday started off with breakfast at the Consul General‘s residence in Arnavutkoy, followed by my Turkish class at ITI, and then catching up on Turkish dizi (TV series) in the evening. On Sunday morning, I attended the Istanbul Tanpinar Literature Festival (#ITEF), followed by re-discovering Hayri Usta Ocakbasi in Taksim and checking out Cihangir’s newest cafe, Geyik Coffee Roastery & Cocktail Bar.

As a wrap-up to the weekend, I thought I’d write a bit about the ITEF festival run by Kalem Literary Agency. My roommate Nazli (couchsurfer extraordinaire, polyglot and professional literary agent) works at Kalem Agency, and it is always a treat to attend one of the agency’s events. This past fall Gurkan and I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 ITEF festival opening at the Austrian Consulate. Although many of the  talks were in German, we were happy to be in good company in a gorgeous building with a variety of refreshments on hand.

This year the ITEF festival was moved to the spring, and I was only able to make it to a couple of events due to my work schedule. I did however get a chance to make it out to Caddebostan today for the the food literature events. I caught the tail end of Evliya Celebi Seyahatnamesi’nde Yemek Kulturu (Food Culture in Evliya Celebi’s Seyahatname) as well as Anadolu Yemekler ve Ritueller (Anatolian Food and Rituals). Among the things I learned were: hamsi was known as hapsi in the Seyahatname, the many regional variations of preparing keskek, and of course, I came home with a new list of Turkish words to study, all related to Turkish gastronomy.

Gurkan and I each picked out a book from the ITEF book tent for further reading. I chose Ilhan Eksen’s Istanbul’un Tadi Tuzu: Saray Sofralarindan Sokak Yemeklerine. I decided if I am going to make myself read Turkish on a regular basis, I should at least be reading something that interests me, and this one covers it all: from palace spreads to street food (Did I mention that Nazli is determined to turn me into a Turkish to English translator?). Gurkan chose Dengeli Demlenme ve Raki Mezeleri a recipe book for raki-meze night by the same author. I’ve already marked the recipes I want him to try and he’s determined that he can make topik (an Armenian meze dish made out of chickpeas and spices). From the topik I’ve seen and tasted in Istanbul’s meyhanes, I’m afraid it might not be an easy dish to recreate.

After a late afternoon lunch on Taksim’s backstreets, we poured over our new ‘foodie’ books at Geyik where we ended the day with iced lattes shaken martini-style and topped with shaved chocolate. Double yum.


A snapshot inside the Austrian Consulate at the 2013 ITEF Festival – the numerous hangers were part of an art exhibit


A presentation on Anatolian food traditions at the 2014 ITEF Festival


ITEF’s weekend events at the Caddebostan seaside


I couldn’t help but take a picture of this guy outside the event


The seaside on a rainy Istanbul afternoon


Nazli (@nazligurkas) at Kalem Agency’s office in Asmalimescit


Easter celebrations in Istanbul

After my roommates surprised me with a birthday cake at my favorite cafe in Istanbul, my roommate Nazli and I were off to meet up with her Greek friends who were in town. Although we found ourselves in Asmalimescit post-dinner, we made a point to make it to church to take part in the Easter celebrations. First, we stopped in at Saint Antoine‘s Catholic church, Istiklal’s most famous church, and found it was extremely busy. Plenty of people were attending the service and others like ourselves were stopping by to see what was going on.

Around 11:15 p.m. we decided it was time to head over to the Beyoğlu Panagia Rum Ortodoks Kilisesi, a Greek Orthodox church nestled behind J’adore, a little cafe famous for its hot chocolate. I had always wanted to visit this church but had never seen the gates open, and as many Istanbulites know, it’s hard to get into religious institutions in Turkey if you aren’t a member of the congregation. Earlier this year, I had attended a wedding at the Neve Shalom synagogue in Galata. Security had shut down the entire street and wedding guests had to show a special invitation card to the guards in order to enter. A couple of American tourists had sauntered down the street, and when they were unable to speak in Hebrew, they weren’t allowed inside. At the time, I didn’t know that this particular synagogue had been the target of terrorist attacks so I had found the heightened security excessive, but plaques inside detailed the synagogue’s unfortunate history. In 2010, I attended a concert to commemorate Gomidas, his life and music, at the Armenian church tucked away in the fish bazaar right off of Istiklal. People packed in to see the rendition of Gomidas’ liturgical music, and the concert had been such a milestone for the community that more than a few looked on through tears.

This Easter eve, the Greek Orthodox Church had its gates open and by the time we got there, it was nearly full although not as packed as Saint Antoine’s. The church was breathtakingly beautiful and ornate, and the crowd was fairly diverse with Greeks, Russians, and Georgians among others. Lucky for Nazli and I, we had her Greek friends to show us the ropes. We picked up some candles at the door and found some seats close to where the hymns were being read. Once the reading was done, the lights were turned off and everyone went to the front of the church to light their candle from the priest’s flame. Then everyone followed the priest into the courtyard to commemorate the moment of resurrection. The church bells rung loud and people enjoying their drinks up and down Istiklal were probably wondering what was going on at the church at midnight. Many people returned for the the rest of the service, but we were tired and headed home so we could get up to dye Easter eggs the following morning. Nazli and I also said a silent hallelujah that this Easter service was much more pleasant and welcoming than our last one together at the local Protestant Church in Bursa, a story for another time.


Lighting candles from the priest’s flame


In the courtyard for the moment of resurrection


Celebrating Easter at the Panagia Greek Orthodox Church



Runway show at Istanbul Fashion Week

My friend Olivia was visiting from Boston this past week and we were lucky enough to get tickets to Istanbul Fashion Week thanks to the help of my roommate. It was my first fashion show so I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was surprised to see that not everyone attending was dressed in high fashion. I know it’s not New York Fashion Week, but I expected to see more extreme outfits. Everything appeared to be on the wearable spectrum. This was lucky for me since I had come right from work in the pouring rain and didn’t feel horribly out of place.

Before the runway show, we had a chance to walk around and check out the various promotional booths  and shoot a few Ellen-style selfies in front of the Istanbul Fashion Week backdrop. When we finally entered the runaway area, I was surprised to see that it was exactly how I  pictured it based on what I’d seen in the media. We took a second row seat right next to where the models walked out – a perfect location to see the the models and garments up close.

The show we attended was Tuba Ergin‘s ‘Giga-Bites’ 2014 Fall/Winter collection. You can watch it in its entirety here. I thought the music and backdrop complemented the collection nicely, and I was happy to see relatively healthy-looking models. My favorite garment was the short black dress on the blonde model towards the end of the video clip. Although the video clip doesn’t do the dress justice, it had a really nice shape and looked great in person.


The opening of Giga-Bites


Models walk the runway


The finale

We also ran into fashion photographer friends M & F Barranco who were photographing Istanbul Fashion Week. Check out their awesome work here.

Turkey’s Hollywood at Yeşilçam Night

My introduction to Yesilcam (Turkey’s own vintage Hollywood), was probably not unlike other expats. I was first introduced to it while reading  Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. Kemal, the main character falls in love with Fusun, a distant cousin who aspires to be a Yesilcam star and whose husband is wrapped up in the industry as well. A good portion of the book centers in and around Yesilcam, and the story’s romantic plot isn’t a far cry from the melodramas of the Yesilcam screen –  more restrained and intellectual of course, but obsessive and tormenting nonetheless. As a side note, I highly recommend reading Museum of Innocence then taking a trip to the museum in Cukurcuma.

When I found out that Molly’s Cafe (a sort of mecca for expats in Istanbul) would be hosting a Yesilcam night, I gathered up a group of friends, made reservations for 8, and we all set out to search for the cafe on Friday after work. Although Molly’s is in a pretty central location, we had a hard time finding it since the GPS on our phones kept taking us to her old location closer to the Galata Tower. By the time we found the right place, it was past 7 p.m. and we were  late. Upon entering we were ushered downstairs into the makeshift screening room. Our presenter, John, had been kind enough to wait for us, and as soon as we took our spots, he started in with a history of Yesilcam – the main themes, the famous actors, how the movie posters had been designed, etc. To be honest, the beginning was a bit slow, or maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten since lunch and my tummy was starting to rumble and our friends to the right of us had arrived earlier than us and had had enough foresight to order a round of Bomonti before taking their spots, but seriously, I was having a hard time focusing. The chairs weren’t all that comfy and I started to squirm.

But then….John started screening clips from actual Yesilcam movies, and bam! I was hooked. The first clip was from Suzsuz Yaz (Dry Summer) with Hulya Kocyigit, and then Hababam Sinifi with Kemal Sunal, and last, we started to watch Selvi Boylum, Al Yazmalım (The Girl with the Red Scarf) with Turkan Soray. My oh my!  What a movie that last one is! We started from the beginning and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen. Village girl meets city boy, it’s love at first sight, she runs away with him, they have a child, he starts an affair, she leaves, and then they meet up again under unusual circumstances. The movie had been rolling for some time until I realized that it was past the scheduled end time of 9:30 p.m. John gave us a short break so we could grab some food and refreshments in order to come back down for the rest of the film. Strangely enough only our group returned for the ending –  I think the knitting circle upstairs may have drawn in a few of the Yesilcam guests, but since we were the last ones remaining, we had our own private Q&A with John whose passion for Yesilcam was infectious.

The rest of the weekend I kept watching clips from The Red Scarf on Youtube, and Gurkan kept humming the theme song. Here is a link to the final scene with English subtitles so you can get a taste of Yesilcam for yourself.



A Ramshackle Modernity

A Ramshackle Modernity – That’s the name of the NY Times book review on the newly released English translation of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s The Time Regulation Institute. I was surprised to see my Turkish Studies friends sharing this article on their Facebook newsfeeds – it seemed almost too good to be true. As I graduate student at Sabanci University, I had searched for the original English translation of Tanpinar’s Time Regulation Institute long and hard. From what I could tell, there had been an earlier translation but it hadn’t been widely circulated and most people that I talked to didn’t know it even existed. Imagine my surprise when I found out through a simple web search that it was no other than a Madison-based press (Turko-Tatar press) run by a UW-Madison professor that had put the translation out. What an irony I thought. It had been right under my nose for four years and I hadn’t had the slightest clue of its existence. Imagine my horror when I realized that the Turko-Tatar’s website hadn’t been updated since 2007, and the likeliness of every obtaining a copy seemed to fade, especially now that I was in Istanbul and living on a student’s stipend. I decided to settle for Tanpinar’s better known novel, Huzur, and ordered up a copy of it’s English translation, A Mind at Peace, from one of the large Turkish booksellers. They delivered it to my door one summer in Bursa, but that summer was unbearably hot, and I couldn’t find a cool place to sit and enjoy the novel, a novel that required quite a bit from its reader. Sadly, I set aside the book in exchange for a lighter, easier summer read. I thought my ties with Tanpinar’s work had been severed.

By the time I graduated and returned to the US, the quest for an English copy of Tanpinar’s Time Regulation Institute was a distant memory. I tucked my copy of A Mind at Peace away in my antique traveling chest, and felt a slight pang of guilt everytime it caught my eye. After all, I had given up about 3/4 the way through – rarely, do I leave a book unfinished.  I would have altogether forgotten about the other, more desired book, The Time Regulation Institute, had it not been for the recent review in the NY Times. Blindsided by the review, memories came tumbling back. I told anyone and everyone about the article and the new translation. Surprisingly, some of my Turkish friends hadn’t ever heard of the book. Most knew Tanpinar but had no idea any of his books had been translated into English. Luckily, the book’s translation had Maureen Freely’s name on it, and I knew I was in for a treat. I downloaded the book the day it was released… and now.. I am just waiting for the right time to start the first page. This one deserves the perfect timing. I’ve been waiting for almost 4 years, and I’ll wait a few more days.

Fun Fact: Kalem Agency, the company where my roommate, Nazli, works supplied the photo for the NY Times article!tanpinar