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!

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An organic farm trip with Plus Kitchen

Now that I am trying my hand at writing on food sustainability issues here in Istanbul, a lot of awesome opportunities have fallen into my lap including an invitation to join an organic farm trip. The trip was organized by Plus Kitchen – a restaurant located in Trump Towers specializing in local, organic, and all around healthy foods. We departed from Plus Kitchen early Sunday morning and found ourselves on the road headed to Beykoz about a half an hour later. Somewhere along the Beykoz road, we stopped at Demircan Restaurant where we were welcomed by Derya of Plus Kitchen. We started off the day with a magnificent village-style breakfast – warm bread, butter, creamy yogurt, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, fried eggplant, mucver (zucchini pancakes), menemen, several rounds of tea, and of course, Turkish coffee. Everything was organic and fresh, fresh, fresh. 

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Our first stop: Demircan Restaurant

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Gurkan and I enjoying our breakfast

The organic farm was located down the road so after breakfast we gathered ourselves together and started off down the path. Before making it to the farm, we stopped at a roadside stand to admire the produce. Gurkan and I couldn’t help but bag a supply of beans and tomatoes for the week. Once we arrived at the farm, our guide Beytullah Bey took us under his wing and explained the crops one by one. We started in the greenhouse-like tent where the tomatoes and cucumbers were growing. We saw rows and rows of beautiful green – soon to be red – tomatoes and cucumber plants gently grazing the ground (the cucumbers were being grown upside down!). We also learned a few tricks: Beytullah Bey told us that the flowers on the tomato plants indicate how many tomatoes will grow, and if you want one gigantic tomato, you can simply take a few of the flowers of the plant leaving only one to blossom. Similarly, we were surprised to learn that the leaves of the green tomato plant give off a green color that cannot be removed with soap and water but only by rubbing the tomato itself on your hands. Seriously, these plants are pure magic.

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Buying vegetables on the roadside

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Our guide, Beytullah Bey, explaining the secrets of the trade

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Tomato close-up. See those red ones peeking through in the background?

Outside the tent, we checked out the zucchini, eggplant, and pepper plants. The last crop was a special type of tomato plant that cannot be grown inside the tent (which does a nice job of protecting the plants from bugs). It’s also  a late bloomer scheduled for harvest in early August, and as a result, we didn’t get a chance to marvel at its fruit. As Beytullah Bey gave us a quick lesson on the best time of the day to water plants (hint: you don’t want them to burn), Gurkan asked a good deal of questions about best practices for growing fruits and vegetables. His family grows a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as pine trees in Turkey’s Black Sea region so the organic farm trip hit close to home.

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A young zucchini plant

After the tour, we headed back to Demircan Restaurant where Derya was waiting for each of us with a bag of goods from Plus Kitchen! Each bag was filled with green peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, village eggs, yogurt, fresh milk, and honey packed in vintage-looking glass jars and wrapped in lovely green Plus Kitchen hankies. In addition to the tomatoes and peppers we had picked up at the roadside stand, we knew we would be eating well (and organic!) for at least a week. Indeed, that week our veggie dishes and salads were tastier, our milk and yogurt richer, and our egg yolks more deep in color. We are the newest fans of Plus Kitchen, and we can’t wait for their new location in Kanyon to open.

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Farm-to-table with Plus Kitchen!

Plus Kitchen has a great social media presence. Check them out on Instagram and Twitter @pluskitchentr.

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Thanks #pluskitchentr!