If I have to describe Istanbul in one word, the word would be AWESOME. Pardon my simple and pitiful choice of vocabulary. Well, I can put fancy words like awe-inspiring, amazing, stunning, intensively impressive, or even magnificent, but this is my blog, written by my mediocre choice of words and simple grammar.
This post is about Istanbul (in case the title isn’t obvious enough). A lot of awesome people have been there, shared their interesting stories and showed their fantastic photos, so it is hard to write about the city without sounding like an article full of lameness and clichés among those other terrific articles about the said city. (Please remark my use of distinctive adjectives in this paragraph, I worked hard on it. Thanks).
This article was actually dedicated for the lovely city and it is supposed to give an elaborate, mind-opening and core-deep description about why you should visit this city, but unfortunately, with my level of story-telling skill (which is beyond basic), this article might sound merely like ‘hey look, I eat donner kebab in Istanbul’.
|How I look on the entire journey from Istanbul to Capadoccia; a very enthusiastic traveller with half-assed smile and a slight hint of constipation.|
As I said in the beginning, Istanbul is Awesome. It’s a divine mix of European modern world with Asian warmth (read: chaos). It’s a like a paradox where tradition sits alongside modernity. Here are what we did to enjoy the lovely city:
Getting around on foot:
The city is easy to get around and for us this is a major plus point. The city is not only well indicated; it is also offers various transport that serve you in humanly possible convenient from one point to another; chartered drivers, taxis, buses and trams, but the best way to roam around is by foot. The sidewalk is wide and well-maintained, plus there are rows of interesting shops to visit all the way.
We got an affordable and decent room right down town in Sultanahmet. This was a downright smart move. You see, downtown Istanbul is packed with touristic points (historical landmarks, shops and whatnot), we literally followed the tourist map guide we found on the hotel lobby and visit every touristic points and more by foot!
Have a bite of everything there is:
First day of arrival, we got our taste buds straight on baklava and donner kebab so we could tell the world that we ate THE REAL baklava and donner kebab, and move on with our life.
Turkish cuisine awesomeness starts on the very first meal of the day; their breakfast. If you stay at a hotel that serves breakfast, you will find this elaborate table full of goodness; types of cheeses, olives, dried fruits, and sausages. My favorite part of Turkish breakfast is their scrambled egg called Menemen. It’s the champion of scrambled egg world. It consists of soft and juicy scrambled egg, tomatoes, onion, spices, and pepper. So flavorful. I loved it so much I went into the hotel kitchen and ask the chef what was in it. The chef was very sweet, instead of being snobby and secretive about the recipe, he actually told me what to put in and how to cook it. He even taught me to go to the local market and ask for the Menemen spice mix. I did get a bag of Menemen spices to bring home.
|Okay, this photo didn't do justice for the real Turkish breakfast :(|
PS: you should also try what they do with aubergines. I have never had cooked aubergine that good before!
|Look at that kebab dripping fat of goodness!|
Turkish cuisine is also big on desserts. They have 101 type of baklavas and Turkish delights (Lokum), the classic and world known Turkish sweets. Another awesome dessert we had was Kunefe, it’s a dessert served hot (freshly cooked) made of angel hair, cheese, sugar syrup, and a sprinkle of pistachio powder. This dessert can only be found at restaurants. Its crunchy yet sticky, the creamy and salty taste of the cheese they put mix with the sweet sugar syrup was just divine!
Oh and their ice cream (dondurma)!! The texture is very unique, its sticky, chewy (chewy ice cream, how is that even possible??), stretchy and it doesn’t melt fast. I have been told that this is because the mastic and salep (whatever exactly those are) thickening agents they use in the making. This is also the reason why the ice-cream guy churns the ice cream from time to time to keep it workable (not harden), and also to attracts naïve tourist with sweet tooth for ice cream to have a taste, or two, or five. And that naïve tourist could be me. Could. Not necessarily me. Only could.
I also noticed that snack street vendors were everywhere which was awesome. To name the least: simit (sesame bagel), best served with a dollop of Nutella, misir (boiled corn), kastane (grilled chestnut).
Street food seems like a part of the culture in this city, you can find at least one street vendor in less than a kilometer. They display their cooking technique as part of the attraction. The streets were almost always filled with tantalizing smell of good food. We walked through the back alleys of Istanbul and found the hidden gems; the eateries where local people go to eat and hangout. This is the best place to get the real local food (with local price too!). Check out our roundup on Istanbul street food article!
Take a gulp or two of the local drinks:
We have heard about the world known Turkish tea. There’s long and interesting history behind Turkish tea, its part of their culture, symbol of Turkish hospitality and friendliness. You can found it served in tulip-shaped glass every-single-where, but best place to have it s at the tea gardens or outdoor café. I got hooked to it on my first sip. Somehow it just perfect on a hot day when the sun is searing hot, roasting my skin with its delicious ray. I bought 1 kg of the said tea home, but somehow it just doesn’t taste the same when I brew it myself at home. Perhaps there is hidden technique to it. Turkish apple tea was also apparently famous. I personally can’t enjoy it. It tasted too chemical, but then again I am a bit picky when it comes to tea. I like my tea taste nothing but brewed leaf.
Turkish coffee is the real deal. Locals enjoy their coffee just like Italians enjoy their espresso – it’s a cultural thing. Turkish coffee is traditionally prepared in copper cup (we got it for cheap at the bazaar) – a small cup serves as Turkish coffee pot with a long handle. I am sure the way its prepared is their trademark as Turkish coffee.
Ayran. Okay, this particular drink is one thing I find it hard to love. It tasted like salty super-diluted yogurt. I did try my best to actually enjoy it but I just couldn’t. I had it at a restaurant, in a cup from the grocery store, to the one fresh from the Ayran maker. Yet still, this one is just not for me. I think it’s an acquired taste, like vegemite and durian. Either you like it or you don’t.
Another simple drink we had was their fresh watermelon, pomegranate, and orange juices. You can find these fresh juice carts almost every corner. I don’t know how they harvest their said fruits, but those fruits make the freshest, most thirst-quencher juices I have ever had, and it was so cheap (about a dollar or two, depends how touristic the place is). You cannot get any fresher nor more natural than how they prepare the juice; they simply squeeze the juice out from the fruits before your eyes with this manual metal presser, et voila, no water or sugar added. Super refreshing. I couldn’t get enough of this juice. Literally.
Another iconic Turkish drink is Raki, anise seed flavored alcohol. This is unofficial national alcoholic drink of turkey with 45% of alcohol. Mostly Raki served mixed with water and ice, the water clouds it to a milky white appearance, it does remind me a lot of French Pastis. Similar way of serving, strong flavor of liquorice, and it turns whitish when you add water. Raki is also popular by the name of Aslan Sutu or Lion’s Milk. Does lion’s milk taste like liquorice?
Travel back in times by visiting the landmarks:
There are classic historical landmarks that have become Istanbul’s jewels for centuries, such as Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Roman Hippodrome, and the Suleymaniye Mosque. You can read about it on every travel article on Istanbul. There are good reasons why these landmarks have become so iconic; its all hand-made from centuries ago and there is always a remarkable history behind every building.
You see, in my mind, the past must have been looked like simple, always in sepia and mute (the past had no sound whatsoever). I guess I was wrong, judging by these awesome landmarks, the civilization (at least the one in Turkey) from centuries ago was actually already very developed and had an amazing taste on art.
Some of you might cringe when I say that we took a guided tour to these historic buildings. If you think those buildings are awesome, it will just get more awesome when you know the history behind it, how its made, why its made, etc. Of course we can all read it in books of internet, but we preferred to have some one tells us the story like a lullaby while we are enjoying the sight (and take selfies).
One thing that got me addicted to visiting new places is that I like the feeling of being lost; not knowing whats happening, not understanding of whats going on around, and totally has no control of what might happen next. Somehow the local took all these perks away from me with their warmth. They are super friendly. They are very laid-back and seems to embrace each sunrise with smile.
Let me tell you a baffling fact about the locals: they are all good looking!! Well, perhaps not everyone was born that way but surely every one take care of themselves properly. From the people of the street to the business champs, they are all clean looking. Neat clothings, neat hairdo. Mind you, not everyone is dandy and overdressed, but they just seemed to make sure that they are presentable at every day. They are all proud of themselves, in a good way. I love this attitude.
|Genuinely fake watches stall, perfect shop to haul souvenirs for your loved ones at home|
There are endless rows of shops, but the most iconic places to shop are at the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. After a full day of going in an out of shops (without necessarily buying anything), I realized those shops mostly sell the same stuff with different range of prices. The sellers are persistent and very persuasive, they will give you this sweet and friendly smile at you to visit their shop and you will sweet-smile back and politely refuse, and before you know it, you will find your self in the middle of sweet-smile mano a mano.