Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Istanbul Eats Culinary Walks: Part 2

Guys!  I left it on that silly punch post and weepy Regina Spektor and not much else, because I'm surrounded by business right now.  A few weekends ago, I was so lucky to be a part of a truly beautiful wedding that took over the sweet old mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, then I baked two crazy awesome spiced honey bundts for Rosh Hashana that I'll want to share with you, and then Yom Kippur happened, which is kind of antithetical to food blogging by nature, no?  And, yet there's still so much from Turkey!  Aaahh!  Someone needs to come up with some cutesy portmanteau to describe the constant state of blog-overhwelmedness in which I live.

In the meantime, maybe you remember Part 1 of this story of our dreamland day with Angelis and our Istanbul Eats team; here's the rest, finally! When last we left off, we were stuffing our faces with baklava.  Naturally, next was Turkish coffee, and a sad lesson about today's Istanbul.

 We went to Mandabatmaz, a thimble of a shop that has been serving nothing but Turkish coffee for decades. This stop  highlighted something very troubling going on in Istanbul.  Step out on any evening, and you'll notice that the city is alive with sidewalk culture -- every cafe, every restaurant spills out into sidewalk tables, and in centers like Taksim Square, there's hardly room to walk between people sitting at long tables outside, eating, smoking, peoplewatching, catching up with friends.  It's beautiful and fundemental to the character of Istanbul.  However, while we were there, the government had begun cracking down on sidewalk seating.  Something about permits and licenses, but Istanbulites are all pretty convinced that it's just another step towards a conservative Turkey.  It's hard to watch it happen:  I was immediately impressed by this Muslim country that has seemed to strike the perfect balance between maintaining its religious essense and leaving room for a more liberal lifestyle.  Side streets tightly packed with people breaking bread, laughing, drinking wine or coffee, were now barren.  At Mandabatmaz, the proprietor had brought in all but a fraction of their outdoor seating, and all five of us nearly had to squeeze into the tiny shop itself.  We took a chance and sat outside, and over tiny cups of strong and richly fragrant coffee, Angelis shared with us the worry that we would keep hearing from Istanbulites:  "Istanbul is a living city... and they are killing it."

Next up was Ficcin, one of three restaurants from the same owner that take up a block off Istiklal Caddesi -- the main boulevard of Istanbul's cosmopolitan center.  Once again, we sat inside, while a couple waiters kicked a ball up and down a street that used to be crowded with tables and chairs.  Ficcin's specialty is Circassian food -- the cuisine of the Caucasus Mountains.  Here we sampled a tasty Circassian chicken spread, a strangely named but delicious sea vegetable called common glasswort, and the celebrated manti -- hand-filled ravioli-like dumplings served with a yogurt sauce, and sprinkled with powdered sumac berries and dried herbs.   Yum. 

Lunch number two: Sahin Lokantasi. The hero of Istanbul Eats is the lokantasi, humble places serving a constantly changing menu of homey Turkish favorites to the working class, and this cramped, bustling spot was a prime example.  Here we got a spread of stews, vegetables, various delicious eggplant/meat combos, and more, all totally satisfying.

Our third lunch and final stop was at Akdenis Kokorec, which Angelis had warned us about.   Kokorec is a street treat made from lamb intestines and their surrounding fat.  It's slow-roasted on a rotisserie, then a portion is carved off and chopped up.  Chopped tomatoes and peppers are added along with spices, the whole mess is grilled again, and then scooped into a sandwich roll.  If you can get past the nature of what you're eating, it's got the texture and strong savory, salty flavor of a hash, Despite my being a little wigged out by what I was eating, I could see how this would hit the spot late at night.

And that was our last stop.  Painfully full, but still in great spirits, we ended our day of marathon eating as all good ones should: with hugs, heartfelt goodbyes, and lamb intestines.

Personal revelation digression:  Lately, I've been thinking a lot about a certain type of person. It's the type who has gotten past 'shoulds' that they've learned second-hand, who's explored their world for themselves, drawn their own conclusions, and ended up at an openness that allows them to get past the things they might judge -- be it a person's religion, or who a person chooses to love (as if it's a choice) -- and to instead see people with pure eyes.  They live their life honestly and with integrity, and build their path based on no one's rules but their own.  I feel myself more and more becoming one of these people, and every time an old 'should' is challenged and defeated, I have a moment of glowy happiness that sometimes brings me to tears.  Something similar happens when I realize I've met someone else like this.  A few moments after our tour ended, hugs, kisses, and email addresses exchanged, Ashley and I were walking down Istiklal Caddesi -- the main artery of cosmopolitan Istanbul.  Standing in the middle of the wide, carless boulevard, I remembered something Angelis had said when we asked him about coming to the United States.  He acknowledged a nagging 'should'.  "I may not be in the Land of Opportunity," he said, "but here in Istanbul, my soul is filled."  I beamed a little.

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