Also this summer the day I arrived at the airport because of different circumstances it was quite clear that any planning made before was going to be useless. So I let it flow… It is safe and dangerous at the same time to let it go in the city I am born and raised, full of most beautiful friends, music, food, sea, wine and raki… It might easily end up like riding a rollercoster and I guess it did, in a good way. Let me mention here some off-track moments and/or places I really enjoyed and you might want to give a try when you visit Istanbul.
Sukru Saracoglu Stadium to see my team Fenerbahce playing. This summer I spent a lot of time there and this time just to walk around. When you take the boat to cross Bosphorus and land in Kadikoy the walk through the crowded market streets to Moda is absolutely gorgeous. You don’t see a lot of tourists around and all the spice shops, second hand book stores, vintage furniture shops, fish market, old school kitchen supply stores, cafes and restaurants have a very warm local feeling that makes you think you are in a different city all of a sudden. Ciya is probably the most famous restaurant in the area and it is a perfect lunch stop. Located on Guneslibahce street Ciya is specialized in Anatolian cuisine. All the old lost or forgotten recipes from the most distant corners of Turkey are brought to life there in Chef Musa Dagdeviren's hands. I am so lucky that they were serving half portions so we could taste as many as possible. Don’t forget to leave some space for their amazing desserts. Sample plate is the way to go for that. The walk to Moda ended up in famous Moda Tea Garden with it's unbelievable view where I spent quite a lot of time when I was in college but to be honest I had a hard time to find the place. The city is changing really fast.
Turkey is the fourth top grape producing country in the world but most of our grapes are exported and consumed as table grapes and raisins and used for distilling raki. For a decade or so finally wine industry started to pick-up. It is very nice to see all the new vineyards and their different expressions on the shelves nowadays and for me to taste new wines in Turkey every year is so exciting. I am hoping to see them producing in larger quantities so they can export their wines to different countries and also lower their prices. Till then I will continue to pick one bottle at a time to bring to NY to share with friends. Since I didn’t have a lot of time this summer to walk around and spend time on wine I was asking everybody for recommendations and also trying to taste in restaurants as much as possible. The day before I leave when I went to the shop to purchase my wine of the summer I decided to get the first wine I tasted in Istanbul when I arrived three weeks ago which is “Consensus 3 Oak 2007”. It is an amazing Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend aged in French, American and European oak casks for two years. The grapes are coming from Urla and Cesme which is a beautiful region in Western Anatolia. It has all the characteristics of dry soil wines, with a long spicy finish reminding me a lot Sicilian and Lebanese wines. Like every year I also tried to find a bottle of legendary Ankara the only whisky of Turkey which is out of production for years to bring back to my friends for a tasting but didn't succeed again.
Another restaurant one of my best friends brought me to was Giritli (Cretan) in Balat. It is a Aegean sea food restaurant with a gorgeous view from the terrace. I couldn’t help going there again the following week. I have to say grilled octopus arms were one of the most amazing things I tasted this summer.
A classic stop every year for us is Kanlica. Kanlica is a small neighborhood actually an old fishing village again at the Asian side right next to Bosphorus and world famous with their yoghurt. Every day locals and tourists are coming to this place to pour powdered sugar in their yoghurts, ordering tea and silently watching the ships go by. Believe or not I was dreaming for this rituel for months. Coming back to Bebek to European side with the scheduled boats afterwards and stopping by famous Mini Dondurma (mini ice cream) to get some ice cream can be a good final touch. I still don’t have any idea how do they fit so many different flavors and two guys in that 60 sq. ft. place.
Summer in Istanbul has been always full of music. This is the city I watched Miles Davis live on stage in 1988 and decided right there to work in show business. There are concerts and festivals everywhere. Every night people are running from venue to venue to try to watch as many gigs as they can. Sometimes it feels like a weird mania you are sucked in. It was a nice feeling to spend time with friends during and after the concerts like in old days. I really enjoyed to see Massive Attack, Imogen Heap, Tony Bennett, Grace Jones, legendary Turkish songwriter Bulent Ortacgil celebrating his 40th year on stage and of course my dear friends the amazing Nekropsi.
I left IstanbuI almost eight years ago but whenever I am back it takes only a couple days to be a part of it again. Nobody allows you to feel like you have been away. I found myself again immediately drinking raki surrounded with friends, watching soccer games shouting as loud as possible, taking walks regularly among Bosphorus at nights, having tribe soup at 4AM in the morning, sipping Turkish coffee and enjoying the sun in a cafe like I was doing every summer of my life. Even the street cats act like you never left. At the end when it is time to leave everybody gives you a simple hug and says “see you next time”, so simple…
* by Bulent Ortacgil from his song Mavi Kus (Blue Bird)