|Chestnut seller by Gallata bridge, Istanbul|
|Ferry ride to Kadikoy|
|Glorious Hagia Sofia|
You see, to me, Istanbul is the perfect vacation site. First off, its the Puta Madre of all cities. Thousands of years old, geographically sprawling, and filled with millions of different types of people, its the combination of the Big Apple and ancient Babylon. Dazzling architectural gems like the Blue Mosque or Gallata tower lurk behind every corner, and the bubbling domes have the effect of looking at once close and far away, creating a 3-D effect as you ferry along the sea. Its a bit surreal. Alongside the ancient and mystical are thousands of shouting food cart owners, hustlers pushing everything from prayer rugs to flying bird toys to Adidas tennies, and normal Istanbulus in commute.
At the same time as the sensory overload, it is possible to enjoy moments of breathtaking views and silence from almost any corner of the city. Just go near the water, or up a hill, and you are certain to find a little cafe with hookahs and tea where you can bask in the sunshine and the Golden Horn. Or escape to a Hamam (like we did) and sweat out your sins under a star-etched ceiling, followed by a fresh orange juice and a manicure.
But I haven't even mentioned the food. In my opinion, Istanbul is extremely accommodating to vegans and vegetarians. Street vendors pimp fire roasted chestnuts and corn, sugary rock candy, fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, sweet tea and (vegetarian) Simits, the Turkish bagel. Restaurants tend to be meat-oriented for mains, but offer countless small plates with delicious vegan vegetable preparations. For instance, peppers and eggplants stuffed with bulgur or fragrant rice, lentil soup, roasted vegetable kebabs, simple salads topped with pomegranate seeds, and "kumpir" (baked potatoes topped with your choice of different sauces and veggies.) No matter what, the emphasis in Turkish cooking is simply, correctly prepared fresh ingredients with a minimum of sauces or seasonings. Rather than complicated techniques or recipes, they rely on mixes of cooked and fresh ingredients to create texture and layers. For instance, adding fresh herbs, fresh fruit, or chopped onions to top a cooked dish.
I was definitely inspired by the many delicious meals we had to make a new year's resolution: cook more in the Turkish style. The first meal I tried when we got back was the following.
Scored, broiled eggplant with a spice mix of cinnamon, cumin, and paprika, rice with garlic, onions and carrots, and salad with french lentils and pomegranate seeds. Not exactly Turkish, but definitely delicious.
Aside from a new-found obsession with Turkish food, I took something else home with me from Istanbul: a new fiance! S. asked me to marry him and I've accepted.... crazy, right? I can hardly believe it myself.
Hope you all had an equally great holiday season! Now, on to an exciting 2012....