Turkish Delight

Chestnut seller by Gallata bridge, Istanbul

Ferry ride to Kadikoy
Glorious Hagia Sofia
Oh, Istanbul, there's really no reason ever to leave, but its January, vacation is over, and its time to get back to work. After an enchilada and Thai-food-filled Christmas back in the states, I headed back to Europe to go on a week's visit to Turkey with my boyfriend S. I was so absolutely enthralled, for the second time, that I think Turkey should hire me as touristic ambassador to the world.

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.

But I am very happy. Even if this does mean two weddings, and months of obsessing about how to make a perfect vegan wedding cake. (I apologize in advance.)

Hope you all had an equally great holiday season! Now, on to an exciting 2012....


The Preppy Vegan said...

Wow...this really WAS the perfect vacation! Congratulations!

And Turkish food sounds absolutely amazing...your picture of broiled eggplant had my mouth watering!

Anonymous said...

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jessy said...

squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! congrats to you both, T! so awesome on your engagement, my friend! MEGAyay!

Michelle said...

Ohh!! Such a happy and yummy post! Super-congrats on the engagement!

Bliss Doubt said...

Adventure AND romance in Istanbul, lucky you. Congratulations T.

Tea and Sympatico said...

I've always wanted to go to Istanbul and now I do even more - they should give you a job as an ambassador! and congratulations on your engagement

Anonymous said...

I am Turkish and am from Istanbul and loved your description of my city.. Next time if you go to Istanbul please try Anatolian side too and if you go in summer south part of Turkey is divine with absolutely beautiful resorts.. The general diet aside from meat dishes are very Mediterranean olive oil plain yoghurt veggies fruit dominated dessert kindda stuff... :-)