Posts Tagged With: Istanbul

A Trip to the Asia Side: Uskudar

Took the ferry boat from Eminonu pier to Uskudar. I was surprised how big and nice the ferry was. There were two large air-conditioned cabins with nice cushioned seats and an open upper deck with wooden benches where I stayed.

The 12:30 trip didnt have too many passengers. I boarded the ferry just as it was about to pull-out and there were still empty seats at the often full upper deck. The ferry was definitely much better than the one we boarded for the Bosphorous tour a few days back. The 15-minute trip across the strait was very relaxing. The weather was just right.

It had been showering in the morning the past few days but the sky was clear today.

Disembarked the ferry and headed to the two mosques just across.

It was time for Friday prayers and the mosques were filled with men doing their Friday obligations.

Outside the prayer hall, women waited. It was atmospheric just sitting in one of the wooden benches and listening to the Imam’s voice blaring out of the speakers.

Had a soup break at an outdoor cafe just outside the mosque. The soup for the day was a creamy rice and vegetable chowder which had a strong minty flavor — a taste I have gotten quite used to since having an oily meat soup in Baku.

Nearby was a narrow cobbled street lined with fish shops and restaurants, spice shops, and a stall selling fried sweets.

Snacks of fried dough.

This fried dough drenched in honey is called citir halka (2.50 lira). It’s delicious and every bite sends honey drooling down your chin. Definitely not for those watching their sugar intake.

Unlike the European side of Istanbul, Uskudar has a more local feel.

This used to be a bath house designed by the famous architect, Sinan. It has been restored to house shops, a cafe, and a restaurant.

How to get there from Taksim

1. Take the Taksim – Kabatas funicular. Upon arrival in Kabatas, follow the sign that points to the Taksim tram stop. Go up the stairs and you’ll find yourself at the Kabatas tram station. This is the last stop of the tram.

2. Ride the tram to Eminonu.

3. Exit the Eminonu tram ststion and cross the road. You’ll see the ferry station to Uskandar. Use yoir Istanbulkart to pay.

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Turkish Eats: More than Kebabs

Cuisine this side of the world is familiar to my palette and something I have always enjoyed. Fresh salads, tasty grilled meats, flavorful rice, and a variety of mezzes make for an exciting culinary thrill. Of course, the breads and the sweets are in a class of their own and deserve their own blog.

Here are my own Turkish delights (not referring to the sweet):

Bread, bread, bread and more bread. Just like in Azerbaijan whose cuisine is very similar to Turkey’s, bread is sacred in the Turkish table.

Breads are everywhere.

Where lots of people are such as squares, you’ll never fail to see these carts with freshly-baked simit, soft round bread with sesame.

Order a meal and you get bread.

Even at fastfoods. there are piles of bread by the cashier. Complimentary, of course. For a budget traveller keen on carbs, you can skip the pilav and just have free bread.

I think the only time you don’t get bread is when you order a sandwhich or a roll. Imagine having bread to complement your sandwhich?

The breads are really delicious and baked fresh. Makes me wonder though what happens to all the leftover breads that people don’t eat? I’m guilty myself for not finishing my bread as I’m just so stuffed.

With a culture so in love with bread, it’s no surprise that meals or snacks made with bread would be popular. This Turkish “pizza” called pide is perfect if you’re caught between a real meal and a sandwhich. A crust boat-shaped flat dough is stuffed with a variety of filling such as cheese, egg, meats, vegetables, then baked in an oven. It’s very filling and quite cheap. Have it with some pickled green chiles.

This is pide with cheese, ground meat, and egg.

This is just cheese and egg.

Lahmacun is also like pizza. Thin flat dough is topped with minced meat, onions, and tomatoes and baked in an oven. Squeeze some lemon over it, slice some grilled chile, roll-it up, take a bite, and weep for its deliciousness. but the dough is thin and flat. Perhaps, this is where Western restos got the idea for those fancy rolled-up pizzas?

It’s not bread but more of a pastry. Borek is love! Layers of thin phyllo sheets filled with either cheese, spinach, ground meat, or a combination of those. Stumbled on Pesrevzade, a nice small cafe at Fatih which serves delicious borek. The one pictured below only costs 10 lira (roughly Php 112).

You can also just have it plain with confectioner sugar dusted on it.

Kebabs are probably the most iconic of all the meats to all non-Turkish including myself. The ground meat grilled in sword-like flat skewers are always tasty thanks to the variety of spices mixed in. It’s still a toss-up on whether I prefer it with pilav (rice) or durum (flat bread).

One of my favorite meals is tandir where grilled meat, usually lamb, is served atop very flavorful pilav.

This particular eatery at Fatih with outdoor seating had such wonderful pilav I had to close my eyes taking a spoonful so I could really relish it.

Talking about pilav, the Turkic’s take on rice is just wonderful. Lovely basmati rice that’s aromatically flavorful. Sorry, bulgur but I’m not too fond of you.

Pilav with a hint of cinnamon.

The Turkish really know how to grill meats. This grilled chicken ordered at at fastfood in Taksim was so tender and had the right salty and smoky flavor. With pilav and a small bottle of sprite, it only cost 15 lira!

Had this meal of green bell peppers stuffed with rice and meat, chicken with vegetables and mushrooms, pilav, and a small bottle of Sprite for only 20 lira!

Istikal Caddesi in Beyoglu has such wonderful eateries where there’s a wide variety of freshly-cooked food to choose from.

Servings are generous and the prices are reasonable.

This is a kind of beef stew with vegetables and topped with mashed potatoes.

This is a large ground beef patty (kofte) with mashed potatoes.

Stuffed green pepper, chicken with mushrooms and vegetables, pilav for about Php 200 only!

Kofte (meatballs) with potatoes and carrots and a think crepe stuffed with chicken and vegetables.

Meatball (kofte) and eggplant.

Baked pasta.

Accompanying these meals are side dishes called mezze such as vegetables, olives, and a whole lot more.

I enjoyed eating my way around Istanbul. Whatever I chose to eat always turned-out delicious.

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Luxury at the Cagaloglu Hamami

After my pleasant hamam experience at the Baku Old City, I was ready for more and Istanbul is the place for it. After all, Turkey = Turkish bath.

There are a few distinct hamam at the Sultanahamet area being the old district of Istanbul. Galatasaray, Sultanhayime, AyaSofya, and Cemberlitas are just a few.

I chose Cagaloglu Hamami as it was just 10 minutes walk up hill from our hotel in Sultanahamet. I was supposed to head to another, cheaper one, but two recent reviews at TripAdvisor mentioned being robbed of their stuff at the lockers. I didn’t want to take the risk. Cagaloglu had excellent reviews that mentioned how clean it was and how pleasant the staff were (the other hamam had rude staff as reviewed by others).

The hamami is one of the oldest in Istanbul having been built in 1741 and have just been renovated. According to its pamphlet, Franz Liszt was believed to have visited! Perhaps, to unwind after a concert?

I descended the marble to steps to the entrance hall where a friendly English-speaking male receptionist explained the prices to me. Behind him was the lounging area and the private changing cabins which I mistook for massage rooms (how naive of me).

I would have wanted to have the grandiose-sounding Ottoman Luxury Service, a 2- hour treatment that includes a 45-m aromatherapy massage; but at 120 Euros, it was waaay off my budget. I got the Istanbul Dream (50 Euros) instead which was a 15-minute hot room rest followed by a 10-minute scrub and finished with a 20-minute bubble bath.

I was led to my small private cabin by my kese (scrubber) where I put on my pestemel and rubber slippers.

He then led me to the toilet then to the baths, a large mable room dominated by the large marble plinth where the scrubbing takes place. We walked past the plinth and into the steam room where a dad and his son, Europeans, were “steaming.” A few minutes later, they were called by their kese for their scrubbing. Mine soon came after and I was led to the marble plinth. I then had the most wonderful scrub and bath. What made it even better was it included a msssage that no matter how brief, hit all the right points on my back and my legs. The best part was yet to come. When he released the bubble “bag.” An enormous cloud of bubbles exploded on my body and it felt so good as it cascaded down. I never knew bubbles could caress. Staring up at the domed star ceiling, it felt like I had gone to bubble heaven. I love oil massages but getting massaged with soap suds is even better. My kese had very good hands and it really felt like he knew what he was doing and doing it so well. I could cry from pleasure.

More water splashes then he led me to one of the marble water basins and doused me with water. He then led me out to a room where I was given a new pestemel and a towel. I gestured to him that I wanted to use the baths some more. I went back in and stayed in one of the coves just enjoying the heat and the water. Two other people (another father and son pair) came in and had a scrub. After half an hour, I felt I had enough so I went to the changing area. I didn’t see my kese but I saw a new pestemal and two towels on the marble bench. I changed into the new pestemal just as an attendant came in, draped the large towel over my shoulders then covered my head with a smaller towel, wrapping its ends together at the back of my hand like an Arabian head gear. I felt like I was ready to conquer the world. He then led me back to the entrance hall where I was served hot tea, juice, and turkish delight.

I rested a bit on the narrow bed at my cabin before heading out.

I really enjoyed my stay at the baths. It was clean and I like having that private cabin. I wonder how long you could stay? Perhaps, sleep at the cabin then go back to the baths again. I could easily have spent half a day there.

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From Baku to Istanbul

We arrived from Baku at past 8 am. The immigration lines were quite long in spite of many open counters for foreigners. Fortunately, the one manning the lines beckoned to me and a few others behind to an empty counter for Turks. The officer didn’t seem too happy about it as he was busy fiddling on his phone. He perused my passport for quite a bit of time, holding-up the page with my visa up to the light, most probably checking the hologram. He even did the same to my Azerbaijan visa. I just stood quietly but in my mind was like, “what the hell?” He finally stamped me in. Whew!

Collected our luggages and went out to the arrivals area. Our hotel didn’t answer my email asking for a hotel transfer so we were at the mercy of dozens of counters offering transportation. We went to the counter that was the least aggressive and paid USD 25 to bring us to Gulhane Corner Hotel at Sultanahmet.

After the peace and quiet of Baku, Istanbul came as a shock. The Sultanahmet area was choking with traffic as cars, people, and trams competed for space in its narrow streets. Our driver parked the car, took out our luggage and walked us down a side street to our hotel. It was too early to check-in so we just left our luggage. We headed down the street and stumbled on a branch of Golluogloo which my sister highly recommended for bakhlava.

Very good, indeed, especially when served with ice cream and thick Turkish coffee.

Our initial introduction to Turkey was via our taste buds! I’ve always loved bakhlava and finally I got to eat it at its home ground.

The guy manning the store was extremely friendly and chatty and said he wanted to go to the beaches in the Philippines. He was also nice enough to book tickets for us at the Hodjapashah for the 7pm “show” featuring Dervish spinning.

Spent the rest of the morning at the Topkapi Palace which was full of people being a weekend.

TIP: Buy the Museum Pass (125 TL) at the Archaeology Museum where there’s a shorter line. It’s enroute to the palace anyway.

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