Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | August 6, 2013

Adventures in Istanbul, Redux

Hello everyone! Long time, no hear, yes? If you are still interested in Turkey, me dragging my kids around Turkey, or just my general ramblings, you are in luck. I am once again returning to Istanbul, this time as a Fulbright Fellow, and I am taking the entire Nawyn-Hellinga crew with me. It seemed like a very different experience from my trip to Istanbul three years ago, so I created a new blog for it: A Year Without Bacon. Follow along there if you want to read and see pictures from our continuing saga.

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 26, 2010

Pictures of Buyukada up

If you haven’t already looked at the new page with Buyukada pictures, check them out. I’ll try to post a few more new picture pages later today.

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 25, 2010

The beauty and danger of Turkish tea

As promised, I’m going to continue to put up a few more posts and pictures of the trip, since there was too much going on and Henry required too much attention for me to devote my evenings or mornings to getting everything posted. I hope this doesn’t seem anti-climatic.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention tea on this blog, since it is such an important part Turkish culture. Sure, they have their Turkish coffee, that thick dark drink similar to Greek coffee and a burly older brother to the espresso. But tea is very special to Turks, so special that with the exception of airplanes I only had it served to me in this glass:

I asked about the glass, and why people never drank tea in ceramic cups or mugs. It was the color that was important, I was told. Turks like to be able to see the color of their tea, in part because it is beautiful and in part because practically you need to be able to see the color in order to determine if it is the right strength. You see, Turks make their tea in a double tea pot, with the tea brewing in the top tea pot above plain boiling water in the bottom pot. When you serve the tea, you pour the incredibly strong tea from the top pot first, then add plain boiling water to get it to the proper strength. Without being able to see the color, you couldn’t get the ratio of tea to water correct.

The beauty of this method is that everyone can have the tea to their desired strength. But since every Turk I met liked their tea strong, there seems to be little need for this double tea pot method. But it looks lovely on the stove, and half of the eating experience is visual, so there you go.

Now, anyone who has ever touched a glass that has just been filled with boiling water can see the problem here. Without a handle to grasp, you are bound to burn your fingers drinking this tea. What I gathered from observing my hosts for the past two weeks is that you suffer through the searing pain for the pleasure of drinking hot tea until you drink enough so that the very top of the glass starts to cool. Then you can leisurely hold the glass in your hand, rather than pick it up quickly to sip and then replace the glass to it’s saucer (which most often is cut in the shape of an upturned flower) before you lose too much skin off your fingertips. Great art often requires suffering, after all.

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 24, 2010

Hosça kal Istanbul

Henry and I left for the airport very early this morning, in case the traffic was bad. We had said most of our goodbyes the night before, and Henry found it very difficult to part with Zeynep in particular. Banu was so amazing to see us off, even though she got little sleep the night before. Other than finding nothing that Henry would eat, everything at the airport went fine. One bonus was finding Kinder Surprise at the duty free shop – they are candy eggs made with chocolate and lots of condensed milk, so that they are a more healthy than regular candy, and they are hollow with a toy inside. I had wanted to bring several back so that Henry could share them with his sister and cousins, but all the markets stopped offering them in the summer because they melt easily.

Once on the plane, I basically plugged Henry into cartoons until we landed. He slept about an hour and a half, and I slept less than an hour. After arriving at Rich’s parents (where we are staying tonight in Chicago), I promptly took a “nap” that lasted over 4 hours. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, but since I’m almost falling asleep as I type this, I think I’ll get my internal clock reset quickly.

The best part of returning home was seeing Rich and Meredith at the airport. Meredith was unexpected, as I thought Rich was going to let her nap (and who wants to bring a toddler to the airport when you might be waiting for a long time for a traveler to make it through customs?). She was so excited to see Henry and I, and she wanted to be held by me right away (I was worried that she would be so accustomed to only being with her father that she wouldn’t want to go to me right away). She kept saying, “Turkey?” and then telling me how she pooped on the potty while I was gone.

Tomorrow I’ll write something about the end of the trip, post some pictures, and tell you about my experiences with Turkish tea. There’s much to tell about Henry’s Turkish immersion experience, my time at Istanbul University, and some of the political, economic, and genomic background I learned about Turkey on my trip. For now I just want to give a big hug across the ocean to my hosts, Banu, Murat and Zeynep, to Murat’s mother who treated me so well and gave me presents to bring back to the US, to Banu’s mother who I never got to meet but gave me a present anyway, and to all the people of Istanbul who were so nice to me and Henry, even the strangers who touched Henry too much and made him feel uncomfortable.

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 22, 2010

My dinner at Ciya

I have a few precious moments before everyone wakes up and I have to get Henry ready to go to Turkish preschool. For all you foodies out there, I wanted to post something about my dinner a Ciya Sofrasi a few nights ago.

Ciya (pronounced “Chia”) first opened many years back (I think in the late 1980s) to ostensibly serve traditional Ottoman cuisine. My friends insist that it is not Ottoman, but rather indicative of a particular region whose name I cannot recall now, in Eastern Anatolia (that is the more rural part of Turkey, in the Kurdish area of the country). At any rate, it is very different from the kebab (actually spelled “kebap”) focused food in many cafes around Istanbul. The food has a lot of stews, and everything is cooked very slowly (and looks quite labor intensive). There was an article written about it in The New Yorker, which my graduate school mentor Pierrette sent to me. Ever since I read that article, I’ve been dreaming of going to this place. Apparently people will spontaneously burst into tears because the dolma remind them of something their grandmother used to make for them.  I didn’t see anyone crying the night I went, but I teared up a little just looking at all of the food.

The restaurant was almost empty inside but packed out in the street (it was a beautiful night and everyone wanted to eat outdoors). So it was easy enough to go in and look at all of the food, which you could then decide which dishes you wanted and write them down for your waiter. You pay ala cart, and they have large and small servings (we got the small servings so that we could try more dishes).  There is also a salad bar and someone who serves you, and you pay by the plate. So again, Banu and I got a spoonful of almost everything. I should also note that Ciya was not really Murat’s thing, as he prefers simple grilled meat. Since the first Ciya opened, it became so popular that the owner opened two more restaurants, all within 50 feet of each other. One serves kebaps and the other serves both kebaps and these regional stews. We went to the combo Ciya so Murat could have his grilled meat.

So, the salads: we had roasted eggplant in a tomato sauce, bulgur wheat in yogurt that was both tart but still had a sweetness from the cream, dark bitter greens cooked with just enough lemon to soften their bitterness, and other things that I cannot even remember now. The dolma were made not from grape leaves (as is traditional in most Middle Eastern cuisines, including Turkey’s) but some other sturdy dark green and stuffed with rice cooked well but still firm (mediocre dolma are mushy) and some cheese that Banu was not familiar with but was soooooooooooo good! A little salty, but again you could taste the lingering sweetness from the cream.

Then the entrees; where do I begin? Here was my favorite dish; chicken cooked with young garlic (not that generic garlic you get in the grocery but some heirloom variety, still green). The picture does not do it justice.

Other highlights were the lamb meatballs cooked with cherries, the rice with almonds and small grapes (almost like currants) wrapped in a thin dough (not quite as thin as phyllo, but close) and baked, chicken cooked in a light tomato sauce with wheat very slow and long until the chicken melted, and… well, I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it all. Here’s a picture of our table:

It’s really hard to describe the food because the flavors and even the cooking techniques were so specific to the region. There were vegetables and herbs used that I cannot get in Michigan, or probably anywhere in the U.S. Some things even Banu was not familiar with, except from her times coming to Ciya (this is one of her favorite restaurants). And the desserts were mind-blowing, not so much in their taste (although they were delicious), but in the way the food was transformed. Here’s a picture of part of the dessert case. The red things on the left are tomatoes, and the round black things on the right are walnuts.

They looked candied, but they were actually put in a limestone container and combined with water, at least that’s what Banu thought, but she wasn’t exactly sure of the process. At any rate, the transformation of the food happens chemically with lime, rather than with heat. And they were so sweet, really like dessert. They were served either with a light goat cheese (which didn’t taste as pungent as goat cheese often does, and again, the sweetness of the cream was there) or a pureed root of some sort that looked like marshmallow cream. We ordered the tomatoes, walnuts, orange peel (you can see that a bit to the left of the tomatoes), and my favorite was the pumpkin (just slices of pumpkin hull that had been “candied” with limestone) with a tahini sauce. I’m telling you, it sounds bizarre but it was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten.

And here’s the kebaps that Murat and Zeynep ate:

And here is what Henry ate:

We tried to convince him that the red drink made with sumac was cherry juice, but after one sip he was not fooled. They also served us a white cloudy drink made from melon seeds, which I thought tasted like a not-so-sweet horchata.

The meal was an amazing experience, and of course I’m angling to go again before I leave, which will have to be tonight because we leave tomorrow morning. Yikes! Can’t believe the trip is almost over. I’m a little sad of course to leave Istanbul and my dear friends, and Henry has talked about how much he will miss Zeynep. But I am really looking forward to seeing my family again, especially my daughter who has initiated potty training in my absence.

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 21, 2010

My lamest post yet

My feet hurt and I just want to go to bed. So no long post tonight. Here are the highlights of the day:

Saw Chora Church (Kariye Camii in Turkish). It’s small but just about as historically significant as the Hagia Sophia. Hardly anyone makes it out to that area, so I was proud that I did. Henry thought it was boring.

The lesson I learned from the Grand Bazaar; the bigger sucker you are, the more they like you. You know you got a good deal when they practically throw you out of their store. I like shopping on the Asian side much better. Stuff is better quality, less expensive, and you pay the price on the tag. Grand Bazaar is overrated.

On the ferry ride back to Kadikoy, Henry said, “there’s a jellyfish!” I told him that no, it was probably a plastic bag. But it was a jellyfish! We saw bunches of them. I had no idea there were jellyfish in the Bosphorus.

Ate pide tonight. Kind of a Turkish pizza. Loved it. I’m stuffed.

Ever see that stuff called Moon Sand? It’s a sand that sticks together so that you can mold it into shapes. Well, it really sticks to children, and doesn’t come off easily in the shower.

Tomorrow’s a very busy day. Henry is going to spend the day at Zeynep’s school while Banu and I meet with several people from the women’s studies program at Istanbul University. Afterwards we need to come back to Banu’s to pack. It’s our last day!

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 21, 2010

Climbing to Galata Tower

I woke up early enough this morning to catch up on some posts.

On Saturday Henry and I had the afternoon to ourselves, as Zeynep’s end-of-the-school-year program was that day and the entire Birdal and Kavakli family attended. Murat’s mother (who I’ve always liked but now that I have her next door I adore) insisted we needed to go to Taksim square, which is in Beyoglu (pronounced “bay-yoh-loo” because of a swish above the “g” that I can’t figure out how to make on my keyboard). Between Taksim square and the port at Karakoy (remember my mistaking this port with Kadikoy) is Galata Tower, which my guidebook states was built in 1348 by the Genoese but the brochure I got from the tower itself claims that it was built in 528 by Byzantine Emperor Justinianus. I’m guessing the discrepancy is from how one defines “original structure” since the tower has burned down a few times. Either way, it’s really old, like many things in Istanbul.

Banu explained the easiest way to catch the funikiler (the old-fashioned tram operated by a pulley system), and Henry and I headed to the ferry. Which by the way, is an enjoyable experience in itself and only costs 1.5 lira.

After arriving at Karakoy from Kadikoy (can you see why I would have gotten these two confused?), we found the Tunel with relative ease. After the Tunel, we should get on the funikiler. Only I couldn’t find it. So I started to ask around. And I swear people kept directing me up the hill! Now, I knew that I was not suppose to go up the hill, because the funikiler was suppose to take me up it so I wouldn’t have to climb. Long story short, we climbed up the hill without the assistance of a pulley system. Here’s a few pictures that do not come close to capturing what a steep climb it was.

Henry on the historic steps leading to Galata Tower

You can see Galata Tower between the buildings

Narrow streets lined with shops

Henry really loved Galata Tower; as soon as he saw it he asked if we could go inside. This surprised me, since on this trip he has exhibited a paralyzing fear of heights. I did have to carry him up the steep, narrow spiral staircase, but otherwise he thought it was “really cool.” There’s a small square below the tower, and they had a stage and chairs set up, so we grabbed some fresh fruit and water from a nearby market and decided to check it out. Turns out it was Spanish Day, and the Cervantes Institute (I think basically a Spanish language school) was having pubic lessons. Seriously, tons of people sat in a city square to learn Spanish! I love Istanbul. Anyway, the instructor had a group of people of all ages in front of the crowd learning how to introduce themselves and say the basic Spanish I phrases (like “me gusta cerveza” or, since it was Turkey, “me gusto kebab”). Even Henry joined in, practicing his Spanish counting skills. It was the one time since I’ve been here when I was not with Banu but I still understood what was going on.

It was getting late at this point and I wanted to get back to Kadikoy so we could have dinner at Ciya Sofrasi (that will have to be its own post), so we never made it to Taksim. Maybe on the next trip.

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 20, 2010

A Day at the Beach

It’s after 11pm and I cannot believe I am still awake. As dedicated as I am to all my readers, I would have gone to bed long ago, except I am waiting for my husband to arrive at his parents so we can Skype. It is not only Father’s Day, it is our wedding anniversary, and I feel so badly that we have not spoken yet today.

So, today was another great day. After our late night out in Kadikoy and the A-MAZ-ING dinner at Ciya Sofrasi (which I took picture of, it was so delightfully beautiful), Henry and I slept in this morning. There was some debate about how to spend the day, but we settled on our original plan to go to the Prince Islands. I really wanted to go to the beach while we were here, and while Banu’s and Murat’s preferred location (Bodrum, on the Aegean coast) was too far to travel to during this trip, Banu did take me to Buyukada (the Big Island), which is just southeast of Istanbul in the Marmara Sea. We caught the 1:30 ferry from Kadikoy, and managed to get a seat despite it being a Sunday, and therefore crowded.

Some of the beaches on the island are public, others are private. Murat’s aunt recommended a particular beach that was private. From the port you can either walk, take a horse drawn carriage (they don’t allow gas-powered cars on the island), or take a boat. Since we were going to a private beach, the beach owners provided a free boat ride from the port. After purchasing snacks, we got on the boat shuttle and after 10 minutes arrived at the beach. There really wasn’t much of a beach as I am used to thinking of it. There was no sand, but rather constructed platforms covered with astroturf, where the owners would set up large cushions or beach chairs and umbrellas for you. You entered the water off the platforms from ladders, although in one place they had piled up sand so that it was a more gradual incline into the water (better for the smaller kids).

We bought arm floaties for the kids for 10 lira a piece, put our swim suits on, and jumped in. I had bought a new swim suit back in the States for this occasion, and while I don’t like to brag, I looked pretty good in it. I didn’t look so good that I am willing to post pictures of myself in it, but it was a really nice swimsuit – just trust me on this. Now, Henry is very cautious in the water. He doesn’t like to put his face under water, but he had been showing me how well he could hold his breath, so I told him to hold his breath and then I dipped him under the water with me. As you can imagine, that went over like a lead balloon. But he was emboldened by Zeynep’s fearlessness, and he even let me swim with him out to a floating platform where they had a slide, although my the time we got out there he changed his mind about going down. But he did enjoy watching me go down the slide, and he showed some bravery going into deeper water, at least every now and then.

We stayed in the water for probably close to two hours, then showered and changed in order to catch the boat back to the port to have an early dinner. As we were pulling away from the beach, the sky behind us darkened. We could see where it was raining on the other side of the island. But the beach was so close to the port, surely we would make it back before the rain hit us. Just as we were pulling into the port, the wind started to blow hard. As we got off the boat, it started to blow really, really hard. Suddenly I was surrounded by swirling sand, and people were shrieking and running in all directions. Henry and Zeynep had fallen asleep on the boat so Banu and I were carrying them, but there was so much sand in my eyes that I couldn’t open them, so I couldn’t see where Banu was anymore. Henry was awake by this time, and I told him to keep his eyes closed as I stumbled forward, bumping into people and hoping that one of them was Banu. After several minutes of this I thought I might need to put Henry down and just take out my contacts, when Banu come over and grabbed my elbow. She led me under a tent by the water where the restaurant was just as huge rain drops started to fall. And then the sky opened up. It was crazy; tables that had not been moved inside yet were tipping over, plates were breaking in the streets, tents were blowing over. I saw a potted begonia that had been blown into the sea. It was stunning to see the storm move over the island, obscuring the city skyline. I took a couple pictures, but none of them captured the drama. And it was so, so wonderful to witness of this from the protection of a restaurant with thoroughly rinsed eyes.

Dinner was great – I didn’t enjoy it as much as Ciya, but in some ways it was more special because it was indicative of Istanbul cuisine. We had local fish and seafood, salads with local ingredients (although the sea beans came from Bodrum), and I washed it all down with raki (an anise-flavored liquer somewhat similar to grappa). I also got to try the honeydew here, which my friend Dina raved about – “the honeydew tastes like honey!” she told me. And yes, it was sweet and delicious. We ate it with a wonderful salty cheese that complimented the melon and the raki nicely.

I’d tell you more, but Rich just came online and I really, really need to talk with him today. Tomorrow is likely Chora (one of the oldest churches in Istanbul) and then shopping around Kadikoy.

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 20, 2010

Happy Father’s Day

Hi everyone, and a happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. I want to wish a very special Father’s Day to my husband and the father of my children, Richard.

I intended to write much more, but we are about to leave for the Prince Islands and we have company, so I need to socialize and then wrestle Henry away from Nickelodeon (it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t understand the dialogue) so we can make the boat. Stay tuned for stories and pictures from the Marmara Sea.

Posted by: Stephanie Nawyn | June 20, 2010

Henry gems, June 20

Mommy, after interceding in an argument between Henry and Zeynap: “Henry, Zeynap was very upset by you’re behavior.”

Henry: “I wasn’t upset by my behavior. Because my behavior wasn’t happening to me.”

Henry: “Mommy, look at this cool thing I can do! ” Henry jumps off a step about a foot high.

Mommy: “Yes Henry, that is really cool.”

Henry:”Yeah, it is. I should get some money every time I do something cool.”

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