Istanbul: chicken pudding and riots
From September 2013:
Dear George and Bea
This is my first time away since Bea was born and she is only 4 weeks old (2 weeks fashionably late) and I’ve been attending a conference in Istanbul, a new city to me as Turkey is a new country. I didnt really want to leave but at the same time was excited about visiting a place ive seen on film so many times and heard so many good things about. All friendly faces and smiles when I arrived, despite the ridiculous queues at immigration. I had some free time on my first morning and took a tram to the old city to look around the blue mosque (Sultan Ahmet) which was busy but at the same time serene. The signs ask that everyone stays quiet and it has a calm, cooling effect on the crowds. There are 1000 blue tiles in the ceiling and is pleasant, but not breath taking. I think the mosques are more effective as structures from the outside, creating one of the most dramatic skylines in the world, especially around dusk when the haze and light create a middle eastern hue. Outside the mosque a guy asked to clean my shoes. I’ve never had it done so agreed for a few lira and a chat. A nice guy that had moved to Istanbul 20 years ago and now had almost flawless English learnt from tourists, along with Spanish, Italian, Russian, etc. Not very good at cleaning shoes though.
I walked around soaking up the atmosphere but soon had to dash to meetings. This was pretty much my only free time during the day for the entire visit, but was worth the trip in itself. It’s an incredibly atmospheric city.
That evening I took myself off to find something to eat after asking hotel staff to recommend some places. Those places looked quite high end and not the experience I was looking for. Instead I carried on walking through that area and found myself at a little cafe at the side of the street. I ordered a Turkish coffee (another first) and got chatting to the waiter. I said I was looking for good, cheap Turkish food and he said look no further. 10 minutes later he brought out mashed aubergine and garlic, salad and kofte. I think it is probably the nicest thing I have ever eaten, closely followed by the tiramisu he brought out for desert. With a handshake and thank you I said goodbye and must remember to write a review online for the place, the total cost was about £10.
After the conference’s first day I headed out with some colleagues to find a restaurant near the centre of the city, Taksim square. There have been protests recently so it was no surprise to see police around, thinking this was quite normal. Then there were more police and more police and police with riot shields and gas masks…..then they started putting on their gas masks. At that point I could see protesters coming the other way and decided to get out of there. Behind me I could see the tear gas being fired and could har chanting and sirens. I ducked into a cafe and luckily the protest was driven in the other direction. My old boss was caught up in it and got gassed – not a pleasant experience.
Continuing my gastronomic journey the next night I went to the most Turkish looking kebab house I could find: garish decor and the most amazing smells. Ordered all the things I couldn’t identify on the menu just to see what would come out and got a soured yoghurt drink, a lamb kebab, and a pudding made from minced chicken and cinnamon. All delicious in a strange way. I’ll bring you guys here one day – it is worth it for the views and food alone, but the people are great too.