Thursday, August 31, 2006

Selim Sesler at Badehane

Selim Sesler, once described as the "John Coltrane of Turkish Clarinet" plays at the Badehane Cafe ın Tünel Square every Wednsday night. Selim plays on a G Albert system clarinet, a unıquely Turkısh clarinet which really wails... you simply can't scream like this on a regular classical Boehm system Bb clarinet. I'd love to pick one up but I have to have pity on those that would have to listen to me learning it. I'm a fiddler, fercrissakes. Selım had been touring in the US for the last few weeks, so this was the big night for hungry fans. We weren't dissapointed - he had the whole club up and dancing.

While a lot of Turkish clarinetists strive to fuse the traditional sound with modern forms like jazz and DJ-mixes (file under "crap") Sesler has become remarkably successful by simply playing amazing music in the old traditional calga aesthetic. His CD on the Kalan label "The Road To Keşan" (available on the Traditional Crossroads label in the US) is a must have.

Sesler also worked with the Canadian singer Brenna Mcrimmon on her CD Karşilama, which is another incredible production - Brenna sings in fluent Turkish to the extent of singing in dialect, and this CD is played everywhere in Turkey - resturants, pubs, street vendors - on the basis that it is simply great music, with most people not realizing that it isn't a Turkish singer working with Selim.

And why not: the view from down the block by the Galata Bridge.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Forget Wheaties. Forget Cream of Wheat. Forget a Proper English Fry-up. Forget croissant. The breakfast of the future is here. Now.


You may know it only as some form of "spinach pie" obtained at your local Greek deli, but there is a wide spectrum of savory pastry ruling the post Ottoman world known as börek. Börek is the Breakfast Food That God Eats. Börek is transcendant. Börek is cheap. Börek is good for you.

Thıs was breakfast: potato börek and su börek, about US$1 each, with a pogça pastry (about 30 US cents.) Glass of tea, ayran yoghurt drink.

To make börek, you take sheets of yufka (AKA philo dough, although yufka is usually bought fresh from a Yufkaci, a "yufka provider" shop in the neighborhood) and fill it with ground lamb meat, spinach, cheese, or potatoes. Su Börek, or "water borek" is wet börek, in which the sheets of yufka have first been soaked in water. The result is something like lasagna without the tomato sause, served either salty (cheese) or sweet (cheese dusted with sugar.)

Today I found the Börek Shop Run by Women. This is a rare first. Börek is usually "manly shop food" served by moustached guys from Kurdistan. It was located next to a börek shop run by men in a hardcore working market district. Of course, the Men's börek shop was sold out by 11 AM. The Woman's börek shop was packed with fresh börek. . Tommorow I will see if this is because the Men's börek shop had better börek. This was breakfast

Jewish Istanbul

Turkey is home to over 25,000 Jews, and Istanbul is the main center with 16 functioning Synagogues and social services. The neighborhood below us, Karaköy, was named after the medeival community of Karaim located there since Byzantine times. Today the Karaim number only about 70, have a small Synagogue out in the Hasköy district, and are tending to intermarry into the general Jewish population of Istanbul. from Wikipedia:

"A great influx of Jews into Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, however, occurred during the reign of Mehmed's successor, Beyazid II (1481-1512), after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal. The sultan recognized the advantage to his country of this accession of wealth and industry, and bade the Spanish fugitives welcome, issuing orders to his provincial governors to receive them hospitably. The sultan is said to have exclaimed thus at the Spanish monarch's lack of wisdom: "Ye call Ferdinand a wise king — he who makes his land poor and ours rich!" The Jews supplied a need in the Ottoman empire: the Muslim Turks were good soldiers, but they were largely uninterested in business enterprises due to Islamic limitations on commercial dealings; and accordingly left commercial occupations to members of minority religions. They also distrusted their Christian subjects, however, on account of their sympathies with foreign powers; hence the Jews, who had no such sympathies, soon became the business agents of the country"

Just up the hill from Karaköy is the Kule district, the area around the Galata tower whichformed the traditional Ladino speaking Jewish area until recently. There are still a lot of small shuls in the area, although the majority if Istanbul Jews live out in the richer suburbs of Şişli, Hasköy, and Nisantaşi. This is the Askenazic "Schneidertempl" synagoge around the corner from us, now remade as an arts center.

Hidden in an alleyway in the hardware market near Tünel is the Jewish museum. It's nearly impossible to find, until you wonder why there should be security gates in an alley just beyond a garden hose shop and a tea shop. The exhibits are excellent, and the interior is preserved in a respectful way that melds the original religious space ınto its present function as a museum.

The museum features an historical overview of Turkish Jews in the main gallery, housing the old synagogue, with an ethographic collection on the lower level. The museum gift and bookshop had the most extensive collection of contemporary Ladino books I have ever seen - poetry, history, folkloric studies, classics - and also sold the Turkish Jewish newspaper, which features one page in Ladno. I asked the young woman working there about the status of Ladino. The older people still speak it, and often sing in it, whicle the younger generation overwhelmingly tend to take Spanish as a language course in school as a stand-in for Ladino.

And although not well known, over in Eminonu, behind the toy market near Rustem Pasha Mosque, there is the Levi Kosher Meat Restaurant.

"Döner Kebab Central" Taxim Square

Taxim Square in Beyoğlu is the main bus and metro terminus for the northern side of Istanbul. It's the nightlife center of Istanbul and as soon as you go from the square to Istikklal Çaddesi there is the world's biggest Döner Kebab conglomeration. About twenty Döner Kebab stands one after another all offering the same thing - extremely good, cheap döner sandwiches for about US $1.50

Typically, the cheapest is a "durum" for 75 cents... wrapped in a flat "durum" bread.

Other variations are döner wrapped in thick lavash flat bread, döner served in a pide loaf, the ever popular "yarim ekmek" served in a half loaf of french bread, or a "porsiyon" i.e. "potion" served on a late with salad, bulgur pilaf, and bread.

An amazing amount of döner kebab gets sold here throughout the day to commuters, party goers, and anybody who needs a quick meat pick me up. my son, Aron loves döner kebab in Budapest, but it isn't anything like the original. If I can sneak it on the plane home, I'll bring you one, Aron... just joking.

The word döner comes from the Turkish verb "to revolve, turn" - hence the Greek version known as a "Gyro." In the late 19th century a kebab chef in Bursa named Mehmet Işkender developed a new kebab grilling technique by standing a charcoal grill on it's side, and suspending slices of meat vertically on a skewer. Thus, the döner was born. Nowadays "Işkender kebap" tends to refer to döner meat sliced thick and served on a pide bread covered in a tomato and yoghurt sauce. The Işkender family maintains a chain of "Original Işkender kebap" joints around Turkey, each graced with a portrait of the founder:

Monday, August 28, 2006

Istanbul: Grand Bazaar

Our wifi connection has been slow and unsteady lately, so I have been slow updating. Just a few pictures of shopping madness at the Grand Bazaar (AKA the Covered Bazaar) in central Istanbul at Beyazit. This is the Mother Of All Shopping Malls, the central consumer market of the Ottoman Empire. NOTE: Nothing at all was bought during the taking of these pictures!

Ringing the bazaar are dozens of hans, which house the associations of merchants from various trades and regions. They are a combination of warehouse, hotel, insurance company and religious brotherhood all rolled into one, and have existed for hundreds of years.

This is the han of the central Asian rug and textile sellers.

Fumie with our latest kebab shop discovery (US$ 2.50 a lunch. Around the corner from us in Karaköy.)

And wandering around Kadiköy on the Asian side of Istanbul we found some great music in a fish resturant bar. All the fish bars attract Gypsy çalga musicians.

The other night we went to visit a meyhane near Taxim to take pictures for fumie's job. Meyhanes are resturants that specialize in long set dinners featuring about three hours of serial appetizers called meze, which are acommpaniied by glasses of strong raki and a band playing fasil, light classical Istanbul songs, to which everybody sings along. There was a wedding reception going on, but nobody seemed put out by our sudden visit.

Friday, August 25, 2006

My Brother still likes "Forts and stuff."

I'm just about to run out for a nice köfte lunch down the street. Istanbul köfte have an airy texture hat I have never been able to match when cooking at home using ground beef. It turns out that the meat for köfte is ground extremely fine, and bread is often added as a binder. Since you can't get a decent hambrger east of Brooklyn, this is what will have to substitute for the time being. My favorite köfteçi ("provider of kofte") is up the street at Tünel square, a place our friend Helen introduced us to last year.

My personal favorite is the inegol köfte, which are small and beefy, but there are lots of different types of finger shaped hamburger fingers for sale on virtually every street corner.

Brother Ron writes that he always wanted to visit Istanbul because of
a) the food, and

b) "forts and stuff "

Now, Ron Cohen is a 45 year old professional chef, a successful designer of restaurants, and a master of Northern Italian and continental cuisine. He may well be the most respected chef in the Silicon Valley. But I am pretty sure that, late at night after the staff goes home, he and a couple of Mexican kitchen workers take out some of those cardboard boxes used to ship prime jumbo lobsters and artisanal beef imported from France, set them up in the parking lot and play "forts." So Ron, these are for you. First, my nabe, known as the Kule, or Tower district, because of the Galata tower located up my street.

Next stop, Rumeli hisar, one of two forts built by the Ottomans during the siege of Constantinople in 1453 to cut off supplies coming down from the black sea.

Just down my street in Karaköy is a street full of buildings dating from the Genoese colony that founded the neighborhood in the 14th century. These aren't historical monuments, these are still buildings in daily use.

The Tekfur Sarayı, located near the Kariye Church by Edirnekapı, is the only surviving Byzantine palace. By the thirteenth century Constantinople had become a pretty unlivable city - fires, plagues, and garbage caused the Emporer to move his palace out to a more rural area by the city walls.

And to close today's post, the obligatory baklava (actually pistachio kadaif) porno shot. These are possibly the most sinful dessert on earth when served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This is the single reson why I did the Atkins diet for four months prior to coming here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bits of Byzantium.

The Fatih Siirt Market is located just behind the old Byzantine water aqueduct, which runs across Ataturk Bulevard Between Aksaray and Unkapanı districts. Wherever you go in Istanbul you can find bits of old Byzantium laying around. Old churches were converted into mosques, bits of palaces morphed into workshops or storehouses, some retaining wall incorporated into an apartment foundation. Here is the Aqueduct - which now provides shade for a tea garden behind the market.

Of course, Osman Buryançi is not the only lamb paradise in the Fatih market. There is this place, also good - they serve big flat lavash bread and also lamb stews.

And this one, which i haven't tried yet (we hit this market for lunch every time we come to Istanbul.)

The sign advertises an "Aile Salonu" - a room upstairs for women, families, or mixed seating. Downstairs seating is really for men. Fatih is one of the most conservative Sunni Muslim districts in Istanbul. More women in scarves, a lot of them in black burkas, and men dressed in long coats and wearing skullcaps. Photographers - and tourists - are not common here but Fumie didn't have any problem working. One woman wearing an ankle length coat and scarf approached us and asked if we were journalists. she also was a photographer, she said in perfect English, but it was always difficult to take pictures in Fatih. She said it was probably easier for us since we looked like foreigners. And even conservative Muslims here are still Turks, and their inate graciousness prevents them from hollering at the foreign photographers, which would be normal procedure in East Europe. This is the Çarşamba Pazar (Wednsday Market) in Fatih - a huge food and clothing market that stretches for about a mile.

After the Market we walked down the hill to the Fener district. Fener used to be one of the main Greek districts of Istanbul, until the anti-Greek riots in 1955 caused the majority of Istanbul's Greeks to emigrate to Greece. Istanbul had 100,000 Greeks in 1955. Today less than 5,000 remain here, mostly elderly people in the Beyoğlu district. The empty real estate they left behind was often occupied by poor internal immigrants from Kurdistan and eastern Turkey.

Fener District is the original home of the Phanariote rulers of Romania and Moldavia - Christian Greeks sent to the Ottoman provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia to rule on behalf of the Sultan in the 18th century.

Walking further west of Fener, you reach Balat, which was one of the original old Jewish neighborhoods. Although the Achrida Synagogue is still here, almost no Jews remain in this district - they mostly moved to Hasköy and then to Şişli and Nisantaşı after the second world war. All though Balat and Fener you can find discraded bits of Byzantium laying around. Here is a bit of the Blachernae Palace, which housed the last Byzantine Emporers.

There's nothing like a car repair shop built using the wall structure of the last Byzantine palace:

In Karaköy, just below our hotel, is the hardware market - screwdrives, pliers, lawn mowers, water hoses. the main warehouse are is located in what appears to be an older Byzantine ruin - most of this neighborhood was built by the Genoese after the fourth crusade, so this sticks out in Karaköy - which is now essentially a banking district.

The white marble base of this water pump in the warehouse is in classic older Roman-era Byzantine style. Why toss anything out just because your empire falls in 1454? You might find some industrial use for it 600 years later.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Buryan Kebab: World's best lamb?

Usually the first thing I do when coming to istanbul is to go to the Siirt Market in Fatih district for Buryani Kebab. The Siirt Market is comprised of shops from Siirt in the southeast part of Turkey, where there are a lot of Arabic speakers, and you hear Arabic almost as much as Turkish around the market.

But we came for Büryani kebab - lamb ribs roasted in a sealed clay oven for two hours - and since we had a big work schedule for the day we just got down to business at our favorite kebab shop... House of Osman the Büryan Provider.. . plenty of free parking in the back.

Osman himself mans the lamb post.

This is seriously good young lamb, juicy, with a crispy skin. The lamb is weighed into portions, and laid on pide bread, cut on the bread, and sent to the oven to warm up and toast the bread. Days like this make me very glad I only spent a few weeks as a vegetarian back in the '70s.

One very happy büryani kebab customer.

Another satisfied customer of Osman the Büryan Provider... notice the trance induced by the lamb. I should mention that lunch cost us 14 turkish lira for two of us: double salad, ayran (yoghurt drink) and tea to finish. That is 7 Euros (maybe nine bucks US?) For two of us.

I'm in Istanbul until Sept. 20th, helping Fumie with her photography job. As always, this city is amazing - 16 million of the most friendly and gracious people you can find anywhere in the world. And the food is affordable - you can either eat for one Euro, or one hundred, but basically the low end chow is about as good as it gets. This is the 6 YTL (3 Euro) Adana dinner at the corner Kebap shop.
Pides on the the sreet next to us (about one Euro each) filled with ground lamb or egg.
Today lunch will be at the Fatih meat market, whole lambs cooked in brick ovens and chopped up onto pide breads or flat lavash bread. More pictures soon.