Blog
July 8, 2014

Bosphorus Gluttony and Cannibal Penguins: First Tastes of Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey

Everyone warned me this would happen. They told me over and over, and yeah, I was kind of excited, but I just didn’t understand. Pete, Lauren, My Khanh, Nancy: you were right. I don’t care about culture. I don’t care about hamams, or buying carpets, or hand-painted mosque tiling, or the stupid billowy Mediterranean breeze. Siege of Constantinople? Whatthefuckever. I just want to eat.

Clotted yoghurt with rosehip jam. Fresh dates topped with labneh and walnuts. Romaine, dill and basil salad, sprinkled with just-picked cherry tomatoes and musky sheep’s cheese, dressed in tart pomegranate molasses. Olive medleys in rosemary oil. Bulgar and grilled pepper kebab with perky parsley and flat bread. Hills of beet, carrot and spinach dip meze. Pistachio halva and honeyed baklava and something that Turks would probably say is totally different than baklava, but is basically a different kind of baklava, washed down with sweet Turkish tea. Cig kofte. Fig and peach plates, squeezed with lemon. Everything squeezed with lemon.

The food. Dear sweet Jesus, the food.

I mark the hours to the next meal with snacks. I mark the minutes to the next snack with nibbles. I mark the seconds to the next nibble with glasses of chilled cucumber water. What do I want to do today? Go to the supermarket again, that’s what.

“To keep the invader’s navies out, the Christians drew a great chain across the Golden Horn, but Mehmet the Conqueror flanked them, rolling his ships down the hills and into the bay on greased logs, just over there,” Kyle says, pointing across the Bosphorus, wind in his hair.

“In-triguing. Are you gonna finish that?”

My trunk overfloweth with junk.

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I am a classy lady. And classy ladies don’t just stuff face. They practice Biblical gluttony during Ramazan (Ramadan), the holy Islamic fast. With Ramazan falling in July this year, observant Muslims consume nothing between sunrise and sunset for 30 very long summer days, no food, no water, no gum, no smoking, no nookie. Our first night in and fresh off the plane, a local boy trudged up the cobbled hill below our terrace, beating the traditional 3 a.m. drum, waking the faithful for a meal before the pre-dawn prayer. Again at night, after the sun has disappeared, the imams sing the supper song from the mosque minarets, and then they Make Party.

Istanbul, begins every travel channel special ever, straddles two continents, and is the central junction between Europe and Asia. That’s one of those geography facts that you know you ought to blow your mind but, wank that crank as long as you want, is underwhelming on the ground.

“Man, here we go, we’re on a boat. And we were just in Europe a second ago, and we’re about to be in Asia. And still be in the same city as before.”

“Wow, yeah. That’s double the continents you would normally get in a single city. That’s a 100% increase in continents.”

“And later, we’ll be back in Europe. We could be back in Europe in ten minutes, if we wanted.”

“Yeah. Huh. Wow. Pretzel stick?”

Some places grease you up without any travel trivia foreplay, though:

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I made some half-joke about visiting the Istanbul Toy Museum, and lo! Kyle got a wild hair up his ass and off we go on this goddamn hajj into the suburbs, shabby apartment playgrounds and dusty little shops selling bath accessories and mattresses, and the whole time I’m thinking, “It’s twenty steps between the fridge and the terrace. I could have made that pilgrimage sixty-seven times by now. Sixty-eight. Sixty-nine.” Ten minutes later, we rock up to a 4-story gingerbread-style house of children’s horrors guarded by three giant metal giraffes, 10-foot nutcracker Janissaries and a phalanx of cannibal penguins. O me of little faith.

You forget how new the concept of racism as a mainstream no-no is. Turns out we were making blackface Indian Nazi toys well into the 70’s.

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We’re angling for bus tickets to Pamukkale – stay tuned.

WTF IS A KENDRA SCHAEFER?
american tech writer living in beijing. chinese user interface consultant. crafter of pretty digital things. haver of nebulous ideas.
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