13 February 2011

The unexpected find in Turkey

Ever since I joined my current organisation, I had been working primarily on just one. big. project. I would say that 80% of my time was dedicated to writing papers, setting up meetings, attending meetings, writing notes of meetings, clearing those notes or papers, rinsing and repeating the whole process just for this project. There was hardly any time to sleep at times, let alone take a vacation.

So when I discovered that I would have a sliver of a breather right after one of the larger milestones in the project, Ed and I promptly took leave and started plotting. We were still undecided about where we would go, right up to 1 month before we took leave but we (or rather Ed) knew we wanted to go to somewhere exciting like the Middle East. So we found a couple of other travel companions, DS and XM, and finally decided on Beirut (Lebanon), with the hope that we would be able to get a Syrian visa there to cross the border into Syria.

Well, we tried to get the visa on the 2nd day and promptly failed. What happened next unfolded very gradually and almost rather unexcitingly, though upon hindsight it seems quite the adventure. We chanced upon a travel agency and decided to pop in to explore our options. We looked at places nearby that didn't require a visa and deliberated over stretching our itinerary in Lebanon across another 4-5 days - possibly even going to the mountains for some skiing that Ed had suggested while we were in Singapore but which the rest of us had vetoed. But scanning through the Lonely Planet guidebook, the latter option of spending the entire 10-11 days in Lebanon didn't look promising - yes, this was quite the Asian mindset we had. So we decided we would go to Istanbul (Turkey)!


Looking back, I'm glad we did. Who knows how our Jordan trip would have turned out, but being in Istanbul was exactly how I had expected a trip to Middle East to be. It was full of stopovers for coffee, shisha (much to XM's and my chagrin) and absolutely colourful markets that were a tad touristy. I put my bargaining skills to much good use and got relatively good deals for 4 handbags (that Ed bought for his grandma, mum and 2 sisters, awww), travel totes, a large handmade ceramic salad bowl, a matching trivet, an adorable pomegranate inspired vase and a handmade rose quartz statement ring.


Naturally, when Ed and I spotted 'Istanbul Eats', we jumped at it. Well, almost. We spotted it in a souvenir shop within the Blue Mosque compound and thought it was surely overpriced in the shop. So we left it there and went hunting for it elsewhere only to realise it was much more expensive everywhere else. While beating ourselves up about it over coffee in a quirky cafe cum jewellery shop (where we bought the rose quartz ring for me), we spotted the book at a lower price to boot and grabbed it with much aplomb.


The next couple of days were full of great, great eats. The good thing about the book is that it doesn't only review mid-range to high end restaurants. In fact, most of the reviews are of affordable holes-in-the-wall that have great, tasty something. It could be anything from liver to doner kebaps, from sheeps' heads to kofte. With the book's blessings, we were almost constantly stuffed. Thank goodness for the fact that we chose to explore the city by foot most of the times, and for the occasional times we had to walk up and down the same street looking for the elusive holes in the wall.


But the most enjoyable meal we had was probably this place we chanced upon on the last night we spent in Istanbul. We were hunting down this place that served Uighur food, but found out when we arrived that they closed at 7pm (!!). Having been looking forward to trying Uighur food, I was seriously bummed out. I tried to make the best of the situation by looking for other recommended eateries in the neighbourhood. It was already about 8pm and my companions and I had travelled relatively far to this Uighur eatery, so everyone was pretty ravenous. But perhaps because this was going to be our last meal in Istanbul, we were all game to find the other recommended eateries.


We were well on our way to a place just 2 streets down when we stumbled upon a small bustling eatery called Direkler Akasi (Sehzadebasi Cad, No. 18 Eminonu) that had platters of marinating chicken, beef and lamb tempting us through the displays. There was a small queue of locals right outside, all armed with a shot of turkish coffee or tea, and the waiters were not calling at us to go inside. The last point, we found out the difficult way, was quite a reliable indicator that the place was worth eating in. Ed and I were walking ahead of our companions, and when we turned back to look at them, their eyes said it all and we promptly joined the queue.


What happened in the next hour or two was pure heaven. We left the guys to order a smorgasbord of meats and feasted like we hadn't eaten for days. The roast chicken was so incredibly tasty and juicy, that it trumped the incredibly tender salt-baked lamb we tried just the night before. Even Ed, whose one true love after me is lamb, agreed. We liked the roast chicken so much that we order another 3 platters of it after we finished the first round of meat. It is a place I will return to in a heartbeat, and I pray that it never moves away. (Or if it does, that I will find it.)

The food we tried with the blessings of Istanbul Eats was really good. But chancing upon Direkler Arasi and having such a mind-blowing experience, really taught me that I must always keep my options open and not always stick to the path well trodden.

For insanely good roast chicken that you really have to try:
Direkler Akasi
Address: Sehzadebasi Cad, No. 18 Eminonu

For flavourful rice, homely chicken soup, chicken breast pudding and best of all, their chicken gizzards
(picture above):
Kismet Muhallabecisi
Address: Kucukpazar Cad. 68, Eminonu, Istanbul
Phone: 212-513-6773

For syrian food, especially their salt-baked lamb:
Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi
Address: Ahmediye Cad. No: 44/A, Fatih
Telephone: 212-531-3333


For crazy good kaymak - Turkish version of clotted cream:
Besiktas Kaymakci
Address: Koyici Meydani Sok., Besiktas
Telephone: 212-258-2616


For a once in a lifetime experience with sheep's head - brain, eyes and all:
Sinasi Usta’s Kelle Tandir (roasted and served hot)
Senin Ciger ve Tavuk Pazarlama
Address: Sahne Sk. 18, Balikpazari, Beyoglu
Telephone: 212 245 4312
10 TL/head


For an incredible grilled/fried fish meal:
Sultanahmet Fish House
Address: Prof Kazim Ismail Gurkan, Caddesi 14 Cagaloglu
Telephone: 212 527 4445
12PM - 11PM

Sorry for the bad photo, the lighting in the restaurant was incredibly dim.


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KitchenAid 600 said...

Hi Daffy, I really loved the food when I visited Turkey, the fish dishes especially. Great blog.

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