Resonating sounds of Merhaba, Merhaba made it clear – “I’m in Turkey!” The start had been a good one- the well serviced Turkish Airways flight with its new and improved menu had won me over. The potato salad wrap was definitely something to write home about and the fresh greens almost made me forgot I was eating them mid-air.
As I enter the Eurasian land, memories of my previous visit are quickly conjured up. I wonder, will the Turks now know me as one of their own, albeit from the Asian side ? . Yes! Evet ! When we met our friend Ergun. he was quick to indulge me with the national obsession, the Turkish chai, and I was reassured . The tea for me though a very rare occasional social drink was a treat in itself, stylishly served and sipped as the Turkish do, thankfully sans milk in their beautiful glasses.
My first brush with the country 3 years ago left me wanting more. The blue green waters, the stone work, the Turquoise overload, the culture, the food , the architecture, the people, but since then a lot has changed for them and me. As the Turks look for better governance and me for better health, will it be different for me in the land of the feta? Well, that’s all I can remember eating earlier in the name of so called good health. But life has taught me better. This trip I was introduced to a paradise of fruits and veggies in Turkey – it is a delight for the true health seeker, not only for its pro med diet but also for its vast array of vegetarian and dairy-free mezzes variety.
The land of the magical Bosphorus and the Sultan ehmet offers much more than the usual fare of Italian, Chinese and Indian that I am usually used to seeing overseas. Food is not an issue in this land and given an option health food is at arms length if you forage . In the smoldering June heat the excitingly over juicy watermelon and the succulent rocket leaves became my morning staple of choice. And surprisingly, my 14 year old was also lapping this combo along with his super juicy peaches cherries and olives!!
. As I bustled my way through this land exotica, I especially loved my day trips. Day 2 to the supermarket and the Spice bazaar with its endless display of spices and herbs both were a food crawlers delight. The latter, a gastronomic paradise since 1664 .Coriander, cinnamon, sumac, cumin ,paprika, curry powder, Iranian saffron, several types of pepper and more competing for display space . The Grand Bazaar served up more than I had anticipated- unknown, promising ingredients and other delights along with a variety of alluring carpets (check out Cinar right outside Grand Bazaar ), glass mosaic lamps and uniquely crafted jewellery.
The Cappadocian soujourn east of Istanbul and in the heart of Anatolia took me through amazing terrain, underground cities, cave cafes and hotels , and the best grapes in the country , the wine there rated by most connoisseurs as first grade. Their grape seed oil – an antioxidant used as therapy for various ailments. Tried borek a local snack made with patatas instead of cheese but could not Take down – super super oily stuff. Our desi samosas far edible A dip in the salt lake sea on my way back was a good pedicure for my weary feet. Nature provides the best luxuries….
Next, my Turkish friend Hulya led us to a small local town, Altinoluk. It is off the tourist map, down the the Aegean sea and before the uber hip party town Bordrum I had visited last trip. We went to meet her family- a patriarch retired grandfather and his litter running all around the place. I was enthralled with the idyllic setting- picturesque, a real wonderland. People old and young cycling everywhere- tricycles bicycles two seaters, copy segways . Women with children tied to their backs running home style cafes making the most delicious gozleme– a Turkish style aloo paratha along with turkish chillies– it was my main hot accompaniment on this trip. The beach market there surprised me too as I met a cafe owner couple who had opened their smoothie outlet with an all veg cafe – a first in this town. Their Turkish style Falafel a 9/10. At night, the pier transformed into a carnival. Oh! I never wanted to leave.
Back in Istanbul I met up with old friends; Levent, a first class home style chef who introduced me to a Turkish farmer style market and cooking- pilaf, bean staple, artichoke delite, dolmas, gozleme all gently simmered in olive oil. Oh how differently Indians use oils! Interestingly the Turkish call pasta -Macarana and cake -pasta. Dolma Recipe put up in my subsequent Turkish -2 installment.
As we scurried through the various by lanes of the hip Galata Beyoglu Taksim square munching zinc laden pumpkin seeds (most alkaline of all oilseeds), I also sensed a vibrant energy through the locals, just like in New York’s Times Square and Madison square Gardens. It seemed a peaceful protest was underway in Taksim square; candles lit everywhere in memory of the bravehearts who lost their lives
My experience at a turkiye bar again reinforced why I love this land. They love their music – men & women ,young & old danced and swayed to melodies new and old; rock pop sufi subconsciously bringing in the dervish element .
A must do is the Turkish hamam- give the spa a miss but do not miss the hamam, it is a revelatory experience. Detox here is at its best, go ahead and shed the skin for the new and get scrubbed by the old knit cloth pese in style . The local Hamams are a great bang for your lira though the Calagoglu (only for women) while the Ayasofya hurem sultan Hamami are the notable and more expensive versions .
Our final destination the Prince Islands was a delight in itself, beautiful roads, seaside cafes, quaint homestays, opulent villas and delectable date cakes.
What can I say ? This country surely deserves its nazar bonju !!