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Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

Turkish Delights

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Nina in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

Istanbul can be a little tough for vegetarians with doner kebab on every corner, but they sure know how to do desserts well.

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My favorite sweet was the Turkish delight, chewy little squares with pistachios in a variety of flavors and colors. I liked the ones made with honey better than the ones with just sugar.

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Scott ate a lot of baklava, thin layers of pastry dough sandwiched between chopped pistachios and soaked in honey. I couldn’t eat that much of it, though, because it’s so sweet.

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Dondurma, or Turkish ice cream, contains orchid root, which is a thickener that gives it a dense, elastic texture and allows it to stiffly hold its shape without melting (see the picture above). Ice cream vendors will often perform little shows with the ice cream that take advantage of its unique properties.

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Even better is dondurma with helva, ice cream covered with a warm, dense confection made with semolina flour, sugar, and pine nuts.

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I loved sutlac, baked rice pudding. I know the top looks a little weird since it’s blackened from being broiled, but I thought it was delicious.

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If you get thirsty from all the street food, you can easily pick up a cup of fresh-squeezed carrot/grapefruit/pomegranate/apple/mixed juice from a juice stand. A small cup goes for 1 Turkish lira, or about 50 cents (pomegranate is more).

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Turkish pizza is pretty popular, too. For meat eaters, it often comes with a spicy minced meat topping. It has a long boat shape with light, crispy dough, especially good when it comes right out of the oven although it’s often sold as street food.

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Cig kofte, or spicy “raw meatballs,” probably wins the award for Most Misleading Name for a Vegetarian Food. It used to be made from raw meat, but when this was banned, most vendors switched to making it out of bulgur instead yet kept the name. Scott likened the taste to Taco Bell meat (I think he meant this positively?) and it’s often sold with veggies in a wrap.

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There are other vegetarian dishes that actually look vegetarian as well. I got a veggie platter with grilled vegetables and yogurt (the oblong shape above is an eggplant), and there are lots of salads and eggplant dishes in Turkish cuisine.

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One of our favorite places to wander was the open-air market near Galata Bridge. Crowded stalls sold tubs of olives, dried fruit (try the huge figs), nuts, dried fruits stuffed with nuts, loose leaf tea, spices, Turkish delights, baklava, gifts, knicknacks, knockoff clothes….pretty much anything you could imagine. Interspersed among the stalls were restaurants and street vendors selling roasted chestnuts, salep (a sweet hot drink made with orchid powder), sesame rings, and Turkish pizza.

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Scott kept returning to the cheese shops there to get what looked like string cheese, a mild and fibrous cheese.

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Oh, and we did do some other things besides just eat. That’s me in front of the impressive Blue Mosque.

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The inside was pretty impressive, too. After visiting a bunch of Christian churches and Buddhist temples on our trip, it was interesting to see the complete lack of sculptures or portraits of people or animals (to avoid idolatry). Instead, the interior was decorated with stained glass and mosaics with intricate geometric designs and Arabic calligraphy quoting from the Koran.

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Istanbul has a rich history as the capital of the Byzantine empire (when it was Constantinople) and then as the capital of the Ottoman empire. When we first got to the old city, we’d come across a large mosque, and I’d ask Scott, “Is that the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia?” and he’d answer, “No, that’s not even marked on the map.” The minarets and domes of numerous mosques towered over the landscape of the old city.

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I would recommend visiting the Topkapi Palace, the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. Packed with relics and treasures, the extensive palace complex houses the Topkapi dagger (with 3 huge emeralds embedded in its hilt) and the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond. I hardly ever wear jewelry, and I was still captivated by the enormous jewels.

I think Scott was kind of disappointed with Istanbul because of higher prices than he had expected and the lack of vegetarian options, but I had a good time!

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