Annchen

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Shopping in Turkish, or How Not to Consume Ayran

I love preparing my own food. I plan weekly meals and buy the ingredients that I need so that nothing goes bad and so that I don’t have to sit with the ‘what-are-we-eating-tonight’ problem. I’ve always looked forward to cooking that first meal whenever we have moved or been away on vacation. So, after a three-week trip through The Netherlands, Belgium and France, I was itching to put a pan on the stove when we arrived at our semi-permanent Istanbul home. But first I had to figure out how to shop for groceries in Turkey.

Our first little trial-and-error experience happened the first night when we strolled down to our corner store to pick up a box of cereal and some milk, just so we could get going at breakfast, since I started my internship at The Museum of Innocence the next day. We grabbed a packet of Special K and some chocolate cereal and (what we thought was) a container of milk. Keep in mind, that the bags didn’t say ‘Cereal’ on it, nor did the container read ‘Milk’, we were shopping by pictures. What our milk container did say was ‘Ayran’, which we now know, after spitting out a mouthful of it mixed with chocolate cereal, is a favourite Turkish drink when consuming meat – salty, yogurty, watery, pale-white liquid. We never quite warmed up to it.

Watch out for this guy pretending to be milk.

Watch out for this guy pretending to be milk.

The thing with shopping and cooking in non-Western countries is that your whole cooking repertoire needs to change to adapt to ingredients. Even if you buy all the ‘normal’ stuff it just doesn’t taste familiar. Well, that’s the one thing.

Then you have to figure out where to get the goods. We lived in Çukurcuma, a small area in Cihangir, and there was a Carrefour approximately 15 minutes’ walk from our flat. Carrefour is one of the few large companies with chain stores in Istanbul – most shops and restaurants are family-businesses. Over time I have learnt to buy things like fat-free milk and yogurts, cereals, and canned foods at the Carrefour . For vegetables and fruits I would take the 2-minute walk to the nearest produce vendor, and for toiletries, cheese, honey, Turkish chocolate (YUM), water, and cat food I would go next to him to the general market guys. I soon found out that you can buy cat food basically at every single general market store anywhere. This is because locals feed the stray cats, or because some tourists trick a friendly stray cat into their homes and pretend its their pet. Hypothetically, of course.

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We bought tea at the same store where we got our Turkish Delight, where we became regulars way to fast. (One of my favourite memories is on our second to last day in Istanbul when we visited the shop for the last time, hanging around and being allowed to stuff our faces with all the dried fruit and turkish delight we could handle, while we waited for our friend Mahmoud to help the poor tourists feeling intimidated by his charisma and all the choices to be made.)

A dazzling array of flower teas

A dazzling array of flower teas

Teas, Turkish Delights, Dried Fruits, Nougat

Teas, Turkish Delights, Dried Fruits, Nougat, and Mahmoud

Rather than buying bulk like I would at home, I shopped often, since it was so close and the (local) fruit and veg are replenished daily. That’s the thing with Turkey – I found very few imported products in stores – Turkey would pretty much be able to self-sustain if it had to. The other thing is that general market stores, fruit and veg vendors and family-run restaurants are EVERYWHERE. I could almost guarantee that there will be a general market, a vegetable guy, and a restaurant within five minutes‘ walk of your hypothetical Istanbul apartment. So if you ran out of water or oranges at 10pm, you could leave (in the dark by yourself) and be back with whatever you needed within five minutes. Often I would stumble in the flat with 10 litres of water and Joel would be like, “oh, wow, you’re back!”

It wasn’t long until I realised that that guy yelling some indistinct Turkish word (I’ve even heard a Turkish guy say, when someone else told him what the guy was yelling, “ooohhhhh….THAT’S what he’s yelling!”) in a very distinctive vocal lilt (ask me later, I’ve got the impression down) is selling filled breakfast pastries, which he keeps warm in his little cart, which he pushes up and down all of Cihangir’s windy cobbled streets. Then there is also the grocery truck which makes its appearance every other day. It is basically just a small pick-up truck with some onions, potatoes and whatever else on the back, with a driver yelling some things over a loud-speaker, selling produce to whomever he wants to. There are a lot of very old ladies living in Çukurcuma that can’t always make it to a store and this where the grocery truck comes into play. However, sometimes the driver yells something like “No, I’m not selling to you again, you just cause trouble” up to an old lady who will be pointing her finger menacingly back at him.

Oh and did I mention the fruit and vegetable horse-and-carriage guy?? Ya.

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The thing with these guys is that you’re gonna have to know some Turkish. Which is my biggest advice, because this is true even in stores like Harris Teeter: If you are going to want to buy food outside of Sultanahmet (tourist-central), LEARN TURKISH. Even if you don’t interact with people, ALL THE BRANDING IS TURKISH. This will make your life so much easier. I learnt a fair amount of Turkish (enough to somewhat confidently go to a shop) from sitting with my friend Dilan, whom I worked with, and annoying her by constantly saying “How do you saaaayyyy……?”. But in the beginning I would, instead of English, write the Turkish word for canned tomatoes on my shopping list. Or I would memorise the word for ‘mint’ (nane) or whatever when I go to my fruit and veg guy. Things will work out pretty well for you of you can say and understand ‘Do you have ____’ , ‘Yes I have_____’, ‘That’s gonna be ____Lira’, ‘Do you have change?’, or ‘I want four please’, etc.

For the most part. By the end of our stay there was a national black out (can you say ‘cyber attack’?….!) and I ran down to the market to buy candles. I picked up a bulk bag of tealight candles, pointed to it, and said (in Turkish): ‘Do you have a small bag?’ However, the word for bag that I used is more like ‘plastic bag’, and less like ‘package’, which is what I meant (because I didn’t want 100 tea lights). He looked confused and said, ‘Yes, I do!’ and pulled out a small plastic bag from behind the counter. I shook my head and said, ‘No no, do you have a small plastic bag?’, pointing to the candles. And repeat. I later changed my tactic and said ‘I don’t want many, I just want three’. He pulled out two more plastic bags. I was finally saved by a guy who walked in and told me what the word for candle is (mum [pronounced ‘moom’]), after which the shop keeper pulled out three single candles from behind the counter, whereupon everyone nodded and said “aaaahhhhh!! Evet evet evet!” (yes yes yes).

Shopping is not so straight forward if you can’t speak or read Turkish, which is why you should take your time to look at pictures when you shop and/or learn a bit of Turkish when you’re going to be staying for a while. In the end it’s pretty rewarding when after a couple of weeks the shop keepers stop pulling out the calculators to show you the price and instead just tells you what it is. in Turkish.

TIPS FOR GROCERY SHOPPING IN TURKEY

1. Support your local vendors

2. Go to the same places so that the shopkeepers get to know you

3. Learn Turkish. It’s easy.

4. Do as the locals and feed some cats. Outside in the streets.

5. Don’t pour Ayran into your chocolate cereal. It’s gross.

HAPPY SHOPPING!

Tea shopping was probably my favourite kind of shopping

Tea shopping was probably my favourite kind of shopping

 

The familiar sight of ruby-red pomegranates

The familiar sight of ruby-red pomegranates

My firs home-cooked meal! Pasta with aubergine, spinach and red sauce (made from a can of tomato paste I accidentally bought)

My first home-cooked meal! Pasta with aubergine, spinach and red sauce (made from a can of tomato paste I accidentally bought)

 

Feeding a local pretty.

Feeding a local pretty.

See any English?

See any English? (The answer is No)

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We lived in Istanbul – one of the largest and densest cities we’ve ever experienced – for a couple of months and…Istanbul is crazy. There’s a lot going on all of the time, which is why came up with the perfect way to escape the craziness.

It is not easy to escape this city. With only three bridges spanning the Golden Horn (a channel branching off from the Bosphorus) and bottleneck build-ups at the only two bridges connecting the European and Asian sides, it might take a couple of hours to even get out. UNLESS you make your way down to the Kabataş port and catch a ferry to one of the Princes’ Islands, which is what we did.

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THE PRINCES’ ISLANDS

Princes’ Islands (Kızıl Adalar) is a group of nine small islands just off Istanbul’s coast. Of these nine, four of them can be visited, of which Big Island (Büyükada) is the most popular. That’s where we planned on going until some local friends told us to forget it and rather go to the smaller, less popular Heybaliada. All the Princes’ Islands are famous for their solitude and stillness – there aren’t any cars allowed on any of them, only bicycles and horse carriages. But where Big Island is full of bustling tourists and locals, Heybeliada is a quiet oasis, stirred only by the occasional sounds of a cyclist cruising by, the clomping of horses’ hooves in the distance, and the slight ruffling of leaves in the breeze. It is also home to a beautiful 11th century Greek monastery from which you have a spectacular 360 view of the Marmara Sea, the other Islands, and, in the far foggy distance, Istanbul.

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It is a sleepy town, with a winter population of 3,000 people, but I’m sure nearly twice as many cats and dogs. After we found our cozy little room with a far-off view of the water, we took a leisurely stroll back down to the harbour, admiring the old yalıs (wooden Summer houses) as we went. Heybeliada is a magical place where you don’t have to constantly jump out of the way of cars or defend your personal space – free from noise, tourists, the five-times-a-day-ness of thousands of mosques and the insistent smell of cigarette smoke that I now affectionately affiliate with Istanbul.

Our distant ocean view

Our distant ocean view

We putted around the harbour before we had some delicious seafood at a harbour-side restaurant, armed with a spray bottle, by kind courtesy of the restaurant owner, to fend cats off our laps and table. It seems that we made a habit of eating dessert in Turkey after nearly every meal, so we walked around some more and sat down at a dessert shop to drink some tea and try some new things, which is where we first tasted a trileçe cake, a Turkish cake made from a mixture of goat’s, sheep’s and cow’s milk, and promptly fell in love.

The Heybeliada harbour

The Heybeliada harbour

Ready to stuff our faces with more of the tastiest stuff on the planet - Turkish food!

Ready to stuff our faces with more of the tastiest stuff on the planet – Turkish food!

We didn’t have enough time the next morning to rent bikes and visit the monastery and do all those things we thought we would, but we strolled around some more and made our way to the harbour where we had menemen, a DELICIOUS Turkish one-pan scrambled egg breakfast, while we waited for our ferry back.

It was a wonderfully quiet and slow day-and-a-half, and it was just what we needed. After living in the craziness of Istanbul for about two months, all we needed was a quiet stroll down the middle of a street with no people, a fresh plate of grilled fish out in the open and a spray bottle to keep some cats away. On the way home we tossed some simit to the ferry-accompanying seagulls on the leisurely ride across the sea, and we were ready to immerse ourselves in all of Istanbul again.

Seagulls follow nearly each and every ferry to their destinations, because of passengers tossing simit at them (a type of bread)

Seagulls follow nearly each and every ferry to their destinations, because of passengers tossing simit at them (a type of bread)

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Wide open streets with only horse-and-carriage allowed as a way of transport

Wide open streets with only horse-and-carriage allowed as a way of transport. This was one of the busier streets.

 

The monastery stays tucked away at the top of the hill.

The monastery stays tucked away at the top of the hill.

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Back to Istanbul!

Back to Istanbul!

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Exploring the Sleepy Ruins of Kayaköy

This past week I have been daydreaming about being elsewhere. Some place surrounded by rolling green hills, hugged by the gently lapping waters of the nearly-clear, blue-green mediterranean sea, with the echoing sounds of a combination of folk-music, clapping and laughter in the background. All of this infused with the wafting aromas of aubergine and lamb grilled on open fire, snapshots of families flying kites, old olive-skinned ladies picking herbs, and lovers picnicking on the roof of an abandoned Greek house, overgrown with mushrooms and wildflowers. I have been daydreaming about being back in Kayaköy.

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Shark Cage Diving in South Africa

I nearly forgot we did this.

A few weeks ago I set up an account on a travel website and it asked me to list some things I have done during my travels. My list started with ‘visited Petra, snorkelled with Whale Sharks, slept under the stars in the Israeli desert’ and then I remembered…Man, I’ve gone shark cage diving!  View Post

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