Istanbul Air Races are going on this weekend. If you have google earth, do click the link and look at the course.
Yesterday in Istanbul was positively Baku-esque. No water! The city cut water supplies to most of the European side for 10 hours during the day allegedly for "maintenance." Of course the media covered the cut so extensively that even people like me who live in a bubble couldn't claim they didn't know it was coming. Still, you couldn't even do your peeing in a different neighborhood: there was no running water to be found anywhere in my sphere of influence.
I think it was a warning shot: "get used to it, bitches! The garbage in your street isn't the only thing that's gonna be stinkin' up the joint this summer." Apparently because of the Islamists or global warming or the secularists or the Kurds or because it didn't rain all winter, both Istanbul and Ankara are going to be subject to some serious water cuts this summer.
Oddly, and I think this means that people who hate freedom run this country, the government has already told people to stop washing their cars and watering their lawns (uh, does anyone in this city have a lawn?). I'm sure they were kidding when they said "expect three day cuts" however.
A U.S.-bound Carpetguest, who was suffering from post-Baku stress disorder, pointed out that the lack of water in the house helped ease the transition from Crapistan to a Normal Country. Still, while dining on mezzes at my favorite mehane, she demonstrated that even after two years in Baku, she still hadn't successfully shut off her peripheral thought: "But where are they washing their dishes?"
Key to Expat Success #3: Never ask questions to which you do not want the answers.
If you don't read 5ives, you are a fool.
Five Nouns From Which it can be difficult to scrub the scent of utter bullshit.
May 29th, 2007
It's a little known fact, but Carpetblogger frequently writes restaurant reviews and other trifles under various noms de plume, noms de guerre and noms de paix. As part of a roundup of other local joints, we recently included Fasuli, a neighborhood joint that specializes in meals from the Black Sea region. Fasuli benefited from about two sentences of upbeat prose. Nevertheless, we decided to bring the review with when we took our honored guests there for dinner the other night, just to see the reaction.
Before dinner, I had stopped in to make a reservation. Fasuli sits right on the edge of the Bosporus and next to the 16th century Kilic Ali Pasa mosque. I thought it would be nice to sit on the terrace.
In addition to my reservation for three, I got a five minute explanation about why we couldn't sit on the terrace. The host could have stopped at "it won't be ready until next week," which is all I understood anyway. He was very apologetic.
Fasuli's menu isn't extensive and it doesn't seem like everything is available all the time. However, most of the ingredients are brought in from the Black Sea region: the white beans for the bean stew; the beef for the goulash; the butter for the rice and the hazelnuts for the baklava. The pickles are specially homemade too. Since Fasuli means beans, beans are really the house specialty. Laz Boregi, which I've raved about before, is a desert specialty of the region so I hope next time I go they'll have some. Their baklava was perfect, however.
Even before showing the host a copy of the review, we had been treated with solicitude typical for all but the most hideous tourist dumps. I handed the page to the host and pointed out the restaurant's name and the travel website it appeared on. He disappeared with it while we thumbed through the menu.
I think being a restaurant reviewer in Istanbul suits me. In fact, next time I have guests I am going to take them places where I am a known celebrity. It reflects well on me. It's hard to imagine how, short of having our meal comped, we could have been treated more like royalty at Fasuli. Menus were quickly taken from our hands and food started rolling in. The head waiter personally spooned our goulash over the beans (so delicious) and recommended different types of pickles for us to sample. When the mihlama arrived, he ladled the yellow glop onto our plates. Mihlama is a rather bland corn meal, butter and cheese fondue -- another regional specialty. Truthfully, none of us really liked it that much, but we feared tears if we didn't eat it so we chowed down.
The chef hovered nearby, nervously grinning while every waiter in the place swept our crumbs, refilled our water or gave us clean plates. While we finished our baklava, the owner came out, introduced himself and gave us his card and brochure. He carefully pointed out all the famous football players, politicians and pop stars pictured in it. We got the distinct sense that the next print run would include our photos. While we signed the guest book, the head waiter hemmed and hawed over whether we should have Turkish coffee or tea, then brought us both. The chef delivered our coffees with shaking hands.
The bill came, with a 10% discount and free coffees. The cost for three us? 45YTL, or about $40. Memo to self: going to places with no booze keeps the dinner tab moderate.
As we walked out, we passed through a gauntlet of waiters all of whom bade us the best of all possible evenings and implored us to come back again. Indeed, gentlemen, indeed!
Our waiter and his white bean goulash. He SHOULD be proud!
We rounded out the evening by walking across the street to the dozens of nargileh bars that abut the Museum of Modern Art. Like Fasuli, none of these places serve alcohol. Every night, they are packed with young and old who entertain themselves with watching football, chatting, working on their computers (wireless?) or playing backgammon until the late hours. Fruit sellers peddle boxes of shiny cherries and apricots and the air is heavy with the sweet smoke of apple tobacco. Most places place huge vinyl bean bags as seats underneath the chestnut trees. The bean bags are pear-shaped so they have back support. You could sit there all night, listening to the prayer calls and boat horns responding from the black Bosporus.
You know, it's too bad Istanbul isn't awesome or anything.
Fasuli and the nargileh bars are at the Tophane tram stop, across from the fountain.
There's a great website in Istanbul called Yemeksepeti. Through it, you can order food to be delivered from hundreds of restaurants all around the city, without ever speaking to a person. There's even an English version which ensures there's no chance you're going to end up with artichokes on your salad, rather than oysters 'cause you always mix up those words. I heart Yemeksepeti!
Last night I ordered a pizza from Miss Pizza, which is, oh, about a 10 minute walk from my front door (but it's uphill!). It arrived within 30 minutes as it always does. When I opened it, it was clear the box had been dropped. The goat cheese and spinach and eggplants and tomatoes were all askew. What a mess! I ate it anyway.
Less out of a desire to initiate a consumer dispute than just to see what would happen, I emailed Yemeksepeti explaining the situation.
Within five minutes, my phone rang. Yemeksepeti was calling to tell me Miss Pizza was sending a new pizza over right away! Now I have two pizzas! Yum!
Let me try to explain why this scenario, like so many others, would never have played out like this in the FSU, and not just because I got some consumer satisfaction. Not only would the very concept of Yemeksepeti not exist, in a language I could read, with restaurants I'd want to order from serving food I'd want to eat at reasonable prices; not only would I order a goat cheese and spinach pizza and get a dry pork chop covered in cheese, I would be told "but that's what you ordered" and the delivery guy would have dropped it in the slush and his response would be that I dropped it just so I could get another one for free, but I would never dream of asking for recompense in the first place.
How much do I love Istanbul?
Via Coming Anarchy, proof that America is still a world leader in the meaningless gesture.
When Americans can't supersize for a good cause, the terrorists will have won.
Istanbul is a very industrious city. Walk around the neighborhoods and on every block there are small workshops and stands where all manner of things are sold, made or fixed.
Some guys breathe in metal fibers all day in a shop that makes lamp fixtures. This is one of about half a dozen metal workshops on one street near the Galata Tower that is full of lamp stores. He is strapped to his machine, btw. This workplace could not withstand the American tort system.
PS If anyone can tell me why portrait photos I insert always look crappy I would appreciate it.
Not that lacking qualifications has ever stopped me from commenting before, but now having been to the two major hamams in Istanbul I feel like I can contribute to the raging debate over which is better (by raging debate I mean the one between me and Our Beirut Correspondent who hasn't even been to one of them).
Once I get over my fear of being naked in places where I don't speak the language, I plan to try out the ones in my neighborhood. These I am sure will be quite different. However, if you are going to a hamam for the first time, you are probably going to go to the more user-friendly tourist ones in Sultanahmet rather than the neighborhood ones.
Keep in mind that I am a lady and only go in the lady side of the hamams. I am not familiar with the procedures for men, though J walked out today and declared "that's the closest I've ever come to gay sex." I don't think he meant it in a bad way, just that guys' massage is pretty aggressive. Since I live to serve, I have already outlined the general hamam experience here, so read first that if you need to understand the mechanics.
There are two main tourist hamams in Istanbul: Cemberlitas and Cagaloglu. Both are several hundred years old. Both have wonderful steamy marble chambers with lots of brass faucets. Both have a big marble platform in the middle where you lie and soften your skin for the big exfoliating extravaganza (ROPES of dead skin. Trust me. Exfoliate every day and those ladies will still tsk at you for all your dead skin). Both employ nice middle-aged washing ladies with pendulous breasts and rolls of fat. The tourist factor is equal in both, although we went early in the morning when Cagaloglu was empty, which I recommend doing. Unless you're coming in on one of those cruise ships. Then mid-afternoon is best.
There are differences, however. Cagaloglu was selected as "one of the thousand places you must see before you die (tm)" and its marketing department has spared no effort to make sure you know this. Seeing "one of the thousand places you must see before you die," is going to cost you, too: 50 YTL for a scrub and a massage! This seems over the odds to me. PLUS -- and this was sort of infuriating -- once you get in they made you buy your own kese (scrubber mitt) for -- get this -- 10YTL! You could walk down to the Grand Bazaar and buy a 12 pack for that price. Total rip off.
Cagaloglu is an "underwear off" hamam. I do not know why this is, or why Cemberlitas is an "underwear on" hamam. Cagaloglu also requires its scrubber ladies to wear one-piece swimsuits. I don't know if this is a concession to touristic modesty or a way to harness their enormous breasts, but getting slapped around by the biggest boobies you have ever seen is sort of an integral hamam experience, to my mind. The scrubber ladies clearly don't like them either -- they walk into the bathing chamber wearing only their underwear, put on swimsuit and then take it off after your scrubbing. The swimsuits and the 10 YTL kese are deal killers for me.
Cagaloglu has some advantages, however. It has several lounging areas that encourage you to lie about and be indolent. I appreciate this. You get a little cabin with a bed, like a train compartment, to change and lie down for a rest after your bath. It's got a nice little garden cafe where you can smoke a sheesha and spend the whole day if you like. So in that sense, the overall atmosphere is a little better than Cemberlitas. They give you a little gift pack too, with a comb and -- wait for it -- a pair of underwear. Like my fat ass will fit in Turkish sized underwear. Nice gesture though, because walking around all day being a tourist isn't much fun if your underwear is wet from the hamam.
Cemberlitas is cheaper -- more like 30YTL for the same services -- and your kese is free. The changing area is like a gym locker room and there are fewer lounging areas, so in that sense, Cagaloglu is better, but I think Cemberlitas is being remonted to include the little resting rooms. I hope they don't raise their prices.
I think my scrub was better at Cemberlitas. The underwear-clad scrubber ladies use foamy gentle scented soap that makes lots of bubbles, which I like better than Cagaloglu's oil, which makes you slide around on the marble like a fish.
So in the end, I have a slight preference for Cemberlitas. But if they raise the prices after the remont, it will be a wash (get it? yah, you do).
As part of tag day, Wu Wei lists her top five favorite restaurants. It looks like everyone else who's participating described their favorites in their city, but I don't feel like limiting myself to Istanbul, or just five, or just restaurants.
Now that we've been abroad for almost four and half years, we get very attached to certain places, mostly because what they serve cannot be replicated anywhere else. This is my list of restaurants I wish delivered to Istanbul.
Kafe Bogatir on Trukhaniv Island, Kyiv: This is the single thing I miss about Ukraine. Today, a sunny Sunday, I wish I was sitting in its plastic chairs, under the beer-brand umbrellas with my peeps, dogs under the table, silently begging with soft brown dogeyes. It has a few flaws, but there simply is no better pork, anywhere. I've heard the owners have upgraded the patio, probably with capital we provided last summer, but the pork is as succulent as ever. Kafe Bogatir appears in the new Bradt Guide to Ukraine so I hope success doesn't go to their head. All hail Vitaly the Swine Master. I still have his number in my phone. I'd pay for his ticket.
World of Urine, Tbilisi: OMG how I love this place and how I could make a special trip to Tbilisi just to have their Kupati and pkali. The food and wine is otherwordly. The service friendly and helpful (if you want to know the difference between an Abkhaz and Ossetian Kupati, the owner will tell you, in Russian). Tsinidali is a dollar a glass. Not only do I wish they delivered, I wish I could live in their caves.
Doga Balik, Istanbul: Picking a favorite fish restaurant in Istanbul is like picking a favorite Chinese restaurant in Beijing, but we ate here the other night with our guests and it was stupendous. Usually places with views slide on the food and service, but not here. The fish is great, which is not unusual. What is unusual is the array of mezzes. Most restaurants have a pretty standard selection, but DB has lots of really tasty green ones made of everything from seaweed from the Black Sea to carrot and tomato greens. Aegean crab (like a miniature Dungeness -- sorry, it's the only kind I know) and Aegean Oysters (ordered, but for some reason not served. That reason may be me not knowing the Turkish word for oysters) are in season now. And they undercharged us, so we left a big tip. Doga Balik DOES deliver food, but they can't deliver the view.
El Toro Taqueria, San Francisco: Burrito wars in San Francisco are as intensely fought (and about as interesting) as fish wars in Istanbul. I've been going to El Toro Taqueria at the corner of 17th and Valencia for about 10 years and it never lets me down. I once packed one up and brought it home to Portland for the Producer. Since Mexican food cannot be reproduced reliably outside of Mexico or the West/SW of the United States, our Bay Area friends tried to figure out how to carry one to Istanbul with them. Huarache Azteca on International Boulevard in Oakland serves to die-for Huaraches, but my sources say there have been a lot of shootings lately in that hood, making the trip more hazardous. Delivery would be a lot safer, for me at least.
Laurelwood Brew Pub's Free Range Red, Portland OR. This beer is best drunk anywhere else other than its Hollywood pub, which is way too kid-friendly for me. Delivery is perfect. Maybe they'll stop and pick me up a bucket of steamers from Pal's Shanty. Don't forget the extra nectar.
In and Out Burger: If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand.
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Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
Andi (Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Todd (Louisville, Kentucky, United States)
miss kendra (los angeles, california, u.s.a)
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Tits McGee (New England, USA)
Kat (Ontario, Canada)
badgerdaddy (Ludlow, Shropshire, England)
Dandelion (England, Great Britain)
Ms Melancholy (Yorkshire, UK)
Wu Wei (currently in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, sometimes in Oxford, UK)