The past few weekends in Turkey have been filled with exploring, cooking, and adventures. Despite a few cold days here and there, Spring is beginning to blossom. The days have been clear with a bright sun. I have heard Istanbul is incredible during Springtime when all the flowers begin to bloom. I cannot wait to have a picnic under blooming trees with the Bosphorous in the background.

On one particularly sunny Saturday afternoon, about a week or two ago, some friends and I, Daniel and Esad, decided we would visit the neighborhood of Uskudar, on the Asian side. We took the ferry across and since the weather was wonderful we sat outside, watching the waves and ships sail through the straight. The ride to Uskudar from Besiktas, a European neighborhood, is rather quick, maybe ten minutes at the most. We arrive in a bustling Uskudar and decided to walk to a hillside nargile cafe overlooking the Bosphorous and the European side. Walking north, along the mansion lined Bosphorous, Daniel, an Istanbul expert, pointed out all the mansions of the affluent Turkish families. We arrived at the cafe and sat with a beautiful view. We drank hot Turkish cay (tea) and smoked apple nargile. I have been working on my smoke rings, however it was slightly too windy to form them successfully.  As the sun began to lower we headed back to Europe.

That night for dinner, I decided to introduce a little bit of Texas culture to my Turkish friends. For a few days, I had been bragging about how delicious Tex-Mex was. So, we stopped by a large grocery store where I was able to find most of the ingredients to make chicken fajitas. I was so excited to begin cooking! I had to make a few substitutions since not all of the ingredients can be found in Turkey. For example, I was unable to find cilantro or lime for guacamole, so I used parsley and lemon instead. Esad was my assistant and was very eager to see how the dish was made. I grilled green and red bell pepper, spicy peppers (similar to a jalapeno but slightly different in taste), and made Turkish-adapted guacamole. After everything was prepared and the tortillas warmed up. It was time to show my Turkish friends how to properly eat fajitas. However, before it was time to roll them, I had to give a lesson on the proper pronunciation of the word ‘tortilla’. “Say it ‘tortiya’ not ‘tortila’. Everyone got a kick out of the seemingly unusual pronunciation. I showed everyone how to properly wrap a tortilla before we enjoyed a Tex-Mex classic. It was so exciting to share something unique about my home to my friends, who have been so helpful in introducing me to their culture. Everyone seemed to enjoy the mix of flavors in the fajitas. After we finished eating, they asked if there were any other cultural dishes I knew how to cook. I have a growing list now, including chicken-fried steak and iced tea.

The next weekend was equally lovely. Saturday morning a group of us gathered at Daniel’s apartment and made a huge Turkish breakfast. Esad made menemen (eggs mixed with cheese, green and red peppers and pastirma which is dried beef), we had an array of different Turkish cheeses, olives, and fresh bread from the bakery down the street. My favorite part of the whole meal was sharing the skillet of menemen. We set the huge skillet in the middle of the table and used the fresh bread to scoop out the eggs. We have prepared these large Turkish breakfasts on several occasions and the ‘communal’ eating really enhances the experience. We all talk and laugh as we truly share a meal together. After we finished our large meal we decided that it was the perfect weather for fishing.

With our fishing pole and bucket, our little ‘family’ as we like to call it, headed down the hill from our neighborhood to Arnavutkoy, which translates to ‘Albanian Village’. Arnavutkoy is a historical area along the Bosphorous filled with old wooden Ottoman houses. We spotted a bench near the water and set up. Esad taught me the very different manner of fishing in the Bosphorous. Using a large pole with three to four small shiny hooks, Esad would through the line into the water and move the rod side to side as he reeled it in. I had never seen anyone fish in such a manner! But, as I looked at fellow fisherman, they were using the same technique. Unfortunately we were unable to catch anything. It seems we were not there at the right time of day since I have been told the fish usually feed in the early morning or in the evening, before sunset.

We decided that since our fishing endeavor proved fruitless to go to Beyazit, a neighborhood named after Beyazit Camii, to smoke nargile. We went to Çorlulu Ali Pasha, an old medressa (Islamic religious school) located behind Beyazit. Next to the medressa is the covered-patio nargile cafe. In all of Istanbul, it is one of my favorite places to go and enjoy nargile. The cafe is lined with chairs and people sitting shoulder to shoulder ‘drinking’, as you would say in Turkish, their water pipe. Green apple and melon are popular flavors, but I personally love rose. We all sat around a small table sipping cay and smoking. I again practiced my smoke rings and they proved quite successful!

We will have our Spring Break in the next month and a small group of us will go to the Mediterranean region of Turkey. Our main destination will be the ancient Greek city of Olympos, famous for its beaches and Greek ruins. I cannot wait for the warm sun and swimming in the Mediterranean!


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