Sunday, April 29, 2012

Meze in İstanbul-Bosphorus

A meze buffet in Istanbul, with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheeses, and anchovies laid out in traditionally decorated bowls

East meets West quite literally in Istanbul, the only city in the world that bestrides two continents. Set on the shores of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn, its majestic domes, elegant minarets, and towers float above the hubbub of 13 million people in motion. At meal times, a momentary lull sees locals and visitors settle into spreads of meze, one of the great joys of travel in Turkey.

Istanbul, the meeting point of two worlds, is one of the most vibrant, colorful, and heritage-rich cities on Earth. Capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, it boasts the evocative remains of its Genoese, Roman, and Greek overlords. Its people live among some of the world’s finest Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, including the Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, and the Roman emperor Justinian’s famous church, Hagia Sophia.

The Blue Mosque dominates the skyline in Istanbul; beneath it, in the old city, diners enjoy traditional Turkish cuisine alfresco

There’s plenty to keep Orientalists happy too: medievalera bazaars, markets selling pyramids of exotic produce, 14th-century hammams that still steam, and stands where master craftsmen still ply their ancient trades.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world, with 58 streets contained within its gated walls

There’s an almost overwhelming amount of choice, but there’s one way in which Istanbul can be digested on even a short break – in its cuisine, and the platters of little bite-sized dishes known as meze. There are dozens of types of meze to try, all dressed with fresh herbs and spices and rich with intriguing flavors such as sesame, pomegranate, and walnuts. Plump olives and yogurty, garlicky dips; white beans and cheeses, salted fresh tuna, stuffed mussels, crisp little savory pastries and rissoles, stuffed zucchini flowers, and, everywhere, Turkey’s glorious eggplants, braised with tomatoes, roasted, grilled, or mashed into dips: this is a terrific way to sample the sophisticated and eclectic cuisine and flavors of Turkey’s different regions.
The word “meze” is believed to derive from the Persian, meaning “pleasurable taste.” According to Turkish tradition, meze have their roots in the opulent era of the great 16th-century sultan, Süleyman the Magnificent. Fond of throwing extravagant feasts, the Sultan nonetheless needed to ensure against intrigue and poisoning by keeping food-taster slaves in his court.
Ordering the palace kitchen to prepare taster portions before he sat down to table, he inadvertently started a trend among Istanbul’s courtiers and aristocracy.
Today meze are served both as appetizers and as a complete meal in themselves. Sample them in Istanbul’s atmospheric meyhanes (traditional Turkish taverns) found in the Beyoğlu, Nevizade, and Sofyalı areas, where crammed tables of chattering locals pick from the large trays of meze wheeled around by waiters. Raki is the traditional accompaniment, an aniseed-flavored firewater with the kick of a Seljuk pony. To follow, relax with a thick, fragrant Turkish coffee, accompanied perhaps by the soothing bubble of a nargileh (water pipe), and feel blissfully satiated in the capital once justly dubbed “The City of the World’s Desire.”
Three Days in Istanbul
Istanbul contains enough to keep the visitor occupied for a month. Three days will give you a chance to take in the main sights, and plenty of opportunities to feast on meze.
Start in the historic Sultanahmet district with the iconic Blue Mosque and its famous, ethereal neighbor, Hagia Sophia, then visit the Basilica Cistern. Spend the afternoon shopping at the Grand Bazaar, and later the Spice Bazaar in Tahtakale.
Spend the morning taking in the magnificent Topkapı Palace, and after lunch, the collection of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Take a refreshing tea and a bath at an old Ottoman hammam (Turkish bath) before dinner.
Board a ferry at Eminönü and sail along the Bosphorus and Golden Horn. After a reviving coffee and baklava, head for the western districts of old Istanbul to admire the beautiful Byzantine mosaics and frescoes of the Chora Church. After lunch, head for Sultanahmet and the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts, before ambling via the Arasta Bazaar to the Great Palace Mosaic Museum.
The LRT (Light Rail Transport) and taxis connect the international airport to central Istanbul.


Hotel Empress Zoe (inexpensive–moderate) is charming, in boutique style, with a garden and rooftop terrace.
Sirkeci Konak (moderate): central, comfortable, with a pool and hammam.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul (expensive) is famous for its central location, sumptuous service and comfort.
Divan Yolu, Sultanahmet; +90 212 518 8754

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