ambassadorial bungalows, museums, university, heritage houses, etc. – while all along digging our spoons into powder sugarladen Kusak yogurt – the local version of our misthi doi. Yogurt was introduced in Europe, thanks to Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent who dispatched his physician to
treat the acute diarrhea of French King Francis I with yogurt.
As it poured outside, our table inside was being taken over by mouth-watering Turkish delights like meze, spinach with cheese, dolma, kebab, börek, bugra, grilled fish with
bay leaves, flat bread, and a variety of dishes made of zucchini or brinjal. Interestingly, brinjal (disparagingly called begun in
Bangla, meaning ‘with no merit’) is the most favoured vegetable in Turkey and you’re likely to come across it in mezes (starters), side dishes,
salads, moussaka and main dishes – where it is served along with cheese, yogurt, minced meat, kebabs or
wrapped up inside stuffed vine leaves. Try ‘Her Majesty’s Favourite’, a delicate formal dish made of the velvety purple vegetable. The name refers to
Empress Eugenie, the wife of
Napoleon III, who
fell in love with it on her visit to Sultan Abdülaziz.
The present Turkish cuisine is an amalgam of diets from Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East with good help from the Mediterranean –
reflecting the polyglot culture stretching from the gates of Vienna in the north to Yemen in the south, and from the border of Morocco in the west to Mesopotamia in the east.
Istanbul is a food lover’s paradise with restaurants offering cuisines as varied as Far Eastern, African, to traditional
Turkish food. A meat lover’s Mecca, choice for the vegetarians is limited but for eateries like Zencefil and Parsifal. Evenings are the best
time to stroll on the city’s most elegant pedestrian street,
Istiklal Avenue, with a Dondurma cone (the Turkish ice cream), checking out the exquisite
boutiques, music stores, art galleries, cinemas, historical patisseries and cafés as you become part of a multilingual
mass of best dressed men and
women enjoying the sights.
EAT: Simit, pilaf, baklava, dolma,
borak, doner kebab, dondurma
DRINK: Turkish Coffee, Raki
BUY: Spices, fruit tea, perfume,
dry fruits, semi-precious
stone jewellery, pottery, kilims,
INDULGE: Turkish bath,
Watching the dervishes – day job holders who perform for tourists – whirling in a trance to the sound of ney (reed instrument) in a caravanserai
in Saruhan in Cappadocia one
remembered Rumi: “And I am a flame dancing in love’s fire/That flickering light in the depths of desire/Wouldst thou know the pain that severance breeds?/Listen then to the strain of the reed.”
Most people visiting Turkey come to see the Whirling Dervishes or Semâzen, as the followers of Maulana
Jalaluddin Rumi are known. Born in Balkh (Afghanistan), as a boy Rumi travelled with his father for several years across Persia and eastern
Anatolia to Konya, where his tomb is located. Travel, evidently, broadened his outlook and made him tolerant to other faiths. He believed that men, regardless of race and religion, were
united, and linked to Nature by love.
A Dervish’s head-dress signifies his ego’s tombstone while his white skirt, ego’s shroud. Removing his black cloak at the onset, he begins holding his arms crosswise representing number one,
and testifying to God’s unity. While whirling his arms are open: his right hand directed to the sky, ready to receive God’s beneficence whilst his
left, turned toward the earth. He turns from right to left, pivoting around the heart, embracing all of humankind
with affection and love, conveying God’s spiritual gift to the people upon whom God looks with a Divine watchfulness.
As the dervishes gain speed – their white skirts swirling and the body blurred – the viewer too becomes a participant in the unbroken ecstasy or fenafillah (as known in Islam) and leading
to the loss of conscious thought while the verse from the Holy Quran reaches your ear: Onto God belong the
East and West, and wherever you turn, there is God’s countenance. He is all embracing, all-knowing.
||Turkey is unlike any other Muslim majority country and for the firsttime visitor it can be bit of a culture shock considering the westernisation of a city like Istanbul where women are
dressed in their western best, the restaurants are open all day irrespective of Ramadan and liquor flows like water. Every stone in Istanbul is soaked in history and the best example of the
same is the Hippodrome (390AD), and then you have places like Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque,
Dolmabache Palace, Topkapi Palace, etc. but your trip is
unlikely to be complete if you haven’t haggled over the price of a souvenir in the Grand
Bazaar and the Spice Market. The world’s oldest and largest covered bazaar, the Grand Bazaar with 4,400
shops, 1,400 ateliers and seven fountains is a place where you can buy tea glasses, t-shirts, any kind of item bearing the ‘evil eye’ symbol, fruit tea, Turkish Delight, embroidered
cushions, leather pouffes, coloured glass lanterns, leather bags and coats, and Pashmina shawls. While shopping here, there are certain rules you need to follow: Start at one-tenth of the price and aim to pay about one-third of the original asking price. If you can’t agree on a price, walk away. Chances are that the shopkeeper might change his mind and come after you.
As you enter the ancient domed building of Spice Bazaar you will realise that you have stepped into a truly exotic place as your nostrils are assailed with scents rising from stalls selling spices, herbs and medicinal plants. In fact, a stall claims to have 1,500 kinds of spices! It’s a world of olfactory fusion—the aroma of musk, cinnamon, clove, mint, bay leaf, pepper, turmeric, ginger, oregano, nutmeg, saffron and others—just overwhelms you.
Also known as Egyptian Bazaar, it was the terminal
for the Spice Road since pre-Ottoman times. You will find sacks and shelves groaning with dried fruits and nuts, teas and infusions, oils and essences, sweetmeats, honey combs and aphrodisiacs. You’re likely to go crazy at the sight of the food items the Bazaar offers but don’t be impulsive while making purchases. Never buy from the shops that are located at the mouth of the entrance. Do a recce of the prices on offer and you’re likely to get your money’s worth. Well, that would mean spending more time (you
have enough of it because Turkey is 2.30 hours behind IST). but don’t forget you’re on a vacation. And you don’t come to Istanbul often.