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Spring in Istanbul; Tulips, Spectacular Chora Museum, Glorious Turkish Food and More

Gorgeous tulips greet you everywhere in Istanbul in spring

Gorgeous tulips greet you everywhere in Istanbul in spring

Istanbul’dan Merhaba! – Greetings to you all from Istanbul! There are so many things to share from home, especially at this time of the year with a lovely balmy spring air. Here are a few snapshots from Istanbul, I hope you enjoy them.

Istanbul welcomed us with a lovely spring air and gorgeous tulips dotted all around the city; their colors are simply mesmerising.  Apparently the Municipality in Istanbul planted 2 million tulip bulbs, they are a feast to the eye.

Spring is a wonderful time to enjoy the tulips, lale, in Istanbul

Spring is a wonderful time to enjoy the tulips, lale, in Istanbul

The Ottomans had an immense fondness for the tulips; as a matter of fact, there was  the Tulip Period  when  Ottoman Empire  have begun to orient itself towards Europe and the elite, high-class society of the Ottomans enjoyed tulips in their courtyards, gardens and in various occasions. Tulips defined nobility and privilege, both in terms of goods and leisure time. Continuing this heritage, you can enjoy the many varieties of tulips in in Istanbul in spring.

Turkish tea, cay - with a smile; a very warm welcome

Turkish tea, cay – with a smile; a very warm welcome

Cay, most probably the most popular Turkish drink

Cay, most probably the most popular Turkish drink

One of the things that warmly welcomes you at home is a glass of cay – Turkish tea (you can see the influence of the Tulip era even at the shape of the Turkish traditional tea glasses) – with a warm smile from the locals, that is a wonderful welcome. I gratefully accepted Armada’s “Hosgeldiniz” cay : )

Apple tea, elma cayi - not traditinally a Turkish drink but still very pleasant

Apple tea, elma cayi – not traditinally a Turkish drink but still very pleasant

How about apple tea, elma cayi? On the contrary of belief, it It is not a traditional Turkish drink, you wouldn’t see a Turk drinking apple tea at home. It is widely offered at cafes around Sultanahmet, Old Istanbul and still a refreshing, pleasant drink – and goes down very well sitting outside in a nice spring day over looking Old Istanbul!

Shoe-shine with a view, over looking the Hagia Sophia

Shoe-shine with a view, over looking the Hagia Sophia

Have you had your shoes polished while in Turkey? It is a great, friendly experience – with a top notch service- and value for money; my husband saves his shoes to be polished at home. On this traditional stalls, experts like Mehmet here cleans and polishes your shoe up to the standards of brand new! If you are in Sultanahmet area, look out for him, as his spot offers the fascinating view of Hagia Sophia.

Sultanahmet Koftecisi is a delicious, quick stop for Turkish style meatballs and bean salad

Sultanahmet Koftecisi is a delicious, quick stop for Turkish style meatballs and bean salad

And soon we were hungry. Sultanahmet Koftecisi has been making delicious Turkish meatballs served with the bean salad with onions, lettuce, shredded carrots and pickled peppers, for over 90 years. It is a locals hub and popular with tourists too. We enjoyed this quick, delicious and healthy lunch.

Turkish meatballs, piyaz salad with beans and ayran - make a delicious lunch

Turkish meatballs, piyaz salad with beans and ayran – make a delicious lunch

Fasulye Piyazi, the bean salad with onions, tomatoes, using the canellini beans is a delicious, healthy salad that you can make in minutes. I use the pre-cooked canellini beans and add a boiled egg to it; the salad itself makes a wonderful, healthy lunch and it is a great accompaniment to grilled meatballs and any grilled meat too. Here is my recipe for the bean salad, if you would like to try.

Bean salad with onions, tomatoes, olives and boiled eggs - Fasulye piyazl

Bean salad with onions, tomatoes, olives and boiled eggs – Fasulye piyazi

If you haven’t already been to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, I highly recommend it. Tucked away behind the Topkapi Palace, the magnificient museum is divided into three buildings; the Archaeology Museum, the Museum of Ancient Orient and the Tiled Kiosk. The museum hosts the Palace collections, formed druing the 19th century by the archaelogist Osman Hamdi.

Archaeology Museum in Istanbul is a must see

Archaeology Museum in Istanbul is a must see


Sarcophagus of Mourning Women - Mid 6th century BC
Sarcophagus of Mourning Women – Mid 6th century BC, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul
Sipping Turkish coffee and taking it all in at the Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Sipping Turkish coffee and taking it all in at the Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, The Church of Divine Wisdom, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, The Church of Divine Wisdom, Istanbul

No matter now many times I may have visited the Hagia Sophia, this divine place always calls me back. Hagia Sophia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, was completed in 537, and reigned as the greatest church in Christendom until the city was conquered by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1453, then turned into a mosque. In 1935, Ataturk proclaimed this amazing place a museum for everyone to enjoy. Take your time and arrive early to enjoy this masterpiece.

The wonderful Iznik tiles in the Blue Mosque

The wonderful Iznik tiles in the Blue Mosque

Right accross the Hagia Sophia is another masterpiece, the Blue Mosque, built during the reign of Sultan Ahmet I; he set out to build a monument that would rival and even surpass Hagia Sophia in grandeur. The Blue Mosque is decorated with 20,000 Iznik tiles, absolutely beautiful to look at. This is a functioning mosque that welcomes visitors and offers much pleasure and peace.

Chocolate and pistachio pudding- Sutlu, fistikli puding, so delicious

Chocolate and pistachio pudding- Sutlu, fistikli puding, so delicious

Need a break? Hafiz Mustafa has been making delicious puddings, desserts like baklavas, Turkish delights since 1864.Their store in Sultanahmet has a wonderful cafe and a little library, a good place to pause and enjoy the break. We enjoyed this luscious chocolate and pistachio pudding with shredded coconut, almonds and nuts over the top – always have time for food : )

Turkish carpets are of high quality with beautiful designs

Turkish carpets are of high quality with beautiful designs

During our tour, we also had a chance to watch how the famous Turkish carpets are made. Turkish carpets are made of double knots, very durable and of high quality and all hand woven; they are a labor of love too, as especially the a silk carpet can take 4-6 months to be completed – really a work of art.

Chora (Kariye) Museum, Istanbul

Chora (Kariye) Museum, Istanbul

If you haven’t been to the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora (“Kariye Muzesi”) in Turkish, I hope you make it there when you visit Istanbul. The church, now museum, is considered to be one of the most beautiful surviving examples of a Byzantine Church and covered with beautiful, immaculate mozaics. The museum is at Edrnekapi, a little further than Sultanahmet but so worth the visit. In the 16th century, during the Ottoman era, the church was converted into a mosque and, finally, it became a museum in 1948. The interior of the building is covered with fine mosaics and frescoes in great condition.

Chora Museum hosts fine examples of mosaics and frescoes

Chora Museum hosts fine examples of mosaics and frescoes


The mezze feast; hummus, abagannus, walnut & red pepper paste dip and more

The mezze feast; hummus, abagannus, walnut & red pepper paste dip and more

Soon, we were ready to eat again. I love the mezze culture we have in Turkey’; a small plateful of delicious appetizers like this hummus with red pepper flakes infused olive oil, the walnut and red pepper paste dip, the stuffed vine leaves and many more. They are a feast to all senses. You just need to control yourself not to over eat otherwise you are too full to have the main course!

Turkish flat breads with nigella seeds - so dangerously delicious, as it is hard to stop!

Turkish flat breads with nigella seeds – so dangerously delicious, as it is hard to stop eating!

These Turkish flat breads that come with the mezzes are my weak point; they are so delicious that it is hard to stop eating and they complement the mezzes so well. As soon as you sit down at the restaurants, you are served generous portions : )

Boats getting ready for the day at the Sea of Marmara

Boats getting ready for the day at the Sea of Marmara

I woke up this morning to be greeted by all these fishing boats getting ready for the day, the seagulls hunting for their first bite and the brew of cay at the background. It felt so good to be at home.

Look forward to sharing more of Istanbul and our visits to other parts of Turkey with you again soon.

Istanbul’dan Selamlar – Warm Greetings from Istanbul;


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Fascinating Istanbul Continues;The Basilica Cistern, Delights in Sultanahmet & Glorious Antakya Cuisine at Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi, Taksim,Istanbul

Fascinating Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

One of the things I love about Istanbul, is the exposure of thousands of years of history. Indeed, Istanbul is a city where east meets west; at one side the ultra modern buildings, the other side, the centuries old Old Istanbul with Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern and many more. The east and west surprisingly blend in well, and you feel you are walking around an open air museum,  so breathtaking.

Sultanahmet in Old Istanbul has such amazing sites like the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, The Basilica Cistern and many more, all these wonderful pieces of history are within walking distance to one another. The area is also very child friendly; wonderful to see lots of children visiting the museums, feeding their curious minds. I took my 9 year old son to Sultanahmet in Old Istanbul; we took the underground (subway or Metro, as locals call it) from the European side of the city, Levent, all the way to Taksim and then to Karakoy, so efficient. Then we took the Tram from Karakoy to Sultanahmet; worked so well, and no hassle of traffic (and must say, even the journey itself was exciting for my son!).

The Basilica Cistern, Yerebatan Sarnici, Istanbul

My son is fascinated with the 6th century cathedral size Basilica Cistern, especially with the Medusa column. The Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. I love the tranquility in there; you feel like you paused the time for a while, so peaceful.


Upside down Medusa pillar, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul.

The Medusa pillar was a highlight for my son, as he studied the Roman period  this year and read about the Medusa. He was eagerly telling me all about the snake hair and many legends behind it!

Roasted chestnuts and corn, popular streetfood in Istanbul

Soon, we were hungry (there’s always time for food at home!).  Street food, stalls selling Simit, sesame-encrusted bread rings, roasted chestnuts and corn are every where in Istanbul. They are great value and just hits the spot when you are out and about. We had our fair share of roasted chestnuts right outside of the Basilica Cistern, delicious.

Hafiz Mustafa in Sultanahmet carries a wide variety of Turkish delights, and has a wonderful cafe.

Well, we couldn’t just had the chestnuts, as my son spotted his favorite sweet, Lokum – Turkish Delights!  Hafiz Mustafa has been producing Turkish Delights since 1864 and this shop is a wonderful experience. The friendly staff showered my son with complementary Turkish delights, and the Literary Cafe inside the shop looked very inviting. Home made Turkish delights are surprisingly easier than you think and delicious, here is my recipe for Turkish delights, if you like to have a go.

Baklava, dried figs stuffed with walnuts – all so very inviting.

As expected, we had our fair share of the baklava. The dried figs here have been cut in half and stuffed with walnuts; they are then poached in syrup and cooked until soft, so very delicious. Figs and walnuts are also power food, very nutritious, and packed with antioksidants.

Glorious Antakya Cuisine In Taksim, Istanbul – Istanbul’da Bir Antakyali

Friendly staff at Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi, Taksim – Istanbul

My parents and my dear sister Oznur live in Istanbul and they are my eyes and ears. They kindly fill me in what’s the latest in the city, especially at the food front. As our roots go back to Antakya, ancient Antioch, they keep a close eye on especially the Southern Turkish food available in Istanbul. When my dad said that we have to try the newly opened Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi Restaurant in Taksim, the plan was made and my sister and my cousin Duygu made it there the next day.

Antakya has been a city of tolerance; Christians, Muslims and jews live happily and in peace there. This picture show the St Peter’s Chuch and the Habib-i Neccar Mosque in Antakya.

Antakya, ancient city of Antioch has been occupied by humans since the Calcolithic era (6th millennium BC), and hosted many civilizations ; the restaurant makes its name as of the Table of these Ancient Civilizations. Antakya has historical significance for Christianity as it was the place where the followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians for the first time. Antakya since then has been a city of tolerance; Christians, Muslims and Jews live happily and in peace together in Antakya. This picture at the restaurant show the St Peter’s Chuch and the Habib-i Neccar Mosque in Antakya.

Ismail Bey from Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi; so passionate about the history and cuisine of Antakya.

We greatly admired the passion of Ismail Bey from Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi for Antakya’s history and cuisine. The whole restaurant is full of pictures from Antakya; the Mozaic Museum, St Peter’s Church, the famous Long Market – Uzun Carsi and many more. Ibrahim Bey says they source 90 % of their ingredients from Antakya and proud to serve regional Antakya dishes in the restaurant. Another great thing about Istanbul; you can now taste a variety of regional cuisines, the city is such a melting pot.


Delicious mezzes of Antakya; Cevizli Biber (Walnuts with red pepper paste), hummus, patlicanli eksileme (smoked eggplant salad with dried mint) and many more

A huge tray of delicious mezzes of Antakya greeted us; Cevizli Biber (Walnuts with red pepper paste and olive oil), hummus, zathar salad, Zeytin ufeleme (olive salad with pomegranate molasses) and many more.

Smoked eggplant with vegetables, olive oil, dried mint & lemon dressing; delicious and refreshing.

 One of the mezzes that we enjoyed is Patlicanli Eksileme – Smoked Eggplant Salad with tomatoes, onions, parsley with olive oil, dried mint & lemon dressing. The sweet, smoky flavor of the eggplants here work so well with the vegetables and the dressing, here is the recipe if you’d like to try out.

Abagannuc; sauteed chunks of lamb over the bed of eggplant, tomato and pepper sauce

Then came Abagannuc;  sauteed chunks of lamb served over Abagannuc; the smoked eggplant, tomato and pepper sauce, just melted in the mouth.

Kagit Kebab of Antakya

Feast continued; this is Antakya’s Kagit Kebabi; Kebab baked in the oven in a special baking paper. I have vivid childhood memories of taking the ground meat mixture to my grandmother’s local bakery in Antakya, to cook this kebab for us (bakerys in Antakya also bakes many kebabs, casseroles and pastries for their customers). Ground meat, garlic, parsley, onion and spices in the mixture, another local specialty.

Candied walnuts, figs and pumkin – and of course Kunefe!

Now time for the sweets; this time came the wonderful candied walnuts, pumpkin and figs, along with Antakya’s famous kunefe.

The candied walnuts are a real speciality of Antakya, along with others; locals start making this dessert at the early months of summer, and its preparation can take up to a month.  Young walnuts are soaked in water for a long period so that their bitterness goes away. Once they are cooked, the walnuts again soaked in syrup for a long time, a real labor of love.

Antakya’s Kombe cookies; a great crumbly texture, with flavors of tahini, sesame seeds, cinnamon, wild oregano and more.

Ismail Bey kindly treated us to Antakya’s famous Kombe cookies, another regional specialty. It has a wonderful, crumbly texture and delicious flavors of tahini, sesame seeds, cinnamon, wild oregano and more. They were so good that I had to save one to take to my parents!

Menengic Kahvesi, another Southern Turkish specialty.

Have you ever tried Menegic coffee? It was my first time trying this aromatic, delicious coffee, another Southern Turkish Speciality. Menengic, or cetene or citlenbik, as locals call it, is Pistacia terebinthus, known commonly as terebinth and turpentine tree, is a species of Pistacia, and wildly grown in Southern Turkey, part of the national flora. Cooked with milk, you can certainly get the wonderful pistachio taste, a unique experience.

Locals in Southeastern Turkey also liberally incorporate menengic’s oil into home-made sweets (baklava, kadayif, halwa, cookies and more) as it counters sugar and gives an unworldly delicious taste. In addition, menengic’s oil is regarded very healthy and packed with goodness.

A delightful feast, Antakya style, with my sister and cousin in Taksim, Istanbul

We enjoyed a truly delightful feast, treasures of Antakya, with my sister and cousin in Taksim, Istanbul – so worth a visit.

I hope you enjoyed our adventure in the fascinating city of Istanbul and a taste of  Antakya available in Istanbul. As you can see, many of the mezzes and dishes here are so easy to make, healthy and delicious, I hope they inspire you to have a go.

There is more to share again soon! Until next time,

Afiyet Olsun,


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Let’s Explore My Homeland; Fascinating Istanbul and Breathtaking Land of Turkey

It’s that time of the year, and we have holidays, travels, exploring the exotic and perhaps the unknown in our mind and hearts. I have the travel bug in me again, as I will be departing for Istanbul in August. But before that, I wanted to share an exciting itinerary with you; our 2013 Fascinating Istanbul and Grand Turkey Tour Brochure, from March 29th to April 8th 2013.

Grand entrance of the Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

I was born and bred in Turkey, lived and travelled in my homeland extensively over 30 years. No doubt, I love my homeland, and it is a joy to share all the treasures of Turkey through my blog. While I was teaching Turkish Cooking Classes at Central Market Cooking School in Austin, Texas, folks coming to my classes expressed an interest to see Turkey from a local’s perspective. Now, thanks to them (especially to dear Pam Wood, for the initiation) once a year, I team up with Four Seasons Tours, organize and host a culinary and cultural tour to Turkey.

We are having a hands-on experience on carpet making at Nakkas Rugs

So, what do we do in our tours? My foremost aim with the tour is to show my homeland, through a local’s perspective; the places we Turks go for a delicious bite to eat; the markets we shop for the best spices, baklavas; the sites and many more. With our highly knowledgeable guide Kaan Gulcur, we visit some of the finest and most fascinating sites in Turkey. Here is a taster of what happens in our tour:

Fascinating Hagia Sophia, as seen from the grounds of the Blue Mosque


The fascinating entrance of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

I lived in Istanbul over 15 years; it is a city where old and new exists together, it is old but not tired, ancient, yet alive. Here is the breathtaking Hagia Sophia; a pioneer of architecture and once the largest church in the world prior to the St Peter’s in Rome. I must have visited Hagia Sophia over 15 times, it still amazes me.

Entrance of Hotel Armada, with their vintage car in front

I have been staying at the Armada Hotel at the heart of Old Istanbul over 15 years. The location is superb and their hospitality and Turkish breakfast overlooking the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia is unforgettable.

The very inviting Turkish Breakfast at the Armada Hotel

Istanbul is a big city with a population of over 12 million, and the Bosporus strait divides the city into two parts. One of the best ways to appreciate both the old and the new parts of Istanbul is to take a boat cruise, like we do at the tour. Try to take a small size boat, where you zig zag at the both sides of the Bosphorus to see the Yalis (wooden, residential summer houses for the Sultan and high official’s at the Ottoman Empire), Palaces, or just simply to witness how the day goes by at the side streets. Local ferries, Vapur, might also be a good and cheap way to explore Istanbul in both sides.

Traditional ferries, Vapur, provide an affordable way to cruise along the Bosphorus, and you can get to see a part of locals’ daily rutine

How can we not visit the Spice Market when in Istanbul?  Spices are an important part of Turkish cuisine, that’s the way we add flavor to our dishes. So a visit to the Spice Market is a must to stock up wonderful spices, Turkish tea, Turkish Delight, nuts and many more. I could spend hours at my favorite spice shop, Malatya Pazari at the Spice Market.

Entrance to the ancient Spice Market, Misir Carsisi

Spices, nuts, dried fruit, tea, Turkish Delight galore at Malatya Pazari, Spice Market

Now comes the Grand Bazaar; renown as the world’s oldest shopping mall, it is so worth seeing for its architecture, colorful shops selling a huge variety from gold to leather, to china and many more. I would be careful to shop there for big items like rugs, as you will most likely to get tourist prices there. But the atmosphere is magical and well worth it.

Ancient Grand Bazaar is well worth a visit even for its magnificent architecture

Baklava is a delicacy that is perfected at the Ottoman Palace kitchens and Gulluoglu Baklava is one of the best places to sample the real thing. We also like to take demo baklava classes there and witness how this delicious treat is made; it is one of the highlights of the tour!

We are having a go at making the delicious baklava wth Gulluoglu experts

Why not have a go and make baklava at home? It is easy to make baklava with fillo pastry sheets at your home, and you can adjust the syrup to your liking. Here is my recipe, you will be amazed with the results.

My home made baklava with walnuts; so easy to make at home, so delicious

Turks are a very hospitable nation and they regard the visitors as “God’s guest” and their door is open to them. Wherever you go , you will be offered tea, Turkish coffee, or like  in this case some pine nuts and local honey by this local village man near Pergamum.

Friendly local nearby Pergamum, offered us his pine nuts and local honey

You will be offered Turkish tea or Turkish coffee wherever you go in Turkey

At the Aegean, a visit Ephesus, provincial capital of Asia Minor for the Roman Empire and one of the seven churches of the Revelations is always a highlight. As one of the best preserved Roman cities, its monumental theater was where St. Paul preached to the Ephesians. Ephesus also boasts one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis, and the resting place of St. John the Evangelist is in the Church of St. John.

Ephesus and the library, breathtaking site, still intact

Entrance of the Virgin Mary’s House, Ephesus

While we are at the Aegean, we take a hands-on Aegean style Turkish cooking class, where we knock up wonderful casseroles, mousakka,  gozleme  (Anatolian flat breads with various fillings), and delicious salads dressed with the local olive oil. This experience stay with us a long time, and it is always lovely to hear participants making all these wonderful dishes they learned to their family and friends back at home.

Local ladies showing us how to make Gozleme, cheese and vegetables filled traditional pastries

Hatice Hanim and I making the Mousakka, Aegean style


Enjoying the delicious spread we made at the end of our class

Kusadasi is a wonderful port we stay while at the Aegean. Dining out overlooking the turquoise Mediterranean is a real treat.

Gorgeous colors of Kusadasi

View from Kismet Hotel overlooking Kusadasi Bay, so inviting

On the way back to Istanbul, drive towards the Dardanelles to see the battlefields of Gallipoli, view Mount Ida,  the site of the beauty pageant that led to the Trojan War.

It is always a pleasure to share the wonderful treasures of my homeland and this is a tiny little snapshot of what Turkey offers. Participation for our tour is limited to 15 people. If you would like to join us to explore the fascinating land of Turkey, do please contact me, and also view photos from my previous tours. If you can’t, I do hope this post may inspire you to visit Turkey sometime, and give some ideas.  For some additional and fantastic travel posts from Turkey, please also visit Turkish Travel Blog; Natalie’s travels, stories and photos across Turkey are simply mesmerizing.

The entrance to the Dolmabahce Palace through the Bosphorus

Have you ever travelled to Turkey? I would love to hear your experience, please share with us.

Happy Travels to All!






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