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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Gastronomic Journey in Istanbul

Enjoying the local cuisine is an integral part of a traveler’s experience. It doesn’t matter whether you are a foodie or not. There are some things you just have to taste and enjoy. It could be the dosa of South India, Chicken Tikka Masala of North India, Masaman Curry of Thailand, Gado-Gado of Indonesia, Sushi of Japan, Kebabs of Turkey, Desserts of France, Pizzas of Italy, Salsa and Tortilla Chips of Mexico or many other such delicious dishes from all over the world. When you travel to any of these countries, you just have to taste them. In my mind, a trip is not complete without tasting the local specialities.

Eating with locals in Istanbul, Turkey
But, it would be a shame to taste these iconic dishes of the region or country at a restaurant in the tourist hub of the city. To get an authentic taste, we would need to taste such food in popular restaurants or at the homes of locals. I engage in both, but honestly prefer the latter for a wholesome gastronomic experience.  Even the world is waking up to this new trend in travel, which is experiencing travel the local way. We stay with locals, we eat with locals, we travel with locals, we engage with locals and in essence we experience the country with its citizens.

Delicious Turkish Food at a local house 
On my recent visit to Istanbul, I spent an entire day with Nuray, Ipek and Serdar, a local Turkish family who live in a nice residential part of this bustling city. During this day, I walked the local bazaars with them and haggled for the fresh produce of the day, I tried to understand the fine details of Turkish food while I cooked with them and finally I enjoyed a delicious multi-course wholesome home-cooked meal with them. The result was a sensational gastronomic journey for me that I would not have experienced if I stayed within the tourist quarter of Istanbul.

Delicious Vegetarian Food from Turkey
To take part in this local culinary experience, I used Traveling Spoon’s interesting service where they connect travelers with local hosts across the world for an interesting food journey. It doesn’t matter whether you are vegetarian or a hardcore meat lover, they convey your needs to the host and take good care of you. This is precisely what happened with me after they took my date and food preferences. I had opted for a market visit + cooking + eating program. They connected me with the host and arranged a vegetarian Turkish culinary experience for me.

A TravelingSpoon Experience
All I did on my own was to take the local metro and reach the home of the host. Once I reached the home of Nuray, Serdar and Ipek, I was treated to some Sherbat and delicious cigarette rolls (these are filled with spinach and peynir cheese). What happened next was an interesting conversation that ranged from India, Turkey, Food, Music, Dance, Travel and much more. I could not believe that I was busy yapping happily with these strangers. It felt like they were my friends. Somewhere amidst all this interesting conversations, we made a trip to a local market to see, smell and sample the local vegetables and produce. The whole bazaar had an electric atmosphere with lots of colour, sales calls and haggling conversations.

Sankara - the cook
What followed next was Nuray gifting me a lovely apron (moustache and sunglasses) handmade by her and an elaborate cooking session that involved me eating more cigarette rolls, drinking lots of tea, watching Nuray cook and listening to my hosts talk about their food. Nuray offered to let me cook, but I left it to her expert hands.  I was happy to watch, eat, talk and listen. The smells from the cooking were making my mouth water and had definitely whetted my appetite.

Cooking Turkish Food with locals
If you look at the entire spread, you will be surprised at the sheer number of vegetarian options in Turkish cooking. Well, due credit goes to Nuray for this, but what I also found out in my month long stay in Turkey is that this Kebab country offers an immense number of vegetarian dishes. The spread included rice, bread, dolma, strained yoghurt, beans and tomatoes, lots of mezes and salads, stir friend beans, Biriyani Rice, deep-fried Kabak Mucveri (Turkish Zucchini fritters), Peynir cheese, fruits, more cigarette rolls and the super yummy Baklava. All in all, it was paradise for a foodie liked me. With all this food in me, my stomach was super full, but my heart still yearned for more.

Shopping at local Turkish bazaars for vegetables
It was indeed a special Turkish gastronomic journey for me and of course it was vegetarian! And not only did I make great memories, I also ended up making 3 new friends in Turkey!!

My mouth has been watering just re-collecting my memories from that day. I better go fix myself something to eat. I hope you find yourself a gastronomic journey too on your next trip.



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