Travel,  Turkey

Ortaköy In Istanbul | One Magical Night

We – my #FoodieOnTour buddies (Debbie and Kirsty) and I, left the hotel that we were staying in at around 9:30pm after gulping down an inaugural round of drinks. Where could we go out for the night for some decent food, a few drinks, have a feel of Istanbul and return back to the hotel safe and sound? Everybody suggested Ortaköy. I had already had an initiation into Ortaköy the night before, when we were stuck in the famous Istanbuli traffic while coming back to the hotel {my 15 seconds video on Instagram on that}. I remember somebody asking the bus driver ‘How long is it going to take to reach our hotel?’ and he answered ‘If we reach the main road by 10 minutes, its going to take 10 more minutes to reach the hotel’… But the question I should have asked him perhaps – ‘how long will it take to reach the main road?’  We got into a taxi and throughout our journey the blue lights inside the taxi was on – casting a horrendous blue glow on our faces (above left) that we obviously had to capture on Instagram. This evening was going to be the mother of all Instagram nights, to be splattered all across Facebook and Twitter. I hadn’t seen something like Ortaköy before. It was throbbing with life. Little cobbled alleys lead to other alleys and they all seemed to meander through cafes cum pubs and restaurants, packed with diners – locals and tourists alike. Musicians were belting out haunting Turkish melodies, occasionally interrupted by the loud jazz music played in-house in some restaurant. Billy Joel, Dean Martin caught my attention, so did Mr Saxobeat. We walked, undecided as to where to eat and ultimately reached an open space where almost 8-10 food stalls lined up (below). All these stalls were serving Kumpir – baked potato served with a medley of chopped vegetables – onions, tomatoes, green peas, corns, fresh olives, some pickled vegetables that I thought were probably soaked in brine, even hot dog slices – all served inside a half of a mighty potato with its’ skin on. Kumpir stalls are all across Istanbul, but Ortaköy Kumpirs have their own fame, with Maya Kumpir (below) stealing the show. And this particular area is known as the Kumpir Sokak or the Baked Potato Street and leads up to the Ortaköy mosque. Kumpir Sokak was insanely electrifying.Each stall here was clamoring for attention. The vendors screaming and shouting in a flirtatious way to everyone passing by, specially the girls. ‘Hey Beautiful, come,oh come!’ ‘Oh look at you beauty!’ ‘Try our potatoes sweetheart’… and if you happen to come closer to one stall, the men from the other stalls would start screaming out. It was more like a casual and harmless eve-teasing. Everybody seemed to be okay with it, the girls retorting back with equal gay abundance, as they walked past, looking pretty and sexy in their fashionable gum boots, winter overcoats and overdone makeups. I found the entire atmosphere very intriguing. Though I have grown up in Kolkata which has a very open culture, eve-teasing has never been considered harmless. To be honest, the eve-teasers that I have seen before, either had more intentions lurking in their minds or had been plain obnoxious. Eve-teasing simply never happened so casually or in such a harmless manner as was happening between the men and the women in Ortaköy that night.18We didn’t stop by those ‘loud’ stalls for the potatoes that night. Or the mussels and lemons (above) that were being sold on the streets, although both of them were in my ‘things to eat in Istanbul’ list. Ortaköy seemed to be crowded that night. It was a Friday and a very popular spot for locals and tourists alike. There were art galleries, night clubs, cafés, bars, and restaurants all around this area. Interestingly, the locals who visited this place didn’t necessarily come for drinks. They were whiling away their time sitting in a small café, smoking Shishas (called Nargiles here) and drinking Turkish coffees. As I found out by the end of my trip, tea and coffee were not only a part and parcel of Turkish tradition, or an obsession or an addiction, it was the Turkish people’s claim to their heritage! An earlier post recounts my new found fascination with Turkish tea on this trip {Drenched in Turkish Tea And Sugar Cubes | Grand Bazaar, Istanbul}.

We settled in a restaurant called Epope Cafe and Restoran (below). Sitting here reminded me of an isle sitting in an aircraft where you are brushed aside continuously by whoever walks past. There were elderly locals walking past coughing and sneezing, there were food vendors who would stop and asked whether we would order anything from their cart. I failed to get this logic. Why would I be sitting in a restaurant eating the food that I have already ordered and still want to order something from the food carts passing by? For example, popcorn, castanias coated on chocolates or say Kumpirs. I know street food in Istanbul is irresistible, but still there has to be some logic behind placing such a simultaneous order. We ordered a Turkish Sauvignon Blanc (Kayra Leona Sauvignon Blanc 2010) to kick start our evening and went straight to the Main course (Kirmizi Etler) rather than fiddling with Appetisers. I liked my order – a plate of Grilled Garlic Sausage (below) which came with slices of grilled jumbo garlic sausages resembling patties and french fries served with an interesting Chilli Sauce that I felt, was just another pickled and spicier version of the Salsa sauce. Debbie ordered a plate of Iskender Kabab and an Ezme salad, while Kirsty ordered a fried Calamari. The Kebab came in a very fancy manner –  a brass lid covering a brass platter which held the kababs and the mashed potatoes. Both of them were a bit unhappy with their orders. As Debbie tweeted later ‘the Iskendar Kababs were average and lukewarm but the company and the Turkish wine made up for it. Plus the people watching’.Yes, ‘people-watching’ we did. In fact, it was like being on the set of an opera where you have been asked to watch the performance, but end up getting called upon stage unexpectedly, to fill in for someone. We watched food carts pass by, little girls begged for alms, flutists promised to play only for us. As I was eating, suddenly this boy who was asking for alms too, (below) appeared like a Jack in the box and startled me. I jumped out of my seat and it amused him so much that he started laughing. I loved his mischievous yet innocent face as he posed boldly for my camera {reminded me of the boy who posed for my camera in Mallick Bazaar, Kolkata and the Tharu children in Nepal}. After our dinner at Epope restaurant, we went into the Destan Cafe (below), just 10m across the road. This is one helluva interesting cafe. The entire cafe is dissected by the main alley and on one side there is the actual shop where the waffles, the teas and the coffees are being made. A counter here, houses the most colorful Turkish ice creams that I had ever seen. A man behind the counter was tempting us with the promise of special Turkish waffles and pancakes. The options for toppings were mind boggling. While we were to taste our first Turkish ice creams on our Turkey trip, I realised that instead of ice creams, Debbie had ordered waffle pancakes with Nutella The Kumpir counter looked inviting as well, but we settled for Turkish coffee and of course the divine looking pancakes. A photo journey below of the irresistible flavors of Turkish ice creams that we said ‘No’ to, at least on that evening.

The other side of the cafe standing on the opposite side of the alley, was a revelation of sorts. A quirky decor (below) that screamed ‘Football’ in a very Turkish manner, awaited us. The cafe had different rooms, each room decorated in a very ‘homely’ manner. There were bookshelves holding books and memoirs. Although the Plasma television on the wall was new, everything else cried glory of the old world – gramophone sets, hand telephones, ornate mirrors, chandeliers, fossils, leather couches etc. Even the unconcealed and dangerously hanging electric wires looked desirable (below).

Yes, as desirable as the waffle pancakes that arrived at the table. Along with the zesty Turkish coffees with the surface erupting in small bubbles all along the rim of the unique cups that were used to serve them. The waffle pancakes were drop-dead gorgeous. Not only did they look that way, they were definitely one of the most calorific and tastiest pancakes I have ever tasted in my life. The pancakes definitely deserve a separate post on them. But then this was a magical night in Ortaköy and there were far too many acts that led up to the entire drama. Quite naturally, each one had to be mentioned.         Smoking kills. That message was for the Z-Sisters who hover around my blog. Specially for Big Z who edits my posts and earns her living out of it (Dhs 10/post). A caramel flavoured Shisha arrived at our table (Big Z, it just arrived, I don’t know who had ordered!). It also had a chocolate taste as one inhaled the pipe. And the man who set up the Shisha, put up a demonstration that could make Turkey’s carbon footprint soar really high {my 15 seconds video on Instagram}. Ortaköy is special. The breeze of the Bosphorus serenades you. You can blow up your entire fortune, rummaging through artifacts or the stalls selling semi-precious jewellery and junk. It’s boisterous and lively. Though we didn’t walk up to the banks of the Bosphorus that night, I am sure that the feeling of standing right below the lit-up Bosphorus Bridge (just like the Golden Bridge in San Fransisco) must be very special. You can have fun just by people watching, eating and just be a part of the crowd. And I am not even mentioning the famous and the most expensive night clubs in the world – Reina, where Madonna comes to party in her own yacht!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: Debbie writes her blog Coffee Cakes and Running from Dubai. Kirsty is based in Qatar and writes 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

Disclaimer: You can see the menu and other info of Epope Cafe and Restoran and Destan Cafe on Zomato. Please note that this post is not a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. I was in Turkey as a guest of Turkish Airlines (organised by Burson-Marsteller) and visited their flight catering company Turkish Do & Co and the Turkish Technic. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.


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