Kahvalti


Kahvalti 
means breakfast in Turkish.

What a ‘typical’ Turkish breakfast consists of could be debated (endlessly?) but some of the basic staples are bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheese. Let’s follow that basic list with runners-ups: olives, eggs, and sweet spreads (jams, ‘bal-kaymak,’ which is honey and clotted cream, pekmez (often with tahini, the much improved Turkish equivalent of PB and J)). We’ll add to the list some other commonly found additions, like borek, sucuk or other sausages, cold vegetable dishes and, increasingly, french fries.

This pictures below will evince this, but it should be noted that Turkish cay (chai… tea) is the necessary complement to the breakfast meal, despite the fact that the name for breakfast, kahvalti, literally translates to ‘a base on which you can drink coffee.’ Traditionally tea is drunk during the meal, and Turkish coffee follows the meal.

Whoa now, you say. That sounds like a lot of food. Oh yeah, it is. photo This image is of a fabulous breakfast place in Cihangir, Beyoglu in Istanbul, called Van Kahvalti Evi. I absolutely recommend it to anyone traveling to Istanbul who wants to experience an authentic breakfast. The city of Van, located in the far east of Turkey, is famous for their breakfasts. In the next few days, in fact, Van residents are attempting to break the world record for the most crowded breakfast table! Two food items are particular to Van Kahvalti specifically are visible above. The most famous is Van otlu peyniri, or ‘van herb cheese.’ It’s very salty, but delicious. The other is called kavut, made of ground wheat… my friends and I have a difficult time appreciating this one due to the texture, which is very gritty. IMG_3767 My friends and I traveled to Van to experience their authentic Kahvalti, and we were not disappointed. Above is a picture of me in Van, not disappointed. IMG_3766 The plate closest to me 2 images above, and the plate closest to the bottom hold two ‘local-to-van’ breakfast foods. The darker of the two is kavut, mentioned above…. you can see how gritty it is, even from the picture. Kavut also goes by the name “devseyiti.” The chunky-looking, caramel-colored food next to the kavut is alternatively called ‘jejerun’ or ‘murtuga,’ and it consists of bread that is coated in flour and egg and fried. This Van ‘kahvalti salonu’ (breakfast joint) is the only place I’ve ever seen this food. IMG_1966 Another shot from Van Kahvalti Evi in Istanbul, on a different occasion. The plate just up from mine (with the two pieces of bread) is honey, which is often locally sourced and has bits of the comb still (as you can see above)…. sometimes more than bits…. so yum. As described above, honey is often served along with clotted cream (bal=honey, kaymak=clotted cream), especially in the eastern part of the country. A decadent but delightful way to start a morning.

Above are some of the more elaborate kahvalti spreads I’ve experienced, and they focus on the specific culture of Van (which has Kurdish influence,among other things). However, the INSTITUTION of breakfast in Turkey isn’t limited to a region.

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This one is at a cafe in Eskisehir. Note the bal-kaymak (next to the olives), the boiled egg, the french fries, and the little fried sausage, which are also common. This is a fairly typical offering when ordering a “breakfast plate” from a cafe.

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My beautiful friend at a different lovely cafe in the Cihangir district in Istanbul. The two bread-looking objects next to the boiled eggs are gul boregi “rose borek,” a flaky pastry filled with cheese.

IMG_0799This spread is from a sea-side cafe along the Kordon in Izmir. On the far right you can see a different variety of borek. In the middle, to the left of the sunny-side up eggs is one of the key standards of Turkish breakfast: menemen. It’s very similar to a Lebanese or Tunisian shakshouka– a mixture of tomatoes and peppers cooked with eggs. The spice level of menenmen can vary wildly– a group of us tried some at a roadside tea garden in Adiyaman province in the southeast, and many wept, sweated, and wailed from the spice (me). College kids often joke that it’s the one dish they can prepare besides pasta. Variations on menemen are popular, including with sucuk (spicy garlicky sausage), cheese, etc.

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Here’s a breakfast morning at my home in Kirikkale. Our friend sucuk makes a re-appearance, this time in omelette form. In the foreground of the image is gozleme. Gozleme is a distinctly Turkish and notoriously poorly translated food. Most often tourists are told it is a pancake, or ‘savory pancake;’ neither of those do gozleme justice. It is a very fine crepe-like dough (not sweet) filled with variable items like cheese, mice meat, spinach, eggplant, etc.) and cooked on a ‘sac,’ a rounded griddle (the same stove-thing used to make manouche). It’s just awesome.

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There’s a lot that can be said about Turkish breakfast, but beyond all the food, perhaps the most important thing about kahvalti is the way it is eaten: slowly, in a relaxed atmosphere, preferably with great people. An important aspect of Turkish culture is that of ‘keyif,’ which someone once described as “a pleasurable state of idle relaxation.’ As well as being delicious, kahvalti should be keyifli.

Afiyet olsun!

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Istanbul (Marathon)’da Sonbahar

The weekend of the Vodafone Istanbul Marathon, a large group of Fulbrighters gathered in Istanbul to participate in the 10k and fun run. The Istanbul Marathon is the only day of the year when the famous Bosphorus Bridge is open to foot traffic, and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to boast that we’d crossed continents (from Asia to Europe) by foot! It was an overwhelming weekend- my first time in Istanbul!!—complete with much reunion-ing with Fulbright friends from across Turkey, and coinciding with a visit from a college friend.

Here’s one of the thousands of songs that have been written about Istanbul (my roommate and I spent a  good portion of a night listening to a bunch to inspire me before my trip) that is also the inspiration for the title of this post (“Istanbul in Autumn”).

Because the weekend was so hectic, and I swore I’d be returning to Istanbul many times (always, always inshallah… and I have) sightseeing wasn’t my highest priority. However, I did manage to squeeze in some of the famous sights of Istanbul.

We spent one morning visiting the Istanbul Modern, where I was particularly blown away by the works of Erol Akyavas.

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Sultan Ahmet Camii (aka the Blue Mosque) was built by grand architect Sedefhar Mehmet Aga between 1603-1617. It features a (potentially controversial) 6 minarets and tens of thousands of (primarily blue) Iznik tiles, hence the mosque’s unofficial namesake. While it is a stunning site (that I unfortunately did a terrible job photographing), its atmosphere is something less than reverential, especially for tourists who are herded through a side entrance en masse and trail their foot odors along with them.

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The Basilica Cistern is enjoying new fame thanks to it’s usage as a sight of intrigue in a recent Dan Brown novel. Known also by its Turkish name Yerebatan Sarnic(h)i, the Sunken Palace), it is essentially an ancient cistern formerly connected to numerous aqueducts; it was built originally to provide water for the Great Palace. It fell into formal disuse i the early Ottoman period, and was “rediscovered” in 1545 by a French academic who noticed the locals acquisition of fresh fish and water from what was then a formally unknown source: the cistern. The site was restored in 1987 and now features dramatic lighting which illuminates the diverse 336 columns, many of which (especially the two featuring the head of Medusa) were clearly sourced from other temples and buildings.

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As I was walking back from Sultan Ahmet to catch the tram back to the Taksim district to meet up with Fulbrighters, I happened to notice the Sublime Porte, (in Ottoman Turkish and for my Arabic readers, باب عالی ) which was the formal entrance to the offices of state affairs in Ottoman times, and thus served as its metonym. The area now houses the governor of Istanbul, so Wikipedia tells me.

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Güzel, değilmi?

Unfortunately my phone (read: camera) was dead so I don’t have many pictures of the marathon itself, however, I’m stealing some from my homegirl, the talented Sophia Yapalater to give you a small glimpse into what we experienced.

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I participated in what was advertised as the 8k Fun Run… I showed up in tennis shoes, my blue Fulbright Turkey teeshirt gifted by the Commission for the occasion, and athletic gear, prepped for a very long slog, having not done much to prep for the run. Upon arrival though, it became clear that actually running the fun run was very much optional. To be honest, it felt more like participating in a bizarre parade with no clear agenda.

It was as though someone had taken a cross section of civil society in Istanbul, of Turkey, and put (most of) them in tennis shoes, and said, “there will be thousands of people from around Turkey and the world, what do you want them to know or care about? Who wants a weird and un-matchable experience?” We saw lots of groups of schoolchildren walking with their teachers singing nursery rhymes, women’s groups (religiously affiliated and not) in matching scarves or teachers, supporters of environmentalism, swarms of people supporting charities that work with children with disabilities and more…. We also saw expressions like the one pictured below, complete with printed yellow and black R4BIA logos pinned to the backs of mostly younger men. That hand gesture is now in fact illegal in Egypt itself, but I’ve seen the logo stickered all over Turkey- in windows of restaurants or clothing stores, graffiti-ed onto walls, plastered at the entrance to apartment buildings, etc, in places as wide ranging as Istanbul, Konya, Ankara, and Urfa. Even though I’m not sure I can fully articulate why yet, I get a kind of sick and torn feeling in my stomach every time I see it.

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Walkers waving Turkish flags at the start line. Photo credit: Sophia Yapalater

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A group shot of all the Fulbrighters participating in marathon events (1/2 marathon, 10k, and fun run) with a representative of the Commission in Taksim Meydani before heading off to the race!

A great first experience of Istanbul, with great memories and the foundation for more to come.

29 Ekim: Cumhuriyet Bayramı

Cumhurriet Bayramı, celebrated on 29 October, is the date celebrating the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the day the state was declared by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is a national holiday, the equivalent of the 4th of July, Independence Day in America. As such, we had a half day of work the Monday prior, and classes were cancelled and the university closed in observance of the holiday on Tuesday. In my classes the week before I discussed the similarities in the commemoration of the two days between America and Turkey, including the presence of parades, fireworks, the hanging of flags, and speeches by politicians. Some may argue that both celebrations, aside from their obvious nationalism, can perhaps be seen by their celebrants as inherently anti-colonial as well.

A display in Eskisehir

A display in Eskisehir

In the morning I went with my roommate to purchase a flag for us to display from our balcony- it was important for her to express her pride in the Republic through this gesture. Though flags and Ataturk’s image are displayed throughout the year in some/many places (particularly at government establishments, like my public university, where Ataturk’s image is displayed in each classroom, my office, at the entrance to the building, in a statue outside the building, at the university gates, etc.) on Republic Day a Turkish flag was hung at the entrance of nearly every shop in the city center, from windows and apartment balconies as well.

flags on display in K Town

flags on display in K Town

For many complicated political and social reasons, celebrations in Kırıkkale, to my knowledge, were primarily limited to these displays, though there was a small gathering in the city square in the evening. However, my roommate and I followed observances of the holiday across the country via news on TV. In the morning, we watched commemorative celebrations in the capital city of Ankara, where the Prime Minister and President were present. An elaborate parade was held that included Ankara sword dancers in traditional costumes, a symphonic marching band, and flanks of costumed marchers imitating Ottoman battle marches, in full regalia. The colors and types of their costumes including symbolic representations of Islam, the former provinces of the Ottoman empire (intended to symbolize the unity of the Turkish nation) and more. IMG_1171

My roommate and I took advantage of the day off by hosting my fellow K-Town Fulbrighters and their Turkish roommates for a veritable Turkish smorgasbord. The meal included my first attempts (in Turkey at least) of two classic traditional foods: milföy and sarma dolma, with the necessary accompanying cecik (pronounced jeh-jik). Incidentally, those familiar with the food of the region in general, and/or my cooking may be aware that these foods have cousins if not twins in Arab cuisine: Milfoy is like börek (another Turkish food), which is similar to fatayer (stuffed, flaky, savory pastries, i.e. the popular spinach pie often known in the States by its Greek name, spanakopita); mine were stuffed with a mixture of beyaz peynir, a soft, sour white cheese, paprika, and finely chopped parsley.

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Sarma dolma and cecik are simply the Turkish names for my favorite food combo: warak ‘einab wa laban wa kheir, stuffed grape leaves and a yogurt sauce (which includes cucumber, garlic, salt, and when I make it, more akin to the Turkish variety, lemon juice, dill, mint and sumac).

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Later in the day we watched new coverage of the grand opening of the Marmaray in Istanbul, which runs underneath the Bosphorus, connecting the European and Asian continents via standard gauge rail for the first time. It is also the world’s deepest immersed tube tunnel. The political and symbolic significance of the choice to debut this incredible technological achievement on the date of the 90th anniversary of the Republic couldn’t be missed—in a speech President R.T. Erdogan said, in effect, even if you don’t like me, please be proud of this achievement. The vision of progress with which the Republic and its founder began, the message is sent, continues today.

a flier announcing the opening of the Marmaray at the train station in Ankara

a flier announcing the opening of the Marmaray at the train station in Ankara

Later, we watched gatherings in Izmir, where massive throngs of people stood chanting the equivalent of the Turkish pledge of allegiance, which was recently made non-mandatory in a package of ‘democratization’ reforms Back in Ankara, many marched with candles, symbolizing their individual roles in Turkish democracy. As is tradition, thousands visited Anitkabir, the final resting place of M.K. Ataturk as a commemorative act as well. In the evening, Istanbul had a fantastic fireworks display along the Bosphorus river, which was shown live on national news networks. A friend with whom I watched the display very genuinely remarked: “I hope Ataturk can see us now. I wonder what he would think.”

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