This is Simit. It's a screwy (is this a naughty word? ) circular bread with sesame crust. It chews like a bagel but is also soft yet nutty. They make a good anytime snack, I should know, because we never could resist them, especially when they are brought out fresh from the oven like this burnished beauty.
In Istanbul, and the rest of Turkey too I would imagine, simit is available everywhere, all the time. In bakeries and on the streets. The vendors sell them from dinky carts and some carry them around on trays and baskets, even on their heads.
Here is an aerial shot of a simit diving into freshly dripped honey (from their combs) and home-made yoghurt. Yumyum.
And to think that Istanbul almost did not happen. We did flip-flop somewhat over whether to go or not to go. Back in December after we returned to Paris from our blissful Singapore/KL trip, husband and I admitted to ourselves that our old bones and joints are not what they used to be and weren't really that compatible with the damp cold weather, wouldn't it be nice to go somewhere with longer day hours, someplace not too far away that doesn't spend in euros because the euro is so strong now. We considered Marakkesh and Istanbul, both depaysanne as my French teacher puts it, exotic places with occidental and oriental influences. Marakkesh didn't work out in the end- we managed to book the riad and then Air France announced that it would no longer fly to Marakkesh as of 1 April and the other alternative of Air Maroc was just not feasible after reading safety reviews of their planes which seems to be held together by masking tape. Istanbul it was then, and fortunately we were able to book a hotel room just before their high season starts. Before we know it we have spent six unforgettable days there, coming home in time to welcome the first day of spring, a little wet and chilly though it may be.
Istanbul: there's a good reason why it is not popular in winter which we realised when we were sitting in the taxi on the way to our hotel and our nostrils were continuously assailed by the not too pleasant smells of air pollution, diesel and stale fish. Apparently this winter smog disappears in spring. Anyway, the drive was not particularly pretty, not until we pulled into the Sultanahmet area and beheld the centuries-old museums and palaces as well as the crazy traffic, then across Galata bridge and its fishing enthusiasts, into Taksim square and the crowds, the monuments and finally our conveniently located hotel with the cringe-making name of Lush Hip Hotel. For a tiny hotel I was not expecting to be beaten to the check-in desk by a group of chain-smoking, german-speaking fashion types but shit sometimes happen and we had to wait a little longer before we were settled into our small but clean room. With his and hers amenities- girls get tampons and sanitary towels while guys get gold packet condoms. L'occitane toiletries. Duvets. Modern soothing decor. Very helpful staff, but not so helpful when it comes to restaurant recommendations but more on that later. When I opened the window I saw that the hotel is right across from Changa where we had dinner reservations for the very same night; I had booked it because the address was in the neighbourhood but I didn't figure that it was literally across the road, there we go these neat things do happen sometimes. Things started looking up from that point onwards.
Our so-called lunch on the flight over consisted of traffic red smoked salmon and vinegared lentils, too horrible to eat, so I had to make do on just a tiny roll which probably accounted for the grouchy mood that lasted until we were able to venture out and encounter Olimpia patisserie a few yards off the hotel.
The range of cakes, pastries and cookies were so wide we hardly knew where to start so we randomly pointed and chose. Little did we know that this would be the pattern of the entire trip, eating all sorts of cakes, pastries and cookies, more than the combined eating of pastries in Paris! Olimpia is only one of seemingly hundreds of such little neighbourhood joints and within two hours of our arrival my empty stomach was filled with one after another of baked treats.
We ended up at Olimpia nearly every day come 5 pm when the system gasps for something sweet to be washed down with a glass of cay (tea).
Like baklava type pastries of filo sheets layered with pistachios and doused with rose syrups.
We went to other places of course, like venerated Sutis along Istitlal Caddessi. Their display of baklavas and sugar-drenched sweets is more jaw-dropping but one can't eat too many baklavas and my attention was riveted by other things.
Like their sutlac, or baked rice pudding. Underneath the weird but delicious skin which is a masterpiece in itself being neither too burnt nor underbaked, just nice and delightfully yielding and tear-able, are found plump yet integral grains of rice suspended in a creamy milky pudding soup made enriched with ground rice. Not too sweet as other versions can be. I also ordered an intriguing pudding made with chicken breast meat but the server didn't understand me and I let it go, pretty stupid huh?
The copper-molded ceiling of Sutis was what drew me into the cafe in the first place. The rest of their decor is beautiful too, making it an oasis of beauty and class in the crazy street that Istiklal is.
We tried the Savoy too, it's been around since 1950 and the upstairs sitting area is popular with young people and families alike.
But we always ended up in Olimpia. Its decor is simple, the television screen shows non-stop football action which the locals are crazy over, and nobody understands English but it felt just right to us. One night we couldn't be bothered to go out for dinner so we snacked on more of their baked savoury goods in our room instead.
While Istiklal Caddessi is quite tacky the many side streets and corners that branches off it makes for some fun exploring. Besides the patisseries, there are many kebab shops and small joints serving snacky bread pockets of cheese or caramelised onions.
These snack shops typically have a huge round pan of what appears to be a macaroni pie. We were given a small sample to taste and it was lovely, the goat cheese adds flavour but does not make it too rich. That's the beauty of Turkish food, the flavourings never veers into excessive or overwhelming, always preserving the natural tastes and using aromatics just to enhance or complement. The philosophy is similar to Cantonese food which may explain our easy fondness for it.
More bread, pizza like with meat toppings. Near the Egyptian Bazaar.
Tea is the ubiquitous beverage to drink with breads and cakes and everything else, we certainly drank more than our share. On the streets tea boys deliver tea on specially adapted trays, sometimes covering the tea with a little dish of sugar cubes to protect from the dust. After dinner most locals finish with cups of tea instead of dessert. There is also Turkish coffee too but I find it too bitter and powdery even when sipped very slowly as advised. It'll always be cay for me, and a simit if it's possible!
In the next post we visit the markets and eat foods from other food groups such as meats and fish....