Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011 - No comments

Five Ways to Take a Bite Out of the Bosphorus

The Bosphorus from Beylerbeyi Harbour

Like the watery spine of an anthology of tales of ancient glory, the Bosphorus binds together the Asian and European sides of the noble city of Istanbul. Linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and, beyond that, the Mediterranean, it has been a much coveted and much fought-over waterway for millennia. But with the fortresses and palaces of the conquered and their conquerors now turned into museums of strength and opulence, the children of the Ottomans enjoy the Bosphorus as their playground.

A sunny day draws locals of all ages and classes to its shores for a picnic, a stroll, or a cup of strong çay (tea) accompanied by the soothing sights and sounds of the sea. Ferries ply their routes alongside tankers and fish boats, flocks of chattering seagulls trailing in their wake. Once isolated fishing villages are now linked by miles of seawall lined with alternating centuries-old imperial residences and modern villas. Waves lap against the sides of gleaming yachts while seasoned fishermen cast their rods, seeking to fill their buckets before the sun sets over the imperial city.

Venture away from the crowds and kitsch of the Historic Peninsula and explore the natural beauty and cultural riches of the Bosphorus, best experienced with a steaming cup of çay accompanied by one of Turkey’s myriad edible delights. Here are five “snacks with a view” that will let you relish the full flavour of the Bosphorus.  Afiyet olsun! (Bon appetit!)

1. Börek and tea at Çınaraltı in Çengelköy (Asian Side)

While away an hour or three in the shade of the towering plane tree at the Çınaraltı Tea Garden. The cafe’s leafy namesake is said to be over 500 years old and has thus witnessed the absorption of the quaint fishing village of Çengelköy into the metropolis of Istanbul. With its charming wooden houses, bustling bakeries and lively fish and produce vendors, Çengelköy has retained its “neighbourhood” feel in the face of urbanization.

Both Çınaraltı’s courtyard and window-walled dining room form the perfect theatre for watching the comings and goings of ferries and fishing boats or the setting of the sun over the Bosphorus Bridge. As it is permitted to bring in food from outside, locals like to pair their steaming cup of çay or Turkish coffee with a slice of börek (a flaky cheese, potato or spinach-filled pastry) from the Çengelköy Börekçisi up on the main road (Çengelköy Caddesi). A popular spot for the newspaper-toting weekend brunch crowd, Çınaraltı is perhaps best visited on a weekday, and makes a perfect stopover between visiting Beylerbeyi Palace and Anadolu Hisarı (Fortress of Asia) just up the coast.

How to get there: From the European side, take the ferry to either Kadıköy or Üsküdar. From Kadıköy, take the Beykoz dolmuş or the 15BK or 15 F bus. From Üsküdar, take the Beykoz dolmuş or the 15 bus.

2. Kanlıca’s famous yogurt (Asian Side)

While its well-preserved wooden houses, Ottoman fountains and the shady forest of Mihrabad Korusu are certainly worth a whirl, Kanlıca’s claim to fame is its “historic” yogurt. Immigrants who came to Istanbul from Bulgaria during the later Ottoman-Russian wars brought with them the recipe for this thick, tangy treat, and it has been a favourite amongst Istanbul’s residents for over a century. The yogurt is sold in markets around the city, but for the proper Kanlıca experience, head to the kiosk in the square by the docks and order yours loaded with powdered sugar - a tasty complement to the bite of the yogurt. This is one of the narrowest points along the Bosphorus and is a perfect spot to settle in on a bench and watch the ships glide past on their way to and from the Black Sea.

How to get there: From the European side, take the ferry to either Kadıköy or Üsküdar. From Kadıköy, take the Beykoz dolmuş or the 15BK or 15 F bus. From Üsküdar, take the Beykoz dolmuş or the 15 bus. The Bosphorus ferries from Eminönü and Çengelköy also stop in Kanlıca.

Sugared yogurt and çay in Kanlıca

3. Fish sandwiches in Istinye (European Side)

History and tradition may be in favour of the “balık ekmek” (“fish bread”) served by men in Ottoman costumes by the docks in Eminönü, but if you want to skip the tourist crowd and take in a spectacular Bosphorus view, head to Istinye. Climb aboard any of the bobbing boats-turned-restaurants next to the ferry dock and tackle a freshly grilled fish sandwich, served on a half loaf of bread and piled high with lettuce and onions. Looking back the way you came, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge spans the gap between Asia and Europe, while to the north, the Bosphorus winds out of sight towards the Black Sea. But be warned - if you get too absorbed in the view, you may find that a seagull has flown off with your lunch!

From Istinye, join the bikers, joggers, and sweater-clad dogs walking their bejeweled owners for a stroll south along the sahil (seawall). This stretch offers a great chance to admire the coast’s stately old wooden mansions, watch the weathered fishermen reel in their daily catch, or clamour around on a well-preserved bit of Ottoman history at Rumeli Hisari (Fortress of Europe).

How to get there: Take the ferry from Kabataş, Beşiktaş or Çengelköy, the 25E bus from Kabataş, or the 40 or 42T bus from Taksim.

Climb aboard "Helios" for fresh fish sandwiches (5 lira)

History with a view: the fortress of Rumeli Hisarı

Elegant coastal houses in Arnavutköy

Fishing nets

4. Kumpir and waffles in Ortaköy (European Side)

If it’s crowds and colour you’re after, Ortaköy is sure to please. With its iconic mosque posing proudly against the backdrop of the First Bridge, Ortaköy’s festival atmosphere is a magnet for those in search of something a little out of the ordinary. Stalls selling handcrafts, incense and quirky gifts compete with cotton candy vendors and street performers for space in the lively seaside plaza. Ortaköy is chock full of cafes and restaurants, but its most famous edible attraction is kumpir - a massive baked potato piled high with your choice of a dizzying array of toppings. In keeping with the “overstuffed” theme, follow up your spud with a waffle filled to bursting with various chocolate sauces, Nutella, fruit, nuts, and sprinkles. Since you’ll need the exercise, round out the experience with a walk down Çırağan Caddesi and check out the ornate beauty of the Çırağan Palace (now a five-star hotel), or hike the hill in Yıldız Park to see the luxurious last residence of the sultans.

How to get there: Take the ferry to Beşiktaş from Üsküdar or Kadıköy, the bus from Taksim, or the bus from Eminönü. The 25 E bus from the north Bosphorus (if you are heading back from Istiniye) also passes through Ortaköy.

Kumpir with the works

The mosque at Ortaköy

5. Sunflower seeds on the Üsküdar seawall (Asian Side)

On a warm summer’s night, crack your way through a bag of sunflower seeds and let the salty sea breeze cut the sticky air at “The Steps” in Üsküdar. With the fabled Maiden’s Tower standing regally just offshore and the spires of Sultanahmet’s mosques silhouetted in the hazy distance, this is one of the most popular spots in town from which to watch the sunset. Vendors will keep the çay coming, and men wander past selling kağıt helva, a round wafer-like treat. (Do have either your best stone-face or your change purse ready, though, because you are an easy target for the persistent beggars who also frequent this location.) Challenge a local to a game of tavla (backgammon) if you dare, or just sit back and let yourself be mezmerized by the twinkling lights of the Bosphorus ferries. Come on the weekend and you’re more than likely to catch a rainbow of wedding fireworks lighting up the night sky.

How to get there: Take a ferry to Üsküdar from Beşiktaş or Eminönü, or the 12a or 12b bus from Kadıköy. From the bus terminal/ferry docks, head south along the seawall towards Salacak.

Last catch of the day; Çengelköy

Sunset on the sahil