Weekend Update

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So you’ve got an idea of what the students did this weekend (insert themselves into cannons and eat fish…); here’s a brief (ish)update of what we did this weekend.

Following our review on Friday (site analysis of the the student project site at Kabataş), we had dinner at Dürümzade.  Saturday morning we meandered over to the Çukurcuma neighborhood (antique-ville) and had lunch at the Çukurcuma Köftecisi for an amazing home-cooked meal of Köfte, mücver, rice and çay.  There’s a great description in the “Istanbul Eats” book that we found of this little hangout.  It goes like this:

“Sitting down for lunch at Cukurcuma Köftecisi is something like being a part of the live studio audience of a TV sitcom – with meatballs.

Plotline: Three generations of an unusually tall family run a busy local restaurant with what seems like very little service industry experience but great intentions and strong will. Hilarity ensues.

Characters: Mom is the kitchen talent deserving of the poofy chef’s toque she sports. Dad is the enforcer in the tank top and apron, known to flare up like the charcoal fire he tends (yes, that is a dagger tattooed on his forearm). The two sons are more interested in rock n’ rolling around the neighborhood on the delivery scooter than waiting tables. And grandpa in the fedora, from his post at the door, just wants to know who the hell took his last cigarette. Add a cast of quirky regulars and you’ve got a picture of what lunch is like here.

But there is nothing funny about the food at this down-home neighborhood eatery. We often find ourselves drawn in for an unplanned lunch by the restaurant’s siren song. From mom’s side of the kitchen there is always a soup cooked from scratch, sautéed vegetables and a hearty stew. Her revani, a semolina cake soaked in a sugary syrup, is so light and delicate it nearly crumbles at the nudge of a fork. If you want lamb chops or köfte, you will have to speak with dad who mans the grill. The köfte are meaty and charred up just the way we like them and served with a small salad, Turkish pilav and french-fries.

Saturday is fry-day and we try to arrive just around noon for the first batch. Mom’s kadinbudu köfte, battered and fried patties made out of ground meat and rice, are excellent, but the mücver (pronounced mooj-ver), zucchini fritters, are truly outstanding. When plating these unusually fluffy, almost omelet-like beauties, dad carefully pats each one with a spoon of garlicky yogurt and over that drizzles a bit of tomato sauce.

Tucked into the heart of Beyoglu’s antiques district, lunch at Cukurcuma Köftecisi is a perfect midday show: good cast, good food, and a punch line that everyone gets – a great lunch for less than ten dollars.”

It was an excellent lunch, followed up by an afternoon with some of our favorite people in the city (the Butlers) and washed down with a tram ride and two Bosphorus boat rides (we needed to get on the water).  On Sunday morning we decided to try to get to the Princes’ Islands (known more commonly as “Adalar”) in the Marmara sea.  This group of islands (9 of them) are about an hour and half out of the city by boat.  From Kabataş, we docked at Kadiköy, Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and then at Büyükada – the larges of the Islands.  We spent about three hours wandering around, saw a gorgeous late 19th century mosque, and enjoyed village life away from the hectic bustle of the city.  There was also a funeral taking place at the mosque – which proved to be a really interesting and beautiful insight into village life – with a funeral prayer taking place outside of the mosque (and many of the local community joining in), followed by a quiet walk to the cemetery for burial.

Life on the islands do not allow for any automobile traffic (except for emergency and construction vehicles), so the whole shebang is experienced on foot, on bicycle (there are many bike rental places all around) or on horse-drawn carriages – which pelt up and down the main drags at ridiculous speeds.  It’s definitely worth a trip, but I would suggest a week-day instead when the crowds are thinner and where there will also be fewer people taking pictures with their ipads (something I’m still not really used to).  After being brutally gouged for lunch (42 lira for a Turkish hamburger, 2 mixed Tost sandwiches, a “Sosisli” – a combination of hot-dog, french-fries, pickles, mayonnaise and ketchup and the requisite Magnum Ice Cream Bar), we moseyed back to the Ferry station for a the trip back to Kabataş.  We sat next to a group of young Greeks who good humoredly tried to protect our choice seats on the ferry from other touristic interlopers.  The ride back was beautiful; the Marmara was calm, there was a fleet of fishing boats just off the Seraglio Point and we watched a local boat tradition in action both there and back – feeding the birds off the boat-deck.  Coupled with the ad-hoc sales pitches from local sellers on the boat (portable juicers – only 1 lira, scarves and shawls, 3 lira), it was a good Sunday, complete with seagulls for company.

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