By Caitlyn Winders
When you think of Turkey, you don’t think of food. Despite its namesake, roadside bombs steeped in religious tensions and political corruption are the first thought. My experience in Turkey taught me to shift my optics and think otherwise.
One of the best parts of eating out in Istanbul is the price – and this is not to say that the quality in anyway reflects the affordability of the cuisine. The most I ever paid for eating a meal out in Istanbul was $15 USD. The food in Istanbul is something that I consider an experience. It’s a central part of every European’s routine. It’s a chance to share stories and reflect on the day and strengthen relationships. Turkey perfectly embodies this aspect of European culture.
Two words: Turkish breakfast. If you’re a brunch fanatic like myself, then Turkish breakfast is your dream meal. It is massive. It is filled with variety. It’s warm and welcoming and incredibly diverse. Menemem, the central dish in Turkish breakfast, is a thin omelet featuring a bevy of vegetables and tomato sauce. This dish is the perfect representation of Turkish culture. It appears in the form of a disheveled mishmash of ingredients, but when you taste it you realize that it all works together perfectly. That all of these pieces have come together harmoniously in unison, morphing into the ultimate embodiment of Istanbul.
Each food experience I had in Istanbul was unique. The Bosphorus, a dirty and cold river, weaves its way directly through the center of the city. It runs the continental divide in Istanbul, separating it into two distinct parts – European and Asian. Every night during my 3-day stay, my companion and I visited Karakoy Gulluoglu, a massive baklava shop on the river, complete with flashing lights and lines of customers wrapping out the door and around the street corner. The frazzled cashier workers gruffly demand your order and within minutes, you’re seated at a cracked ceramic table laced with a massive spread of pistachio baklava in various shapes and sizes, complete with a steaming transparent glass mug of Turkish tea.
This is the most popular baklava shop in all of Istanbul, and for good reason. The baklava melts in your fingers, prompting you to immediately stuff it in your mouth. Its layers flake apart and it strikes the perfect balance between sweet and savory, thanks to the simple tango of butter and pistachio.
At first glance, Istanbul appears visually overwhelming, with its mismatched and tattered quilt of buildings, constant noise, and heavy smoke cover. A 1,000-year-old mosque stands proudly next to a brand new high rise apartment complex. The call to prayer rings solemnly in unison with the rattle of the metro. none of it makes any sense to an outsider. That’s where Turkish cuisine comes in.
Food is a universal language, and in that idea, Turkey finds its foothold with natives and foreigners alike. It finds its expression not in uniformity, but in intentional disorganization. Turkey finds itself in a beautiful mess – civil unrest and religious discord wrought in eggs and baklava.
About the Author:
Caitlyn Winders is a recent Emory University graduate who studied Psychology and French. She is currently working at The Carter Center before departing for the Peace Corps in the fall. She loves chicken piccata, hiking in the North Georgia mountains, and her golden retriever/beagle mix named Scout.