People often say that Istanbul is a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures. I’m not sure what I was expecting that to look like, but having now been for myself I personally think it’s not as simple as that. Yes, there may be influences from both East and West but I think the result is something totally unique. I adored Istanbul and spent my time there feeling totally charmed. To give you a flavour of the place, here is a tour of Istanbul by scent.
The grilled fish sandwiches of Istanbul (specifically, Karaköy) are legendary. The fish are pulled right from the Bosphorus – you can see the fishermen at work on the Galata bridge as well as numerous boats chugging around. We ate our fish in a restaurant under the Galata bridge itself because as a coeliac, I can’t eat the bread. So grilled fish non-sandwich it was for me. I think the restaurant option is a slightly expensive way of doing it, and the restaurateurs under the bridge were on the pushier side of pushy, so I wish we were able to buy from these guys. They look like they take the whole thing pretty seriously.
As previously mentioned, with so many fishermen around things can get very fishy very quickly. We decided to visit the Karaköy fish market, which we were surprised to discover still open at around 5pm. They had all sorts of exciting looking fish, some still alive, which we didn’t buy any of. However, if we came back I’d definitely stay in an AirBnB instead of a hotel and then I’d be all over these fish stands.
However, seeing as we weren’t buying, the highlight for me was seeing a heron just casually perching on a roof right next to the market. It was definitely looking down its beak at the rabble of seagulls that surrounded it, focused on the task in hand: every now and again, a stall holder would come out and chuck the heron a bit of fish, which it would nonchalantly catch perfectly. Every time.
What a dude.
We couldn’t let the trip go past without visiting the famous Egyptian spice market. Inside was a total bun fight and we had to keep a close track of each other at all times just so we didn’t get swept away by the crowds – but we were rewarded by some pretty stunning spice displays. And not just spices either; gorgeous displays of dried fruit, nuts, pickled things, all piled high. We ended up buying a few spices from this shop, mostly because I found it hilarious that they had a spice blend called “Chilli for Mother in Law”. Apparently it’s super hot…
Contrary to advice muttered darkly from colleagues, I did not get taken hostage by any stall holders, heckled for being a blonde(ish) woman, or sold into white slavery. Yes, people try and get you to visit their stalls, but a smile and a joke go a long way and nobody was ever in the least bit threatening.
More than once we got a face full of smoke from these cute little carts which pepper the streets of Istanbul. Still, they make a great, cost efficient gluten free snack so are definitely not to be sneezed at (literally). There are almost identical carts selling simit, which are tasty looking rings of bread covered with sesame seeds. Obviously not gluten free, I had to give those a wide berth but S had one and it was a cheap (1TL/25p/35¢) way to tide him over to the next meal.
The delicious scent of fresh meat being grilled was responsible for many sudden fits of hunger from either S or me. This is a döner vendor, and they don’t usually look this bored. They’re usually standing in the middle of the street waving their arms, along with every other döner or kebap proprietor in the area, trying to get you to visit their restaurant.
Fun fact: you can also see an Ayran machine behind the vendor. This popular drink is a watery, salted yoghurt which S ordered from the menu without knowing what it was. He tells me it’s an acquired taste.
The smell of delicious baked goods was everywhere. Torture for a coeliac, I have to say. All the little lines of pastries looked so good, I just wanted to eat them all. Luckily for me my chivalrous husband decided he wouldn’t eat any either, so we mostly just hurried past all the delicious bakeries. This is the only sad thing about being a coeliac, but I try not to wallow in it. Much.
Have you ever been to Istanbul? What scents have stayed with you?