Category Archives: Food

Breakfast at Istanbul’s Spice Market

If the Grand Bazaar is Istanbul’s haven for shoppers, then the Spice Market is for the foodies. Also called the Egyptian Bazaar (or Mısır Çarşısı in Turkish), it’s the second largest covered market in Istanbul, second only to the Grand Bazaar. Where the Grand Bazaar is filled with stall after stall of jewelry, clothes, carpets, and other myriad souvenirs, the Spice Market – as you might guess from its name – is all about food. While a few shops sell small souvenirs, they’re far outnumbered by their neighbors that purvey all manner of dried fruits, nuts, teas, sweets, and every sort of spice you could wish for.

Dried eggplants, tomatoes, and okra outside the Spice Market.
Dried eggplants, tomatoes, and okra outside the Spice Market.

The Spice Market is located in the Eminönü neighborhood in the Fatih district, only a stone’s throw from the Galata Bridge and directly behind the New Mosque. (Which, incidentally, is four hundred years old. Only in Istanbul would that be considered ‘new.’) Compared to the Grand Bazaar’s maze of corridors, its hundred or so stalls are a dream to navigate.

The New Mosque outside of the Spice Market.
The New Mosque outside of the Spice Market. 

As you walk down the center arcade, vendors plying Turkish delight will offer you tiny cubes of the gummy, pistachio- and hazelnut-laden stuff in flavors as varied as pomegranate, cinnamon, rosewater, mint, or orange. Other sellers will beckon you into their shops to marvel at the dozens of teas that perfume the air. Powdery piles of red pepper, mint, saffron, and sumac tickle your nose with their pungent aromas.

Dried dates, mangos, pineapples, tomatoes, apricots, and figs are only a few of the snacks available at the Spice Market.
Dried dates, mangos, pineapples, tomatoes, apricots, and figs are only a few of the snacks available at the Spice Market.

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Dinner at Istanbul’s Mikla (Or, “Sometimes Blowing Your Budget Is Worth It”)

The view from the terrace of Mikla in Beyoglu
The view from the terrace of Mikla in Beyoglu

Some of the best meals I’ve had on the road have been dirt-cheap. A bowl of fresh bhelpuri, bursting with pomegranate seeds and topped with a handful of fresh coriander, on the streets of New Delhi? Fifty cents. A plate of spicy fried rice heaped with loads of fresh vegetables and a fried egg in Indonesia? A dollar fifty. A dozen piping hot buffalo momos in Nepal? That set me back an entire five bucks. Even in Denmark, one of the most expensive countries in the world, a massive (and I do mean massive…it was about the size of my head) slab of apple strudel only cost me about three dollars. In so many cases, I’ve paid for meals abroad by rummaging through the change pocket of my wallet…

…but every once in a while, a splurge is in order. Sometimes a girl needs to feel fancy. That’s what led me to Mikla, the fine dining restaurant located on the top two floors of the swanky Marmara Pera Hotel, on my second-to-last night in Istanbul. Continue reading Dinner at Istanbul’s Mikla (Or, “Sometimes Blowing Your Budget Is Worth It”)

A First Taste of Istanbul at Cooking Alaturka

Any time I land in a new country, the first thing on my mind is always food. It doesn’t matter the place, it doesn’t matter the time, and it certainly doesn’t matter if I ate two hours ago on the plane. I feel like I haven’t properly arrived in a place until I have a portion (or two) of its food safely housed in my stomach. And it was the same when I set foot in Istanbul.

For this trip, though, I hit the ground running. Rather than head to one of the copious Trip Advisor-recommended restaurants that surrounded my hotel, I got my hands dirty (or at least really garlicky) in a cooking course at Cooking Alaturka, a combination cooking course/restaurant tucked in one of the back streets of Sultanahment. Cooking Alaturka is run by a Dutch woman, Eveline, who’s lived in Istanbul for over ten years, and her Turkish right-hand chef, Feyzi. Over the course of six hours, Eveline and Feyzi taught us how to make five traditional Turkish courses. They’re quite a pair. Eveline’s enthusiastic and patient; she’s the teacher of the duo. Feyzi’s a man of few (English) words, but he had a wicked sense of humor that usually involved inviting us to try heaping spoonfuls of red pepper.

Ezogelin çorbası - red lentil and bulgur soup with red chili and mint. The chili added a kick, and the mint provided a cool complement. A squeeze of fresh lemon added a citrusy twist.
Ezogelin çorbası – red lentil and bulgur soup with red chili and mint. The chili added a kick, and the mint provided a cool complement. A squeeze of fresh lemon added a citrusy twist.

Continue reading A First Taste of Istanbul at Cooking Alaturka

Kappabashi-dori’s Kitchen Mecca

Kappabashi-dori
Kappabashi-dori

The longer I live in Japan, the more convinced I become that there’s nothing you can’t get in Tokyo. Need anything electronic? Akihabara is your haven. Want some cool, counterculture hippie clothes? Kichijoji’s your best bet. Just want to goggle at some of the trendiest (and sometimes most bizarre) street fashion in the world? Go to Harajuku and prepare to feel like you’re ten years and twenty trends behind.

And if you’re looking to stock your kitchen? Look no further than Kappabashi-dori (合羽橋鶏) near Ueno and Asakusa. If you’re looking for some obscure kitchen tool and can’t find it in Tokyo’s Kitchen Town, then, frankly, you’re probably just not looking hard enough.

Need any bowls? Kappbashi-dori has you covered, whether you just need one...or you're feeding an army.
Need any bowls? Kappbashi-dori has you covered, whether you just need one…or you’re feeding an army.

合羽橋 (kappabashi) means “kappa bridge” in English, and there are a few theories as to the origin of the name, both of which deal with the history of the local area. One of them comes from fisherman drying their raincoats (or kappa) off of a nearby bridge when the weather allowed it. Alternatively, the name could have come from a merchant named Kihachi Kappaya, who started a ditch-building project to divert water from the flooding Mikane River. (At least, that’s what I think that’s what this site says. No promises regarding the accuracy of my translation.)

A kappa peeking out from one of the shops.
A kappa peeking out from one of the shops.

Now, though, the official mascot of the street is a different sort of kappa: the Japanese water demon that’s like a long-legged turtle with a bowl on its head. Naturally, the ones adorning Kappbashi-dori are adorable, but the kappa in Japanese legend are decidedly less so.

Keep your eyes peeled, and you'll see kappa everywhere.
Keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll see kappa everywhere.

Continue reading Kappabashi-dori’s Kitchen Mecca

Breakfast of Champions, Tsukiji-Style

Japan is a culinary dream, a country that has as many delicious, surprising, and sometimes downright weird dishes as you could ever hope for. I have always nurtured a love of food (…and sometimes a waistline to go along with it), and that epicurean nature has only grown since I moved to Japan. In a land famous for bowls of perfectly chewy udon, giant pots full of comforting nabe, and all the ramen I could ever eat, there still reigns (at least for me) an ultimate king.

And that’s sushi. Tuna, salmon, scallop, yellowtail, flounder, shrimp, eel, clam, octopus, squid…give it all to me, the bigger the quantity and the fresher the cuts, the better. (Unless it’s the unholy trinity of uni/sea urchin/雲丹, namako/sea cucumber/なまこ, and shirako/cod sperm sacs/白子, in which case I will respectfully decline and wait for more salmon.)

A counter filled with fresh sushi is a beautiful sight.
A counter filled with fresh sushi is a beautiful sight.

Continue reading Breakfast of Champions, Tsukiji-Style

2014 Sapporo Snow Festival (AKA, “The Weekend My Feet Turned to Blocks of Ice”)

All’s been quiet on the blogging front these past few weeks. Blame it on end-of-term craziness, blame it on the three-day junior high English camp that ran me into the ground, blame it on sheer laziness/lethargy, or blame it on the massive head cold that has my nasal cavities producing approximately two gallons of mucus a day…whatever the case, I’ve been slacking immensely in regards to writing posts lately. I’ve still got loads of posts about the latter half of my India/Nepal trip, but before I forge ahead into Nepalese territory, I thought I’d insert a brief interlude about my trip up to the northern island of Hokkaido in early February.

A giant ice sculpture in Odori Park.
A giant ice sculpture in Odori Park, by day…
...and by night.
…and by night.

The annual 雪祭り (Yuki Matsuri, snow festival) in Sapporo is without a doubt one of the most famous annual events in all of Japan. When it comes to winter festivals, it undoubtedly takes the top spot. Every year, thousand of visitors, Japanese and foreign alike, flock to Sapporo to marvel at the huge snow sculptures that take over the narrow stretch of Ōdōri Park for a week in early February.

Another apparent draw is this "CURRY CURRY So good you can't stop" snack.
Another apparent draw is this “CURRY CURRY So good you can’t stop” snack.

Given the proximity of Aomori to Sapporo, I was determined to make it up to the snow festival at least once while living here. Yet every year when the time came around to book hotel and train tickets, one thing or another would cause me to balk and reason, “I’ll just go next year.” This year, finally, I made it up for the festival and enjoyed two days of beautiful snow sculptures, delicious food, and temperatures so cold that I rocked the “ninja-lite” look the entire weekend.

I wasn't kidding.
I wasn’t kidding.

Continue reading 2014 Sapporo Snow Festival (AKA, “The Weekend My Feet Turned to Blocks of Ice”)

Cardamom and Curry and Chapati! Oh, My! – The Best Foods I Had in India

Before I went to India, one of my friends remarked that he didn’t like the Subcontinent’s cuisine because, to paraphrase him, “it’s basically just a bunch of vegetables and lentils boiled down to texture-less mush.” I’d disagreed with him then, and after eating my way across Rajasthan for a week, that feeling intensified by about a thousand. I know that I only tasted the barest fraction of the delicious food the region had to offer, but what I did eat was some of the best food I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. And I ate as much of it as I could. About halfway through our trip, one of my friends had remarked, “I think we’ve all learned at this point that you’re willing to try anything. ‘Well haven’t had a bite of that one yet…’”

As I’m never one to skip an opportunity to making a ranked list, here are the eleven best foods I ate while in India, in no particular order. Don’t read this while you’re hungry.

1.)   Navratan KormaIt’s not exactly a secret that India is home to some truly bangin’ curry, and I did my best to taste as many delicious varieties as I could. Of all of those, navratan korma was probably my favorite. In Hindi, it translates to “nine jewels,” which refers to the variety of vegetables, nuts, and fruits used in the dish. Mine had cashews, paneer, carrots, green beans, carrots, and potatoes in it, to name just a few ingredients. There was hardly any oil in it, unlike a lot of the other curries I’d eaten, and the cashews added a huge amount of creaminess. The thing that made navratan korma stick out to me was the inclusion of pineapple. It made for a surprising note of sweetness in what would have otherwise been a pretty mild (and even bland) curry.

Navratan Korma
Navratan Korma

Continue reading Cardamom and Curry and Chapati! Oh, My! – The Best Foods I Had in India