In Istanbul – Eminönü Pazari

At a stone’s throw from the famous Spice Market in Istanbul, there is another, the Eminönü Pazari. Just off the beaten tourist path, and yet so close to the Spice Market that I wonder how come I only saw a small handful of tourists there.  I came here in search of pide and Rüstem Paşa Camii (more about it below), and found a proper little treasure-trove of life and food. Full of life, more real and with more grit, I find this market also so much more interesting!


Delicious notes from Istanbul


Pastry seller in Istanbul

The first time we went to Istanbul, we did it all wrong, committed all the classic tourist mistakes. We stayed in a middle of a tourist trap, did no research before the trip, relied on unreliable guidebooks. In our brief defence, the trip was a bit of a last minute decision, but still, I’m not proud. We enjoyed the sights, but found that above all we wanted to be in the more interesting parts of the city, and spent a lot of time outside Sultanhamet. We loved Üsküdar most. Overall, we had a reasonably good time, but got hassled in touristy places and were above all somewhat disappointed with the food we found. We thought the food would be better, easier to find. It’s rarely like that, though, of course.

This time, I did it all right. I did the research, choose accommodation strategically, and took time to explore the areas I that grabbed my attention when they did. I had a fantastic time. Istanbul turned out to be one of those cities where you need to dig below the surface to discover its true charms. It’s not surprising though, given its tourist appeal; I’m embarrassed at our past naivety.

Here are a few of my delicious notes from my September trip to Istanbul. With thanks to these excellent sources of information and inspiration: Delicious Istanbul, Eating Asia and Istanbul Eats.


Turkish cherries

Turkish cherries, originally uploaded by ~Maninas.


Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Sultanahmet Camii (‘C’ is pronounced like ‘j’ in ‘jockey’), better known as the Blue Mosque after its intricate blue-tiled decorations, is the first and the last place I visited in Istanbul. (The airport doesn’t count, no. They usually don’t.)

The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I (hence the name Sultanahmet Camii), and on the site of the palace of Byzantine emperors and the hippodrome, facing Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish).



Silent Blue

This is one of my favourite photos, if not the favourite from the great Mosque.

Amazing inside


Mosque lights series DSC_0069

DSC_0070 DSC_0095


Mosque carpets. Not the expensive, hand-woven kind, I imagine, though I’m not an expert, but still wonderfully soft on our bare feet.

Multitudes of visitors inside the mosque


   This is the space for prayers, from the other side of the barrier for visitors. The space for women was yet on the other side, towards the back of the mosque.

Men praying

Detail of decoration inside the Mosque



The Mosque at night

These were taken from the terrace of our hotel, which was very close to the Blue Mosque. So close that our room resounded with the call to prayer, or so it felt when we were in it. I grew to like the mesmerising sounds.

According to Wikipedia, until recently the muezzin had to climb a narrow spiral minaret staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today, a sound system is used.


Yet another view of the Mosque, this time from behind, i.e. not from the little streets behind the mosque. This was taken on a very cloudy day, from a restaurante terrace.


Leaving the Mosque. Note the people sitting on the grass in the right hand corner. That was a common sight, people having a picnic in Hippodrome, the great Byzantine square near the mosque, or like here around the mosque, in the gardens towards Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace.

Looking back at the Mosque from Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish), our next destination.


To be continued…



In Istanbul


Sultan’s window, Topkapi Palace



Please come in. Pull up your chair. Yes, sit here beside us. What can I offer you? Coffee? DSC_0041



Do come in, help yourself to the baklava.


Of course you can have the walnut cake, too, Roo! I promise I’m not hiding it; I just thought you’d prefer baklava with a Turkish story. Though this is not necessarily a sweet story.

When I go places, I try not to think about how it will be in advance, and conjure an idea of a place before I’m even there. I try to leave my mind open and get to know a place the way it really is, discover its ways and let it surprise me. I could not do this with Istanbul.

Ist- an-bul. Etc. How musical and magical it sounds. She’s always captured my imagination; I’ve always felt drawn to her. My grandmother’s stories featured Ottoman Turks. Books, stories I’ve read as a child also. ‘Carigrad’ – the Emperor’s city, in Croatian.

Lamp, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art


When I finally got to go, my excitement was immense.

We arrived in Istanbul one late afternoon in early July 2010. I saw its concrete towers and elegant minarets through the haze of the afternoon sun. This haze seemed never to lift. It was always somewhere in the distance, except on the days when the rain cleared it. Like one would wipe a window glass clean with a moist cloth.

We boarded a light railway at the airport, and then changed to the tram, cool, new, air-conditioned, which took us to our destination in the city, meandering through many suburbs, through streets, under road bridges, amongst tall buildings and shops. Rivers of humanity spilling in and out of vehicle – decanting from train to street and vice versa. The tram was slightly crowded, but not unpleasant.

I needn’t have worried about bringing sensible, sombre clothes. There were girls in shorter skirts than any that I owned. To be fair, they looked better in them, too. One of them tall with narrow shoulders and long limbs, a laptop bag across her chest. She had long dark wavy hair and large eyes. White T-shirt and light orange mini skirt. Not what everyone would call a beauty, but certainly attractive, calmly confident and with an air of intelligence. She was standing next to a bald man with a moustache, of about 50 to 60 years of age; a woman was sitting in next to them. They were talking with familiarity, though not intimacy. Hard to say whether they really were, but I imagined they might be related. I’m not sure why I remember them. Perhaps because they looked at the girl with interest, and perhaps a hint of admiration. She certainly looked like a girl one might admire. An epitome of youth, clever. Not showy, but perhaps knowing her worth.

I remember we passed shops, schools, mosques, ruins of the old city walls. More shops, cafes, restaurants, and then we were at our destination – Sultanahmet. The Old City, the centre of the old imperial Istanbul.

View of Sultanahment from Uskudar, in Asian Istanbul


To be continued…



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