/ The Daily OrangeAbroad
Istanbul incorporates new, old traditions
It was our first independent dinner in Istanbul, and 12 of us, hungry from a full day of trekking through the city, had crammed into two tiny booths in a Turkish cafe.
“Artist, lutfen,” I ordered confidently. After all, only one of the words was technically foreign.
Having stared at the menu for five minutes, realizing that I recognized only two of the options and understood less than 30 percent of the words, I decided to randomly select whichever menu item had the best name. An “artist” had to be delicious, right?
Delicious may be a strong word, but the meal that the waiter delivered was definitely interesting.
Apparently, an “artist” is a beef hotdog stuffed next to French fries in a big, fluffy roll, layered with a chunky, white sauce of mayonnaise, boiled carrots and peas. For the record, the Turkish seem to love jamming French fries into almost every single one of their sandwiches.
I’ve been in Turkey for less than a week, but Istanbul has already been full of beautiful — and tasty — surprises.
Like New York, it’s a city of neighborhoods. Though in this case, not all of those neighborhoods are on the same continent. And while New York City houses about 8 million people, 18 million currently live in Istanbul.
Kadikoy, where we’re staying for the first five days, is located on the Asian side of Turkey, right on the Bosphorus Strait, which splits the country in two.
Living here has meant wandering up and down cobbled streets crowded with vendors, food-laden tables spilling from restaurants, and dirty but adorable street kittens, before suddenly having to hop out of the way when a motorcycle whizzes past.
In Kadikoy, I’ve found myself blanching at my first sip of raki, Turkey’s national drink of choice. I’ve watched the blood-orange sun slip below the distant shoreline across the Bosphorus.
It also means puzzling over a collection of Turkish Steinbeck novels, trying to decipher which one is which from the covers. It means sipping cay on the rooftop deck of our hotel with a member of the staff, while exchanging the correct pronunciations of the best swear words in our respective languages.
So far, living in Kadikoy has also involved ferry rides twice daily over shimmering water that looks exactly like the “cerulean” crayon I obsessed over in fourth grade.
The first day, we went to the district called Beyoglu, where the famed Taksim Square is located.
The Square encompasses all of Istiklal Street — a hotspot of restaurants, bars and shops for tourists and Turkish natives alike. Walking there, our modern route was spotted with relics of the past, like Galata Tower, which was a Christian structure before the Ottomans sacked Constantinople.
The whole Christian-turned-Muslim theme is an enormous part of the identity of Istanbul, (which is no longer Constantinople). On one of our trips out of Kadikoy, we also visited the breathtaking Hagia Sophia. This amazing building was reconstructed at the orders of Emperor Justinian during the glory of the Byzantine Empire as an Orthodox basilica.
One of my favorite surprises of Turkey is the co-mingling of the old and the new: an ancient tower piercing a modern skyline, and the Hagia Sophia located between modern street carts.
Though, I have to admit that I do love the food surprises, too. The next time I tried my menu-selection trick, I ended up ordering something called a “fantastik.” This meal, somehow, seemed even more amazingly un-Turkish: a roll stuffed with French fries, cheese and what appeared to be chicken nuggets.
Disclaimer: Besides the bizarre blind picks, I’ve made sure to get my fill of delicious traditional dishes like doner (roasted lamb) kebab, falafel (ground chickpeas) and lamb with tomato sauce, too.
Turkey, you’ve got me falling fast.
Jillian D’Onfro is a senior magazine journalism and information management and technology dual major. Her column appears every Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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