Istanbul: Homeless Kitties, Spices, and 5 a.m. Prayer

I'm still not entirely sure why, but I fell in love with Istanbul - and fell hard. I read somewhere that Istanbul is the city of contradictions, which I have to agree with and that makes up a great deal of its charm. On one side you have very traditional, religious, and old-fashioned, while on another side you have very modern, liberal, and progressive. It's crowded, but peaceful. Instead of skyscrapers, there are minarets. And the city is surrounded by water. It is hard to ignore the 5 a.m. wake-up call every morning and the seemingly endless homeless furry kitties. Sarah McLachlan might want to start "Project Cat-stantinople" to get all of these kitties to nice homes. 

 Blue Mosque ( Sultanahmet Camii), Istanbul

Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), Istanbul

The Spice Bazaar was beautiful and I did not care that it was touristy - I am a tourist, after all. I love getting lost in places like this and really pay attention to what I'm seeing. There is always a new ingredient to learn about and something new to file in my brain. I went crazy for all the teas and chiles. 

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On my way up from the Spice Bazaar, I decided to stop into a restaurant that was recommended by some friends, NAR Lokanta. I wanted a good, quiet meal outside of the bustling center of town and this was the perfect choice. It's located on the 5th floor and has a beautiful, peaceful terrace. The food was delicious and the service was fantastic, as is most service in Istanbul. One of the highlights, for me, were these squash blossoms stuffed with rice and spices. SO good! Of course, I have had stuffed grape and cabbage leaves, but the squash blossoms were so wonderful and tender. 

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I had some terrible "Turkish coffee" in the U.S. and had sworn it off since. I had to hope that Turkish coffee in Turkey would be, you know, good... and it was sooooooo good. I don't normally sweeten my tea or coffee, but this little sugar and caffeine jolt was most welcome. Oh, and I can't forget the baklava...baklava....everywhere! The former Ottoman Empire is credited with inventing baklava, so there were endless stores, stands, street vendors, and trucks dedicated to selling baklava. Talk about a sugar rush.

 Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee

 Turkish tea

Turkish tea

 Baklava everywhere!

Baklava everywhere!

As strange as it may be, I became obsessed with döner kebap (you know, meat roasted on a vertical spit) in Belgium of all places. In Turkey, their street food version is served in a tombik pide (literally "fat pita", because it is gosh darn enormous) like a sandwich, similar to Greece's gyro that we know and love. Served along side an Efes Pilsen, just lovely. 

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I can't wait to go back to Istanbul!

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*all photos by Shauna Burke