Saturday, August 22, 2009

Your world is 360...

Up front: I can't post pictures of the restaurant right now, because my photos are uploading from my camera; however, I will be posting them soon. In the meantime, happy reading...

If you're confused by the title of this post, 360 is a restaurant. It sits on the 7th and 8th floors of one of the most trafficked areas in Istanbul, Istiklal Street, and has a 360 degree view of the city. The restaurant's website is The restaurant is one of the most famous in the city. They have a diverse and aspiring menu along with a delicious view of the Bosphorus, Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya, the Marmara Sea, the Prince Islands, Asia, etc. etc.. They serve 200 on a bad night and 500 on weekend nights. They also have a heel-scraping after party with a DJ and bar on the weekend (all this right in the restaurant). In my personal opinion, the restaurant is better than a lot of the “chic” establishments in the city, so comparatively speaking is it a very nice establishment.

Now, for some honest criticism. At this point, I've tried just about everything on the menu, because the chefs love to cook for me and make me fat. If you click on the following link, you'll see another link for the restaurant's menu in the middle: It's a bit pricey, but the food is very good and I'm pretty happy with the way they prepare it. I say very good, only because I'm not completely taken with it. I think there is a lot of improvement that could be done on the menu. For one, they don't use enough spice, so their flavors don't completely meet the threshold that their website touts. Two, their pastas are a little lacking. That is, the flavors are too shallow, with a bit too much of the plain tomato taste and not enough Mediterranean zing and infusion. That being said, their meats are delectable. The Adana and Iskender Kebaps are mouth watering, albeit pricey, and the duck and lamb confit are very good. For a Turkish restaurant, their fish selection leaves much to be desired. The cupra with lemon, dill, eggplant, and zucchini, wrapped in grape leaves is devoid of that last little bit of flavor it needs to make it on my ‘tasty menu’. The Levrek (sea bass) is not as mouth-watering as in the states, and its lemon butter sauce is a bit pedestrian for my taste (chuckle, chuckle). I say slap some coconut cream sauce on that bad boy, and you’ve got a hot item (although that would be more of a Southeast Asian fusion). The salmon with mustard sauce is endearing, but a big fail in my book. The anchovies in grape leaves, just okay. My other suggestion for the fish menu would be to add a light, salty (and a bit more sizable) fish to the menu with a Turkish cheese sauce with Turkish spices. NEXTT!! The Thai section of the restaurant is very good, but totally clichĂ©. Peking duck spring rolls, ok, but give me some peekytoe crab rolls…then we’re talking! Fried and tempura(d) clownfish sushi is also a massive fail-I don’t think any more needs to be said here. They do have pad Thai, which always aspires to be my top pick when I’m perusing a menu, but I’ll concede that it’s nothing special. Their Thai curry…prepackaged! Overall, if I was making the menu, I would say stick some more crab and scallop on there, give me some more traditional Turkish, and put a little spice into it. Oh, and if they want a Michelin-star, they better start putting some sauces on the menu with words that I don’t know.

Now that we've covered the boring part -- food, that is -- let's talk about my experience. I've come to the conclusion that every Turkish guy is a winker or a wannabe winker. It's funnier when they're a wannabe, because you can always tell when they're thinking about winking. They're face goes completely still for a moment (where the wheels start turning on how to coordinate all those facial muscles into a closing of one eyelid) and then there is a quick spasm where they slightly turn their head, mouth-open in concentration, and let out a half-assed wink. Nonetheless, they are proud of their accomplishment. They have just winked at an ignorant foreigner and now have the upper ground. If only they knew the winking arsenal that I could unleash, they would cower! But let's not stray from this subject just yet. There are also those winkers that have an overabundance of facial spasms, where they will rapid fire wink at you about 5 times. When this happens, I just want to tell them not to overextend themselves, sit down and get a glass of water. It's only the occasional Turkish male that correctly pulls off the most grandfatherly of accomplishments: the lazy lid, one-eye-open-other-resting trick, and you can rest assured that they are not giving up their secret. So now, you're asking, what does this have to do with anything? Well, dear blogger, I have witnessed this phenomena in only the most winky of circles, the league of restaurant waiters. There are about 25 of them on staff at 360, and you can be absolutely certain that they all wink at me as I'm going about my business behind the counter.

There are nine cooks at the restaurant: 1 pastry chef, 1 bread and pizza man, 2 pasta guys, a Thai cook, a meat and fish cook, 2 garden chefs, and an executive chef. They don’t speak English at all, though. This presents something called a language barrier, because I don’t really speak Turkish. I speak a very broken Turkish and understand a lot of what people have to say, but that’s about it. Because of this, though, I am endearing, so all the waiters and all the cooks want to talk to me. Of course they have their selfish reasons for wanting to talk to me, because they all want to learn English from me. I’m much cheaper than the local English Time (school), which charges exorbitant rates for lessons. As a result, I've made a lot of friends that want to both help me and learn from me. They all call me some form of Ay-too, and I've ceased correcting them, so I will forever be known as Ay-too.

For about twelve days, I worked at 360 from noon until midnight or later, so I was tired after that and this is certainly why I have not been writing as much. I learned a lot, though, and had a lot of time to practice my Turkish. As I said above, I can now understand most of them, but I can't for the life of me hear what the pastry chef or tatli (sweet) guy, as I call him, is saying. He talks at the speed of light and never gives in when I ask him to talk slower…in fact I think he deliberately speeds up, but I can’t completely tell. As a result, he has to deal with my missed orders sometimes, haha! If ever I talk to him in what seems to be normal time, I will have learned Turkish.

Here are the profiles of each of the chefs that I work with, with all of their names spelled incorrectly:

Typhon- Typhon is the pizza and bread guy who may be a year or two older than me. He hasn't attended college and doesn't plan to, I don't think, but he seems pretty content working the kitchen. He is certainly a wannabe winker. He and the guy that run the bar are avid Besiktas (place) soccer fans and have taught me the soccer team's chant. They are very proud of this and make me recite it about 23 times a day...I feel like a dog being asked to roll over, but I play along because it means free pizza and free drinks, not to mention that it makes everyone laugh, every single time. When I started at 360 on Wednesday, I was making bread with Typhon, so he is the first person that I knew in the kitchen and he takes pride in that. Every time I defect to another station to make meat dishes or pasta dishes he shakes his head and says, "ekmek, no George" (translation: why the hell aren't you making bread with me right now, George...he calls me George because it's much easier to say). I just have to staunchly oppose or else I get stuck in the bread domain of hell, kneading, baking, and cutting all day.

Harkan- Harkan is the sweet's guy, or the pastry chef, and he works with Typhon over in the bread corral. He also shakes his head when I'm not there to fill cherries with nuts, cut up melons, dip things in chocolate, or make puff pastries. Whenever he wants me to do something, he just keeps repeating the name of the food I'm supposed to be working on: "carpoose, carpoose" (watermelon, watermelon). If there is one section of the restaurant that lives up to the restaurant’s hype, it is the pastry section. Although some of the pastries are actually imported from other shops around Istanbul, they are delicious! Hey, if you know someone else can make it better, why not take what they have and serve it at your restaurant, right? Harkan is ironically skinny and is dead set on working for me when I open my restaurant in New York City (as are they all at this point). He has all my contact info, and I'm sure he's going to use it at some point next year. I call him Harkan-Abi (Brother Harkan).

Gokhan- I wish I could explain Gokhan in person, because he does a lot of whooping and running around. He also dances, screams, and can't pronounce my name for the life of him. He really wants to learn English, but is awful at pronunciation. When I'm teaching him, I always tell him he's doing a good job when he's about 50% of the way there in pronunciation. Gokhan is one of the pasta and sautee chefs, so he's the one that gets to flip all the stuff in the pans and make fire. He loves it! Although, I'm not sure if it's good to pair fire with a crazy person. He's always getting yelled at for something.

Veysel- Veysel is the biggest name screwer-upper out there. He calls me many variations of Ay-too. He asks me five times a day whether I've found an American girl to fly over here and go on a date with him. Every time I tell him, “yes, of course I've found her. She'll be on a plane in a week.” After this, he gets very giddy and proceeds to tell everyone around him for the 20th time that he has an American girl coming for him. Veysel is also the one that likes to punch and fight me in the kitchen, which is always a fun time and a nice vacation from doing the bread knife shuffle in the bread corner. I've come to the conclusion that he, like Gokhan, is crazy as beans.

Lucky- Lucky is the Thai chef who is 48 years old, slightly speaks English (I know I lied above that no one speaks English), and likes to talk about her Nigerian boyfriend. I haven’t quite pinned her down yet, but she’s a bit of motherly, crazy-Thai-lady, conspiratorial, type (I think that works?). She loves to make Typhon angry by pulling me away from the bread section and loves to tell me how she (unlike the others) is not afraid of the boss.

Siraj- Siraj is the meat and fish guy. His section also shines, like I mentioned earlier. He works wonders with the meats over the wood burning grill and does the Turkish specialties right. Also, he is a noble soul. He’s thirty years old, divorced and lives two hours from the restaurant. This means that he works noon till 1 a.m., then has to commute home and be back to work at twelve the next day. He sleeps between 3 and 4 hours per night and always tries to seem bright and cheery through a haze of sleepiness. He can’t move closer to the restaurant, because wages do not allow. If I did open a restaurant in the US and wanted to help one of these guys in the kitchen out, it would be him.

Annika- Annika is not Turkish, methinks. Her name doesn’t sound like it and her looks don’t really say Turkish to me. I don’t really know her that well, other than her saying a few words of English here and there. She does her work and keeps kind of quiet. She is a garden chef.

Murat- Murat doesn’t really add too much as far as kitchen excitement. He’s kind of the guy who’s always there when you’re joking around the vegetable rack, but he’s not really popping the jokes out. He either nods in approval or disapproval. He is a garden chef as well and is really into his work with the blender and the knife.

Executive Chef Zek- Yes, Zek. He is quiet also, but in a more thoughtful manner than Murat. He always seems to be observing the other chefs in a far off manner. Every once in a while when I’m chopping away or deeply focused on making pastries, I’ll turn to see Chef Zek about 13 ft. away, thoughtfully observing my work. I think he likes me because I never react. The other day, he actually made me dinner. He walked up to me and said, “penne or fettuccini” (he had obviously asked lucky how to say “or”). I told him I would like fettuccini, so that’s what he made me. He’s been cooking for about 18 years and is in charge of the final presentation of dishes.

The boss, Mike Norman, is a young guy who is not a Turkish native. He owns both 360 and the Suada Club, which floats on a manmade island off the European coast on the Bosphorus (I worked there for one night and it was very crazy). According to all the workers, he’s a very scary man (you know, the always busy, I don’t have time for you type). I’m not scared though…he’s not paying me, haha! I talked to him for about 5 minutes the other day in his office. I told him that I appreciated him letting me stay and asked if we could sit down and talk some accounting and business about the two restaurants, which we’ll do on Friday. Boldly, I told him that his website was riddled with grammatical errors and misused words and told him that I could help him fix it…he accepted, so now I am going to rewrite his website. Mike is a well known chef in Europe, so hopefully he’ll be able to help me out with some restaurants over there (as long as he doesn’t read my reviews above).

At 360, I have learned the 12 sauces that they put on all their entrees, three kinds of bread, how to season and cook the meats, how to make pizza dough, how to make a pizza (it’s hard stretching the dough to a circle), how to make certain pastries, and a lot about presentation. I have now ended my stint at 360, but I ate there with my girlfriend, Lauren last Thursday and they treated us to a free dinner that would have cost over $200….score! But cooking is never over…until then, it’s the chopping board for me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Typical Restaurant Kitchen Visit

Let's preface this entire post by making it clear that I don't speak the language of foreign kitchen workers...

Usually my day will start by walking into a restaurant and confidently saying merhaba (hello) to everyone around. As soon as anyone says anything past that, my mind only registers a train-wreck of foreign syllables, so I begin to shake my head, laugh, and say anlamadim (I don't understand). This immediately leads to a bunch of laughter among those native speakers...AND I'M IN!! Yes, in fact, I have attained the most important goal of the day...I'm a stupid foreigner who wants to learn food and I'm inconceivably young for this type of work. And I'm cute...why is it always cute? Little do they know that I have subversive plans to steal all their recipes and create the most successful restaurant in the world...step aside Mcdonald's!!

After the initial greeting/subversive trickery, I strap on my red, EAT SMA QQZ, apron, gifted to me by the noble Buffers, sporting a small swine below that enigmatic phrase. Despite the fact that Istanbul is 99% Muslim and can't bear the site of an unclean animal, I have attained an even higher order of cuteness, and chefs are ready to uncover their most secret recipes to me. Like I said, they think I'm more stupid than I am.

"Now I'm ready to learn the secrets of Turkish cookery," I say to myself.

And then the order tolls from my new chef trainer, "I'll need you to peel twelve onions."

"What," I'm saying to myself, "onions's 9 0'clock in the freakin' morning." Alas, I dutifully prepare the nicest pile of diced onions this side of the Bosphorus, my tears forming a new Bosphurus at my feet.

After I complete that task, I linger for a moment, perhaps grab a glass of water and think, "why is there a cat biting my freakin' ankle again...they always go for the ankle!" This thought, of course, is followed up by, "did I just take this water out of the tap or the cooler." I'm not making that mistake again…

Again, the chef tolls, "now, can you peel a dozen potatoes."

Why is it always a dozen potatoes? Is there some unwritten rule that it's always a dozen? You know, potatoes always come in different shapes and sizes? I guess it's moot. I again go about my chores with a smile on my face and a whistle on my lips. Sometimes I take extra long to peel one of the potatoes, and sometimes I attempt to carve one of them into a statue of George Washington crossing the Delaware. The latter requires an oblivious chef trainer.

"Phew I'm done," I sigh to myself. I tried to remember where I last put my cup down. It's always a scavenger hunt to find my cup in a kitchen full of trinkets and frantic Turkish women. Not to mention that half the time it's through the dishwasher already. Why are dishwashers so damn eager to wash my cup? Don't they get that I'm just going to pick it up again when I finish my momentary brush with slavery (self-induced of course).

Found it! Now I can go back to my down time thoughts. "I wonder why they never came up with a more efficient way to chop onions?," I ask myself. OH WAIT! They did. It's called a food processor. For the love of Pete, spare me my tear ducts!!

Oh no, the phones ringing! One of the women, with her hands covered in gooey rice for dolma, says something to me in doesn’t register. She repeats it with more gusto and some shoddy attempt at charades. I do what I know best: smile, act composed...and then frantically run for the phone, knocking things off the counter as I go. As I'm engaged in this bull-in-a-china shop act, I think to myself, "hmmm, I wonder where the ‘on’ button for the phone is located this time?" It's never where I think it's gonna be. And it's never green...I guess that symbolism never made the trans-Atlantic trip. Nonetheless, I, the stupid foreigner, have done a good deed and I will be hastily thanked when the phone conversation is over. If I had a dime for every time this has happened to me, I might have three dimes.

Back to work. This time, more gruntwork. "empty the stamens out of each of these zucchini blossoms," she says. I stick my finger in the yellow and green capsule.

"Nooo!!@$#$#@#," she quickly stops me. "There could be an insect in there that could bite you," she belatedly warns.

"Holy lampshade, lady!," I wish I could say to her. "You almost stopped my heart with your decibels," I follow up in my head. I dubiously eye the flower as if she's just taught me something profound, and like a NASA astronaut trying to insert a small nuclear device into a protective cover during an asteroid shower, I open the flower and observe the inside before diving my fingers back in there. Thank God a tyrannosaurus rex didn't pop out of the flower and eviscerate me!

I show madame chef my beautiful bowl of zucchini blossoms, freshly de-stamened, floating in water. The feeling of achievement consumes me. It makes me want to go out into a vast Turkish wilderness, pick out a rock, and name it, and all the lands around it, Zucchini-blossomville in honor of my recent achievement. Alas, I settle for a scooby-snack (or something like that) ushering from the hands of my onlookers. That will do.

At this point, I figure that the magical moment is descending upon my situation...the moment where the raw ingredients became a swirling fantasia (I cite Charlie Warzel for this word) of Turkish succulence.

Wrong again! The chef mistress tells me to have a seat for a while, while the ingredients are baking. Time to digress again and pretend like I'm writing something meaningful in my recipe journal. I already wrote down the recipes, so I feign it. The cat is biting my ankle again.

Since I have nothing else to do at that moment, I bend down to pet the utterly mischevious, red haired, orange-nosed, furry-pawed being at my feet. This is certainly a last resort, considering the fact that I'm flirting with an hour-long sneezing carnival, but well worth the torture, considering I'd rather not return to the kitchen to play the "I don't know where you're going- would you like to me to move?-Oh wait, I can't understand what you're saying" game.

Luckily, my flirting with hives is interrupted by the chiming in of Chef Sultaness, "Ay-tan...can you come to me for a minute?" I laugh, and then try to squeeze past a table and chairs to get to my teacher in a timely manner. I'm so glad I hurried, because she wanted to show me how to pour hot water over rice. Come on lady! You don't think I don't know how to do this already? Yes, I'm 21 years old and a male, but I am certainly trained in the art of rice-boilery. I gambol away as if she just showed me the Hope Diamond.

As I return to my former position in digression, I notice that my furry friend has scampered away to the litter box. "I guess nature was calling and she wasn't gonna hang up," I mumble to myself. You understand that I have to engage in these exchanging of jokes with myself, because no one ever understands my jokes. Every time I approach a joke with a foreigner, there is a little voice in my head saying, "Ethan, you know they're not going to get it, why try?" I try anyway and am greeted with the same furrowed eyebrows and looks of vacancy that I'm always greeted with. "Nevermind," I say.

This time, instead of going back to my former do-nothing-in-my-head state, I decide to think about my future business prospects in the food industry. There's always that entrepreneurial bubbling going on inside my head.

Nope, interrupted again. "Ay-tan, I have something very special to show you," she intrigues.

Here's a side thought: why is it always 'special.' That word should be banned from a foreigner's vocabulary. Everything they have to show you is sooo special. I always laugh as I think, "Oh boy, here it comes...he/she's opening the gates to Area 51." Most of the time, what they have to show me is really not that special at all, just a culinary staple minus or plus an ingredient. Hell, I could've thought of that! "In fact," I recall, "I think I did make that last night." This is usually the way it happens. I'll really be relieved the one day that I enter into one of these secretive kitchen whispers to discover that the Fountain of Youth is going to pop out of an eggplant.

She shows me how to make the filling for Turkish stuffed peppers, and then proceeds to warn me against sharing her recipes with the competitors. Who am I!? The creepy guy from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who is always trying to lure the lucky golden ticket winners into disclosing Willy Wonka's secrets (if anyone knows that guys name, email me or leave a comment please). "It's very special," she says confidently. "I learned it a very long time ago from a neighbor of mine." Of course it's special...what else would it be, lady? I get it.

After this and many similar occurrences, I sit down with the rest of them for lunch. I prepare to go into the mode where I pretend like I'm extremely interested in my food and combing over every flavor in my mouth whilst deeply analyzing. If I do this, then the people having the Turkish conversation around me won't feel as bad and won't try to shoddily translate and keep me updated on the conversation. They just think, "he's thinking really hard right now and really enjoying our food, so we'll let him be." I'm actually thinking about how I'm going to write about this situation in my blog later.

After the food gets passed and re-passed to me for about an hour, I feel like I've been hooked up to an air-compressor that has eeked every square-inch of pressure into my stomach that it can. To boot, I know that there are at least three dairy farms worth of butter in what I just arteries throw up the white flag.

After regurgitating what I just ate (joke...that's not funny, I know), I return my scarlet apron about my, now much bigger, torso and resume my quest for culinary knowledge. With my stomach full, I know I can have an unbiased opinion on everything I'm cooking and tasting.

Finally, I can see all the end products of my hours of tedious labor. The combining of ingredients begins and the trumpets ring out on high. My left hand stirs the glistening pot of spices, rice, and dried fruits, while my right hand feverishly scribbles my observations. I feel like a one-man, stirring and scribing machine, and I suddenly get the sense that I am being productive and learning something new.

After learning all my recipes, and after trying to perfect the art of becoming one with the wall, so the real kitchen workers can go about their duties with uncramped ease, I retire into a bottle of delightfully sparkly strawberry Ayran (Turkish Yogurt drink made with yeast so it's fizzy). I think to myself, "when do I make my escape to the European side?"

While loudly whistling, I scrub the countertops with a sponge and wash a bowl, in order to make a symbolic display of my being done for the day (because dishes are always done last). I slowly place my belongings in my backpack one by one, so every one sees. My recipe book goes last, full of new and very interesting recipes (I say this despite my never-ending jesting throughout this story), and I sling the little blue pack up about my shoulders. At this point, everyone has figured out what I'm doing and I, one-by-one, kiss each of the kitchen workers on the cheek and thank them for their help (this is what Turkish people do). As I open and close the door to the restaurant, my shoulder's ease back to their natural position and I seat my ipod earphones in my ears to listen to some upbeat music as I walk to the docks.

It's going to be a long journey...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Weekend Trip to the Dardanelles

Last weekend, I attended a CouchSurfing event in the Dardanelles with about 20-22 people. If you look at the map to the side, you can see exactly where we set up camp (the red A), tent poles and all. After a tedious 7 hour bus ride (from midnight to 7 a.m.) on Saturday morning, we arrived in Kabatepe, where I sat down to have breakfast. First let me talk about the bus. It was a “luxury bus,” complete with dangly, frilly Persianesque looking decorative drapery around the interior lights and front-back partition. Am I in a Disney movie? The seats made me feel as though I had a cactus lodged up my backside and there seemed to be a lack of comfortable positions to sit in, so instead I served as a pillow for the travelers around me, who were much smaller and didn’t have the same problems fitting their knees in the space directly forward of their seat. After this experience, I am considering a career as a pillow. In the end, I took this lengthy opportunity to imagine what the dark Turkish landscape whizzing by must look like…certainly an interesting way to go about seeing a place!
On arrival in Kabatepe, I sat down for breakfast, like I mentioned earlier. Breakfast consisted of assorted Turkish cheeses, some shriveled olives, a hard boiled egg, lots of white bread, a small package of nutella, and a honey that tasted like a mixture of baby products and honey…I miss American honey! Turkish meals typically take forever, so I succeeded in eating an entire loaf of bread…this seems to happen a lot, so I hereby take a vow to only eat half a loaf of bread at every meal, henceforth. You all heard it here! The redeeming factor for the breakfast was the view of
the beautiful Aegean Sea, showered in a warm red-yellow light from the morning sun, a trade boat passing in the distance. The town itself was little more than a seaside stop, with a couple of little restaurants and the usual assortment of vendors selling the same exact things-a phenomenon I still don’t understand…I believe monkey-see, monkey-do applies in this case, which you might also call a competitive landscape in economics, haha! After buying some beers in a local shack, we moved on to our campsite, also located on the Aegean coast.

The campsite was filled with Turkish dwellers living there for the summer months, basically. They have electricity, refrigerators, stoves…a veritable tent city. We located ourselves in a little section and crammed all our tents together, then quickly went to the beach, which I have pictures of to the side. I would say it was about 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) out, so the others and I roasted! Of course they got tans and I turned a nice shade of crimson. The water was a translucent, turquoise blue and the temperature was perfect! My beer that I saved for after I got out of the water was, however, less than perfect at about 90-95 degrees…I abandoned it after the first sip, saving myself approximately 175 calories…I ate it later in bread!

The sand on the beach was nothing special, but hot as blazes! Think of an unknowing mouse running atop a heated woodstove and you have what I felt like as I tried to make it from towel to water. The beach was very long and picturesque with a jetty butting into the sea on the right and
a natural peninsula popping out to say hello on the left. There was a little restaurant and general store that sold basic necessities and lots of Turkish foods, which of course includes a lot of roasted meats.

As I took off my shirt, I had the initial feeling of, “oh no! I’m whiter than a loaf of wonder bread” feeling amongst all the nicely tanned bodies. I quickly stopped caring once I realized that my ivory white was going to turn lobsterback red (the British soldiers, for clarities sake). On each of my two days on the Aegean, I swam about a kilometer out from the shore with a friend or two, just to say that I floated in an extremely historic body of water. It was very easy to float due to the salt saturation.

Moving right along, the weekend was one entertaining moment after another. I had to laugh a lot to alleviate the mistakes I made, such as setting my tent up on a patch of prickers that poked through the bottom of the tent, or leaving the tent flap open a little bit, resulting in the great mosquito battle of July 2009. I tried new and interesting foods, which I will leave to another food blog post, and I made some good contacts. One of the couchsurfers owns a cafĂ© in Kadikoy and I am going to be working there a bit to learn some new recipes. Another couchsurfer’s father is an executive chef at a five-star hotel in Istanbul, specializing in Ottoman, French, and Italian cuisine…baller! I am trying to set up an appointment to interview him. I mingled with people from Mexico, Denmark, Holland, Turkey, China, and France, all very well traveled and talented in up to 4 languages. One of the guys has a PHD in linguistics: he speaks 5…the exception.

Here is a quick list of things that I learned:
1) The Turkish word for sunflower is Aycicek, meaning moonflower…someone is backwards here! There are huge moonflower fields all over Turkey for seeds and sun(moon)flower oil.
2) At restaurants, food is brought out as it is ready, and you are not expected to wait for the others to get their food.
3) Simit Sarayi, a version of Turkish fast food serving anything that’s breaded, crusted with sesame seeds and stuffed with cheese, meat, spinach, human fingers, etc., is not very good and makes you want to drink a lot of water. I’m shooting for the Mcdonald’s next door in the future. Double quarter-pounder with cheese, here I come!!
4) Kofte, or Turkish meatballs, have many regional varieties, and are actually named for the place where they originate. Some are quite good, but not Kansas City BBQ yet.
5) Canakalle is very close to the ruins of Troy, which I'm kicking myself for not visiting. It is located on the narrowest part of the Dardanelles (it's a strait) and takes its name from being a pottery hotspot back in the day. Canakalle, like Istanbul, straddles the Euro-Asian divide.

Here is another thing that I learned/created out of extreme boredom (I'm not really bored):

Tons of people drink Ayran, a watery, salty yogurt drink. I’m not sure who first figured this out, but if I were to tell the story, it would go like this: One day, back in 1454 (the year after the Ottomans took Constantinople), a young man named Murat participated in a fortuitous accident. Murat, who wore shiny, pointy shoes and had enough gel in his hair for 10 men, worked at a gargantuan (highly-leveraged) yogurt factory, called What’s up Yog!TM. It was a Monday morning, and Murat was a little under the weather from the weekend, so as he was carrying a burlap sack full of salt across the titanium walkways passing over fermenting vats of yogurt, he tripped. The entire contents of the sack perilously fell into one of the vats below, imparting a salty flavor to that batch of yogurt. Murat, now realizing that he was still a little drunk from the weekend, decided in his apathetic state to write this event off, go home, and make a cheese sandwich with a chili-mango sauce and green peppers. The salty yogurt was a hit! Little did Murat know that his little accident would transform the feeble (don’t forget highly leveraged) yogurt company into a center for mass-produced salty-watery yogurt drinks, called Ayran (derived from “I-ran,” meaning I just did a bad thing and I’m now going to take off at a considerable rate of speed). Ayran, the drink that has been raising the average Turkish blood pressure for centuries!

So these are some of the things that I took from the weekend. The rest will forever remain a mystery. I’m sorry, dear readers, I cannot give away all my secrets of Turkish knowledge ☺

My ride home from the trip was the same straight-backed ride in a magic-carpet, luxury bus. Oh the fun! Oh the excitement! Oh the pain!

Over and out!