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Black as Hell, Strong as Death, Sweet as Love

An old Turkish proverb perfectly describes the country’s unique take on my favorite caffeinated beverage: “Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love”. Turkish coffee is a thing unto itself, and although I initially found it disgusting, it didn’t take long to win me over. Exactly two weeks, in fact.

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[March 6th, 2013] “This is just stirred-up sludge!” That was my first judgement, after I’d foolishly emptied the espresso-sized glass into my mouth. With the mud-like coffee grinds sticking to my teeth and back of my throat, I growled. “Who wants to drink this crap?” And then I ordered an Americano.

[March 12th, 2013] “If you like your tiny shot of liquid tar with a ton of sugar, then this is your drink!” By now, I’d learned to leave the sludge at the bottom of the cup alone, but still scoffed at the idea of Turkish Coffee as a pleasure to be greedily anticipated. More like a chore.

[March 15th, 2013] “The foam is my favorite.” Capitvated by the rich layer of foam found on top of every well-prepared cup, my mind had started to open to Turkish coffee’s charms. I had learned how to order it with “a little” (bir az) sugar, which helped, and had begun sitting back in my chair, drinking in small, dainty sips. Like I’d seen cool-looking Turkish guys do.

[March 20th, 2013] “Other countries are so stupid! Turkish coffee is so much better than their stupid coffees, why doesn’t everyone drink this?” It took fourteen days, but I had embraced Turkish coffee with the obnoxious enthusiasm beginners tend to bring to every new thing they’ve just discovered. I had even bought a Turkish coffee pot (a cezve) and taught myself how to make it at home.

Oh yes, I can be very annoying. Excited by my new obsession, and eager to use my cezve (how I loved saying that word! Cezve!), I fell into the habit of making another round of coffee every hour or so, each time ceremoniously presenting it to Jürgen on a tray, and secretly hurt if he didn’t notice or comment upon the layer of foam I’d so painstakingly crafted.

Mine was alright, but the best Turkish coffee we found in Istanbul was at Café Mandabatmaz, just off İstiklal Caddesi. Just a tiny room with enough stools for maybe eight people, and a master who’s been perfecting his craft for decades, the cups of coffee you get here are out of this world. Thick, rich, sweet and strong. Just like it should be.

Location of Mandabatmaz on our Istanbul Map

We also enjoyed Turkish Coffee in the Közde Türk Kahvesi, in front of the Yeni Camii, and the Nano Cafe, near the cruise terminal. Any other great recommendations? Let us know.

-Buy Turkish Coffee Here

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March 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm Comment (1)

The Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Bazaar)

Its real name might be the Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı), but the Spice Bazaar is how everyone refers to it, and gives a better indication of what to expect inside. Found next to the Yeni Camii near the Golden Horn, this ancient covered market dates from 1660 and is Istanbul’s second biggest bazaar.

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Although we found the shopping experience inside the bazaar stressful and monotonous, the building itself is wonderful. After the Ottomans conquered Egypt in 1517, they raised the funds to build this covered market by imposing heavy taxes on Cairo. For centuries afterward, the Egyptian Bazaar was the center of Istanbul’s spice trade, where handlers would truck in colorful herbs and seasonings from across the far-flung empire. The L-shaped building is a bit of a curiosity — there are six gates, but the main entrance is at the joint known as the “Prayer Field”. In this, the bazaar’s only wooden section, an officer would lead the merchants in morning prayer and remind them to trade fairly.

I hadn’t necessarily been anticipating turbaned merchants in the Spice Market, sitting atop piles of cinnamon and mirthfully counting out their golden coins, but perhaps something a little more genuine than the tourist trap it has become. There was still spice, and plenty of it, but every stand had the same selection and the same prices. The same hawkers perched outside, entreating you to examine their teas and aphrodisiacs. A lot of stands were dedicated wholly to souvenirs. It’s definitely not the place locals come to fill their spicing needs, and the inauthenticity ruins the experience.

Just outside, though, in the nook of the building’s L-shape, is a place where locals do shop: the outdoor Pet and Gardening Market, with hundreds of caged birds, fish, some dogs, and boxes full of clucking chicks. We enjoyed the atmosphere here a lot more than inside the Spice Market. One of the more interesting aspects was a row of Leech Doctors with buckets full of the blood suckers to be applied to feet or even the face. We had hoped to get a picture of the doctors plying their trade, but unfortunately, none of them had clients. And despite Jürgen’s pleading, I wasn’t about to sit down.

Location of the Spice Market on our Map

-Great Hostels In Istanbul

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March 22, 2013 at 10:14 am Comments (4)