Sunday, June 10, 2007


While on the Bosphorus Cruise, the Guide had pointed out an area called Ortakoy, which is the place that locals frequent. The restaurants, the guide said, served the best fish in town, and, were open till very late at night.

So leaving our son with my mother-in-law, my husband and I set off for dinner at Ortakoy. The cab drops you off on the main road from where you walk down quaint cobbled streets lined with stalls selling everything from junk jewellery to Turkish evil eyes, from fired tiles to beautiful Turkish figurines, from gorgeous ceramics to cat sketches! (What is about cats in this part of the world? Even back home in Egypt people are obsessed with cats!)

Located on the European Bosphorus shore, Ortakoy, {literally "the village in the middle" (orta}) is a really cool place with lots shops, open air cafés (very Parisian), restaurants, and, tons of arty crowd along with youngsters, with an occasional young Turk revving past in his fancy motorbike.

As I discovered later, the stalls lining the streets are an impromptu street market on Sundays by artists displaying their wares for sale. Prices are a little lower than Grand Bazaar and the artists are usually not given in to bargaining. There are two permanent shops that sell the most gorgeous blue / aqua green Turkish pottery that I have seen. The pieces are unique, different from the run of the mill stuff that you’ll find in Grand Bazaar, and expensive, but worth every penny you spend. And, there is this lovely shop selling copies of old photographs / lithos of Istanbul, copies of Ottoman edicts and official decrees, and, hold your breath, copies of the posters advertising the Orient Express! The last I just had to buy!

Hubby and I walked to the end of the area where a natural jetty is home to number of tourists and Turks out with the family. A group of youngsters sat in one corner under a tree singing songs and strumming a guitar. I was really tempted to join, but satisfied myself by listening to them. Bunch of young friends, sipping coffee, singing, laughing at a shared joke – ah, how I yearn for the uncomplicated life when you are young!

The most beautiful part of being at Ortakoy is that you are right at the edge of the Bosphorus. You can hear the waves as they crash against the shore, and, feel the breeze as it caresses your skin.

As we walked back towards the restaurants, I noticed a beautiful mosque on my left. This is Büyük Mecidiye Camii (Grand Imperial Mosque of Sultan Abdülmecid), usually called simply the Ortaköy Camii. Other than its beautiful architecture, what is really tantalizing is that its almost in the water on the Bosphorus shore.

Right next to the mosque was a lady, making something, which resembled Indian roomali rotis. On the table were jars with assorted fillings – mushrooms, penayir (yes, like the Indian paneer), cheese, mashed potatoes, beef, mutton etc. As she expertly tossed and rolled out the rotis, I was intrigued enough to try one. The dish, the lady explained, was called “Queslame” and was a local Turkish roll. Could I get a vegetarian one? Of course! Decided to go the whole hog and pointed to everything vegetarian that I could find – penayir, potatoes, cheese and mushrooms.

She essentially rolled out the dough into a really large roti / pancake and then added all the stuffing. Folded it over to form a square and then cooked it on a pan. Once cooked, rolled it in a paper and handed it to me. Yum! It was delicious, albeit a little dry.

Numerous restaurants line Ortakoy, selling everything from Lebanese to Chinese to Continental cuisine.

Verdict: To sit in the evening breeze, next to the Bosphorus, and, have your dinner makes Ortakoy a not-to-miss experience. I’m defiantly going to be back!

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