• Koula, 94.7 presenter and F&HE blogger, is loving all things food-related in her travels through Turkey, Greece, Italy and Israel…

    Thursday 16 Aug

    We touched down in Istanbul shortly after 5am. 25 degrees celcius! At 5 am! After a terribly long and freezing Jozi winter, it was more than welcome. Cruised through passport control – no visas needed for South African citizens and so Turkey’s delightful assault on our senses began.

    With only a vague idea of what to expect, we were completely amazed just metres after leaving the airport. Gorgeous baskets of colourful flowers adorn streetlamps and the pavements and kerbs are well maintained, manicured and free of even a trace of litter. Home to 17 million people, the streets of the country’s capital came to life as our minibus weaved its way towards the Madison Hotel in Taksim. Modern meets ancient as mosques from the old world are footsteps away from top end fashion retailers. We passed the old boundary walls, still impressive in their age and structure – giving us a glimpse into Turkey’s past.

    Checked in at 7am, our room cool and air-conditioned. By 1pm, we’d rested and freshened up, keen to explore and capitalise on our downtime before our crazy shoot schedule begins. Taksim has a vast array of hotels and shops and we enjoyed taking a leisurely stroll through the neighbourhood, marveling at the fresh figs and other exotic fruits on display.

    Tonight we were taken to the incredible Borsa (meaning Stock Market) Restaurant in the suburb of Harbiye. I think, in fact, know, I just had the best meal of my life. Because we were a large group, a variety of the best items were ordered, which we shared among the group. You know when there’s not even salt or pepper on the table that you’re in for something special. Each of the dishes was painstakingly prepared and exquisitely flavoured –  from starters like cacik (similar to tzatziki, just a more fluid consistency) and kara lahana dolma (black cabbage from the Black Sea area, wrapped around a fragrant rice and meat filling); to mains including grass-fed lamb chops so succulent and tender; and sweets in the form of gullac – layers of dough soaked in milk and sugar, flavoured wih rosewater and served with pistachio and pomegranate. There were also decadent profiteroles and hand-made Turkish ice cream. We sipped on raki, a distilled grape spirit containing aniseed (43-45% alcohol) served with with ice and water.

    Safe to say we were stuffed. Feel too full to sleep right now!
    After dinner, we walked to Taksim Square to experience Istanbul’s vibrant nightlife. To say I was surprised and amazed is an understatement!  Taksim Square’s high street has all the popular international brand names from Mango to Top Shop to United Colours of Benetton. Street vendors sell roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob. Strong young men mix ice cream by hand! There is a constant flow of pedestrians everywhere and the Metro and trams keep them coming in. Not once did we feel uneasy or unsafe though. As busy as the streets were, everyone was pretty peaceful. Although we left the Square just after 1am, people were still pushing babies around in prams, clothing shops were open for business and restaurants and bars were buzzing! Wonderful night!

    By Serdar Yilgoren