By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
With its backdrop of mosque domes and minarets, Istanbul is as idyllic as it is intricate. This is the land of Sultans and Ottoman treasures alongside Byzantine marvels and archaeological ruins. Located on the narrow straits of the Bosphorous spanning both Asia Minor and Europe, its fantastic food and rich culture reflect these crossroads.
The heart of Old Istanbul, known as the Old Hippodrome or Sultanahmet area, features the magnificent Hagia Sophia Basilica, the brilliant Topkapi Palace with its beautiful courtyards and the alluring Blue Mosque with its six minarets and incredible mosaic tile interior. For a relaxing overview of the city, cruise the Bosphrous and take note of the many mansions, churches, synagogues and mosques confirming the legacy of its Christian and Islamic history. For a look below, take a tour of the impressive Underground Cistern that provided water to the Sultan’s palace.
Shopping has never been more fun than when meandering through Istanbul’s two amazing covered marketplaces. The 14th century Grand Bazaar features over 4000 stalls flaunting ceramics of all shapes and sizes painted with the country’s tulip emblem as well as leather, brass and copper goods. Eager rug merchants offer cups of Turkish coffee or mint or apple tea while they present numerous versions of their local colorful kilim rugs to purchase. The delectable Spice Bazaar is a culinary wonder with its appealing aromas and infinite choices of seasonings and spices to buy. For a snack, enjoy a sip of local Raki (an anise-based liqueur) while savoring Boreks (savory turnovers) with different fillings.
SAIL: Istanbul. Before sailing away, bring the city’s flavors and flair home. Shop at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. Both famous covered markets flaunt stalls with all sorts of items. The Grand Bazaar features colorful ceramics, copper and leather goods as well as kilim rugs. The Spice Market sells cinnamon, cardamom and cayenne for cooking; coffee, tea and Raki liqueur for sipping; nuts and sweet Turkish delight for nibbling.
SIP: Turkish Coffee. Coffee beans came to Istanbul in 1543 from a Sultan’s visit to Yemen and the sipping of this strong brew – poured from a copper ibrik into tiny cups -has been a social ritual ever since. If not coffee, try the local apple tea.
SAVOR: Borek with Rice Pilaf. These are stuffed with lamb and spiced vegetables like eggplant, onions and tomatoes. Pilaf laced with saffron or cumin and sweetened with dried fruits and nuts accompany them. And it all tastes especially good when sipped with a small glass of Raki, the Turkish milky-based anise liqueur.
Mara Papatheodorou is a Master Foodie, a Tastes & Traditions Expert and a nationally established entertaining specialist. She has interpreted the cuisine and experienced the culture of over 65 countries worldwide. As an 11 year Contributing Editor at BON APPETIT Magazine, Mara scouted and produced the Entertaining with Style section that highlighted how real people entertain around the country and the world and was editor of their international editions. She works as a consultant with food companies developing recipes, menus and promotional campaigns.
Mara is the Tastes & Traditions Expert for Regent Seven Seas Cruises where she lectures regularly about the history of cuisine and culture and what to sip and savor in various ports. Mara will sail on Seven Seas Voyager from Australia to New Zealand in January 2014 and on Seven Seas from New England to Canada in October 2014. You can read more about her at www.marapapa.com