September is a good time to get nostalgic about the passed summer. There are certain seasonal imperatives for spending your time in Istanbul. Things to do in Istanbul in summer would be revolving around lingering in one way or another by the Bosphorus or the Marmara Sea. This year I have missed most of this delights having been busy with running food walks and settling our two new houses in Istanbul and its countryside, Sapanca. I can’t say I am sad about it but it’s the purslane recipe that bothers me most.
This summer I..
1. .. have not gone to Princess Islands.
Princess Islands provide the most obvious summer thing to do in Istanbul: it is a great getaway to a summer resort featuring glorious villas and private beaches located just 1-1.5 hours away from Istanbul (depending on whether you take a sea bus departing from Kabataş or a regular passenger boat from Eminönü). The reasons to go this summer were decent: to cycle and sunbath on Büyükada or to dine at Heyamola Ada Lokanatasi at Heybeli Ada discovered by Marina, a Princess Island lover where she was mesmerized by the best octopus salad she had eaten recently.
Yet, this summer I have replaced a trip to the Princess Islands with a sally to Karasu on the the Black Sea which is a half an hour drive from our place in Sapanca. We had most mouthwatering fish I have ever eaten in Turkey – turbout (kalkan) fillets fried in corn flour for lunch at Ahmet Alinin Yeri, bought garden-grown strawberries for dessert, laid at the beach, tested the waters of the Black Sea – warm as fresh milk, and got back to the same restaurant for more turbout. I can share Marina’s sentiment about octopus salad but I am not sure they have turbout on the Princess Islands.
2. .. have not dined on the Bosphorus.
Istanbul sprawling along the Bosphorus is doted with great dining options from Besiktaş to Sarıyer and taking advantage of those options is a must thing to do in Istanbul, especially in summer. You can start your Sunday with a brunch in Ortaköy choosing either a modern take on Turkish breakfast at the hip House Cafe, or an elaborate fare at more traditional places, or on-the-go gözleme, Turkish stuffed pancakes, or submitting to the cries of the vendors selling potatoes seasoned with a dozen of yummy. Then you can move further along the Boshorus and join local celebrities and wanna-bes for a stroll down the trendy Bebek sampling macaroons from Baylan and ice-cream at a hole-in-the-wall Mini Dondurma. As you get closer to the Black Sea it will be perfectly fine to sit for light lunch by the Bosphorus at the iconic Nar Cafe or Fincan Cafe in Rumeli Hisarı and lazily watch ships passing by and the crowds growing larger. By the evening you will make it to Sarıyer where you will land at one of the waterfront restaurants for a fish dinner.
We took so long that we made it to Sarıyer by late evening in mid September. As I was getting off the car into the dark thick night I felt the chill on my skin and the strong wind blowing off my skirt. “No outside sitting this time”, I thought. Özgür brought me to yet another best-kept secret restaurants in Istanbul which had incredibly nostalgic feel and freshest fish ever. As we dined I kept looking at the moon-glade on the Bosphorus, about a hundred of beach chairs line up outside. Özgür said, “Once my parents had their table arranged right by on the beach by the waterfront: they ate, they drank and then they swam”. And this is our plan for next summer.
3. .. have not done a sunset Bosphorus cruise.
Bosphorus cruise is THE thing to do in Istanbul for every stay however brief. I always recommend my clients hoping on the government ferry doing the short circle from Eminönü to Istinye, just little off the second bridge across the Bosphorus. Two wonderful hours in afternoon will be filled with deep blue color, crying sea-gulls and grandeur of the residences that have been housing the sultans, vizirs and modern-day tycoons. In summer you will have an option of doing this trip around the sunset time – on a government ferry or private boat – and ever-changing lighting of the Bosphorus bridge and magnificent Kız Kulesi will be a summer bonus for the Bosphorus trip.
Why did I ditched the sunset cruise? Because when Marina, her guests and my visiting sister ventured into one. I was anxious to test-drive my gorgeous kitchen in our new house in Istanbul. I spent the day shopping at Kadıköy market and the evening was busy with making meze, marinading fish and peeling apricots for dessert. Because they don’t serve such great food on the ship.
4. .. have not raved at an open-air nightclub.
Many tourists visiting the city don’t get close to good clubbing in Istanbul. Just like with the Istanbul fish restaurants good clubs are typically found far off the tourist trails and their etiquette and lack of English speaking capabilities are harder to deal with than their face control. Yet raving a night away at an open-air nightclub is a great thing to do in Istanbul if you want to feel the real vibe of the city and its young and rich. A night at glorious Reina hosting many international celebrities and events, luxurious SuAda on a small island on the Bosphorus, or chic-abundant Sortie may completely change you idea of Istanbul and its people.
By the end of September we went to Nahide, one of the posh Istanbul night clubs where you “get drunk and do shameless things”, as Özgür explained to me. Baskets of fresh fruits graced the tables featuring architectural constructions of rakı, Absolute and whiskey glasses. Sitting, standing and dancing were evening dresses clad divas and their companions in white shirts revealing hairy chest and tightly hugging their bellies. A group of transvestites was steering the evening from the stage. Many looked like regulars and the atmosphere was so informal that a famous singer emerged from the crowd and performed a few songs impromptu – to his honor sounding just like on the record – how many singers can boast this nowadays?
I was happy to get introduced but also happy not to stay long. I told Özgür next morning, “I can’t think of many shameless things to do any more. Do you think it’s time for us to opt for more grown up places where you drink wine and listen to jazz in the company of other retired people?” I am sure some of those happen open-air too.
5. .. have not posted a purslane recipe.
This really is the only thing that I really regret I have not done this summer. Since the very time purslane made it to the Istanbul market stalls in spring I have been keeping an eye on it. A simple yet glorious salad of purslane made with strained yoghurt has been a highlight on the degustation lunch on my food tours too.
Purslane (semizotu in Turkish, verdolaga in Spanish) is a succulent herb similar to watercress. It is considered a weed in many countries but Turks know better and use purslane for cooking: when eaten fresh in salads it gives the crunchy fresh taste of cucumber and when cooked in a stew it acts and tastes similar to spinach. Besides the great taste purslane is packed with healthy elements and vitamins: in particular it is fantastically rich in highly sought-after Omega-3 fatty acids which are great for your heart and in vitamin A which is great for the vision. I have been eating it the whole summer and it’s time to share.
Purslane Yoghurt Salad
Really simple summer purslane recipe that can be a salad, a bread spread, a dip, a side dish and what not.
Prep Time: 10 Min
- 400 gram / 0.9 pounds purslane
- 3 cups strained (Greek) yoghurt
- 3 cloves garlic crashed
- freshly ground mixed pepper to taste
- salt to taste
- extra virgin olive oil for seasoning
- Wash purslane thoroughly and separate leaves from the stems. Discard the stems: I don’t like using stems in this salad: in my opinion they work nicely – coarsely chopped – when briefly simmered with some onion, garlic and tomatoes and served with plain rice or thrown into omelet. Coarsely chop the purslane leaves. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl whisk strained (Greek.. my heart sinks every time I call Turkish yoghurt by the name it is mostly known outside of Turkey) yoghurt with crashed garlic, salt and mixed pepper. Combine chopped purslane leaves and yoghurt mixture and season with extra virgin olive oil before serving.