Istanbul’s burgeoning coffee scene

There are not many ways I would compare Istanbul to Cape Town. But there is one. Coffee. As you know, a subject close to my heart. When we moved to Cape Town in 2001, we took with us our trusted Nespresso machine, and that was about all we could lay our hands on, except for over-foamy horrors in Melissa’s, seen there as the height of sophistication. Oh, and there was Seattle Coffee in a garage somewhere, and I have a memory of being scolded by the cashier as I was 6 months pregnant, and apparently shouldn’t be drinking coffee.

In the following years, coffee literally exploded in Cape Town, first with the Vida e Caffe chain and then many more that followed. I have to say, that for a while, coffee was better in Cape Town, than in the UK, as there was more individual care taken by the baristas than their counterparts in the likes of Starbucks and Costa. I remember the first time my dear friend, Cathy, told me about Vida e Caffe in Kloof Street, and it was such a revelation – it remained my favourite place to hang out and drink coffee until we left Cape Town.

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Our new grinder

Fast forward a few years and we arrive in Istanbul. The main issue with coffee in Istanbul is that there has been no European coffee culture here – the majority of people drink cay (pronounced chai) which is strong black Turkish tea, usually served in a small glass. Of course, there is also Turkish coffee – extremely strong and concentrated, and served in a small cup. And as both the traditional style tea and coffee are not served with milk, there is no culture of using high quality milk in their drinks, so most European-style coffees over here are made with UHT milk – aagghh!

When we came to visit Istanbul last May on a house/school visiting trip, we were lucky enough to come across an article in the current edition of Istanbul’s Time Out guide, which was one of the first of many, to extoll the virtues of the new coffee shops in Istanbul. It took us nearly an hour to find Cup of Joy, as it is in a little passageway tucked between some buildings, but thank goodness, we persevered, as that place has been one of the things that has kept me going over the last year and a bit.

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When we found Cup of Joy, it had only been open a month and so was relatively quiet. It is owned by Suzan and Ebru, who are both passionate and knowledgeable about coffee, but they are also warm and hospitable and provided me with lots of useful tidbits of info from buying curtain material to where to go sailing. We are obviously not the only ones who love Cup of Joy, as it has now expanded into a second shop in the same passageway, and is nearly always heaving with people. Oh, and they love Dave – need I say more?

But the problem was, that really there were not many places like Cup of Joy, so if my days included venturing out into another part of Istanbul, then I knew I wouldn’t get any decent coffee. Naturally this meant that top of the important criteria for finding our new apartment last year, was to be within walking distance of Cup of Joy, which I can confirm is the case, and we happily trot down there several times a week. Perfect walk for Dave – that’s my excuse.

However, all that has now changed and just like happened in Cape Town, the coffee scene in Istanbul is happening. And I have made it my mission to visit as many of them as possible.

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Coffeetopia in Eminonu

On a recent visit to Kadikoy on the Asian side for Billy’s rugby match (more about that in the next post), Daisy and I made a little detour to find Cekirdek, which turned out to be closed. However, we stumbled across Rafine, a very small little cafe, almost a kiosk really, where the coffee was very good. We spent a very happy half an hour chatting to the owner, a young chef, recently back from London and discovered that he had only been open a month – we were there first! Well nearly.

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Our latest find, however, is Petra, which is in the suburb of Gayrettepe, very close to where Billy plays rugby on a Sunday. You can see where this is going, can’t you? Petra is in a warehouse, that also houses a gallery, which sells a collection of bizarre unrelated things like speed boats, and antiques. However, they are passionate about their coffee and roast their own beans. Last weekend we bought a new grinder so that we can always have a selection of beans on the go, much like you would have several bottles of wine open at the same time…

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Petra Roasting

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Watching independence grow

One of the many exciting things that I love about our current adventure of living in Istanbul, is the many opportunities for fostering independence in the children. I am sure you can do it anywhere, but there is something special watching Daisy happily agree to go off to the Tuesday market for our fruit and vegetables, with Dave in tow. Lest you think I am getting lazy, I have been laid low with a tummy bug, so was relying on one of the children to do the double whammy of weekly ‘pazar’ shop and walk the dog.

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View of the Tuesday pazar down below from our terrace

As you will see from the photo of the pazar taken from our balcony, it is a short trek down some very steep hills to get to the market, but the tricky bit is getting back up that hill laden with all those fruit and vegetables.

I tried to doctor the list so that it was only essentials – bananas, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, pears, grapes – yes, well that’s just the fruit then – aubergines, broccoli, eggs (perhaps risky?) and lastly levrek (sea bass) which Daisy insisted she could cope with ordering, and carefully asked whether I needed it filleted or not – that’s my girl!

I love that its a challenge for her on so many levels – managing Dave and a whole lot of shopping, lugging the whole lot up the hill, not to mention the language skills of buying everything in Turkish – go Daisy!

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School dinners

So evocative, school dinners. Everybody has a (usually not so favourable) memory of school dinners.

I remember loving toffee cream pie and having an extra serving whenever that was on offer – oh, those days were the days when we didn’t worry about sugar!  But mostly school dinners for me was a lonely affair, as most of my friends spent their ‘dinner’ money at the ice cream van. I longed to be able to have a Mars Bar and a packet of crisps for my lunch, but as we qualified for ‘free’ dinners, there was no question of that.

Billy and Daisy have endured the full gamut of school dinner experiences. They are non-existent in Cape Town, so it was packed lunches every day, which I for one, was very happy to be rid of when we moved to the UK. Back in the UK, they had their first experience of school lunches – Billy of course loved the food at his school, whereas Daisy said the daily fare at hers was horrible. Pretty par for the course.

But the international school in Istanbul is a different kettle of fish all together. For a start, as the International school shares its premises with the National school, the canteen is huge, serving more than 2000 meals a day, the majority of which are served to Turkish children. The International school makes up less than a quarter of the children, but of course within that quarter there are more than 50 different nationalities from literally all over the world.

Daisy stubbornly refuses to eat from the canteen, and last year, as they were not allowed to squirrel away any extra snacks or sandwiches in their bags, used to come home ravenous, as nothing had passed her lips from 7am until 4pm. I wrote to the Principal but was mostly told that the food was pretty good in comparison to American schools, (God help the children of the USA) and that it was a taste adjustment, and soon she would get used to it. Guess what, she didn’t.

So, this year, with Billy at the school, and knowing he wouldn’t get through the day without his scram, I took up the opportunity to be on the Nutrition committee and see what can be done to improve the food. It is no easy task, mainly due to the simple fact of whose palette do you aim to please? The many Asian students? Eastern European, Western European? American? Arab?

I suggested that I start by eating lunch in the canteen every day for a couple of weeks so that I could try it out for myself and see if it really is as bad as my children have reported. The results are below – have a look at some of the photos of my lunches from last week.

Day 1 - Meat and potato stew, rice, courgette in olive oil. Tomato and cucumber salad. Melon

Day 1 – Meat and potato stew, rice, courgette in olive oil. Tomato and cucumber salad. Melon

Day 2 – Peppers and courgettes stuffed with meat, rice, tomatoes and spices. Vermicelli soup. Pasta salad. Tomato and cucumber salad. Doughnuts in syrup.

Red lentil soup. Doner kebab and tabouleh. Cold green bean and rice salad. Cucumber and tomato salad. Grapes.

Day 3 – Red lentil soup. Doner kebab and tabouleh. Cold green bean and rice salad. Cucumber and tomato salad. Grapes.

There were some unexpected cool touches like the free-flowing olive oil. Also, the grapes and yogurt come from the owner of the school’s farm somewhere in Turkey.

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Will report more next week….

Beginning of another school year

But this one is so different! For the first time since we left Cape Town, at the end of 2010, the four of us, Peter, Billy, Daisy and me, are living together again in our own home, albeit a rented one. It’s been an interesting journey getting us to this point, where we are all living in Istanbul. When we made the decision to leave Cape Town four years, I don’t think any of us would have imagined that our path would have been quite so circuitous – not uphill exactly, although when is it ever not a challenge?

After our first year back in the UK, when we were indeed altogether, but living in my long-suffering sisters house, Peter took up a new job in Saudi Arabia. Then moving to Istanbul last year allowed us to regain one member of the family whilst losing another.

So after making some tough decisions earlier this year, Billy has come to join us for a year or two in Istanbul, before we (hopefully but who knows?) move back to the UK.

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As I wrote in my posts last year, it was a very difficult time leaving Billy behind in the UK to weekly board and then spend the weekends with many loving and generous family members and friends. In hindsight was it the wrong decision for Billy to stay while we lived in another country? Maybe. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and many people have helped me not to see it as a mistake as we all learnt many things from it.

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Possibly the biggest lesson for all of us, is the value of family. Perhaps we all took it for granted a bit before, but now we all relish it, and when everybody gets on top of each other, then I for one, just pinch myself and remember how lucky we all are to all be together, enjoying life, learning lots, eating well, fishing and rollerblading along the Bosphorus, and continuing this journey together.

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Eataly

Eataly is fantastic – every city should have one. It is a Mecca for all things Italian, both food and drink – it is the place to go if you need a little cheering up, and it is most definitely the place to go to do your weekly shop and your weekend shop.

Being somebody who loves food, who loves to cook and therefore loves to food shop, I have found Istanbul to be a big disappointment, as the supermarkets are awful – the ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables always looks tired and brown, the meat is not great, the fish not fresh and store cupboard stuff limited. The only exception has been the weekly fresh produce markets which I enjoy and on the whole are fresh, but by the very nature of fresh produce, I dont necessarily want to buy a whole week’s worth of fresh produce!

That is why Eataly has made such a difference to my life here in Istanbul. Everything feels right with the world when you come out of Eataly clutching a multitude of their brown paper bags…

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Eataly is a global chain – there are 26 Eataly stores in the world – 10 of these are in Italy, 13 in Japan, 2 in the USA, 1 in Dubai and then our newly opened magnificent store in Istanbul. ‘Our’ store takes up a huge space in the newly opened high-end Zorlu Shopping Centre, where it sits alongside Godiva, Jo Malone, Prada and the likes.

When you enter, it definitely has a New York feel – the whole store is divided into load of different sections – pasta, pizza, formaggio and salami, meat, fish, etc. – and each section has amazing counters where the fresh produce is displayed beautifully and available for purchase. Each section also has its own restaurant space with its own menu.

Today, as the fridge has been looking incredibly sparse since I arrived back from the UK, I decided to stock up – fresh parmeggiano, gorgonzola and mozzarella; some beautiful levrek (seabass) fillets; a leg of lamb and boned chicken thighs; a selection of salamis – I must say, the chill drawer in the fridge is looking much healthier

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I also bought wonderful fresh Italian bread, fresh herbs, asparagus, raspberries, Italian tinned tomatoes, good Italian pasta, etc. I now cant wait to get cooking for the weekend…

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Christmas Eve in Istanbul

There’s not that much of a Christmassy feeling here in Istanbul as they don’t celebrate Christmas here as its a Muslim country. Its a normal working day with kids going to school and people going out about their business as usual. The strangest thing is not saying ‘happy Christmas’ to everybody.

So we decided to walk down to Bebek, our local neighbourhood by the sea, this morning for a cup of coffee in our favourite ‘Cup of Joy’ and ended up having a wonderful morning full of strange encounters. After coffee, we headed up to the butcher to get some chicken to make a very untraditional curry for Christmas Eve supper – we would normally have ham but as there’s no pork…
Everybody is always so helpful here, especially at this butchers – there’s always somebody who speaks English and willing to translate, but in this case, EU health inspectors would have a field day as he had a cigar in one hand and a glass of çay in the other!

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We then headed off for a walk down the Bosphorus as it was a beautiful sunny day, and ran the gauntlet between the fishermen taking care not to lose an eye with one of their hooks.

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Our last stop was the usual Tuesday market where the traders are starting to get to know us – the fish stall is amazing

20131224-181957.jpgand then the most hilarious bit was one of the market traders offering to buy Dave for 200TL!!!!

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The final event was the porter who carried all our goodies back up the hill

20131224-182733.jpg the funny thing is that I had always noticed him at the weekly market but thought he was selling things in his basket, although I had no idea what. It only dawned on us today that his basket was empty and he was offering his services as a porter for the princely sum of 10TL (£3)

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Istanbul by foot

One of the things I am really enjoying now that we have our gorgeous dog, Dave, here with us in Istanbul (apart from the constant companionship – he is sitting on my lap as I type), is my renewed vigour for walking. I have always loved walking but somehow without a dog and in the heat, the focus is not quite the same.

My walks with Dave in Istanbul are very different from the English countryside, and of course, before that, the Cape mountains and beaches, that we are used to. So, it is not a case of running free across the fields or up the mountains or into the sea, but street walking. Now, instead of taking a taxi or the car, Dave and I walk home from Turkish lessons or walk to fetch the car from Peter’s office and I have to say, we are seeing a whole new side of Istanbul that I am loving.

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I think I might have mentioned previously that Istanbul is built on seven hills and we have to climb several of them on any given journey! Yesterday for example, our walk involved steep climbing to begin with and then a cold brisk and blowy walk along the Bosphorus. As we were winding our way up a steep road that went under one end of the Bosphorus bridge, I came across this incredible sight of a mini farm – what brilliant use of a piece of unused land.

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A filleting fish first

Now, I know that ordinarily this picture of seabass fillets would not look very impressive….

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Getting in the Christmas mood…

Feeling a bit under the weather this morning, there was nothing for it but a quiet morning at home; and my mind turned to baking! I had offered to make something for Daisy’s school disco and bake sale tomorrow so decided to make some Christmas rocky road brownies.

I used a recipe of Nigella’s that does not use ‘good’ chocolate but just good ol’ Dairy Milk, as the decent stuff is hard to come by here (and expensive) and frankly, I’m mean – I want to keep my stash, carefully lugged from the UK, for our family Christmas baking.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun decorating the brownies before they went in the oven – sprinkling red glitter over, studding the mixture with white chocolate stars and mini Marshmallows (thank you Waitrose) and Christmas tree wafers and then a finally dusting of icing sugar when they came out of the oven.

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Cok Guzel (Very delicious in Turkish)

I am very happy to report that this half term holiday, Billy has decided he wants to learn to cook.

Obviously being here in Istanbul, with no friends to go and hang out with, we need to be creative in finding things to occupy Billy, as seeing his family again, wears thin very quickly…

Having finally got our shipping container delivered on Friday, Billy’s first inspiration came from my stash of cookbooks being unpacked. Billy and Daisy had fun arranging them all on a book shelf in sections of different types of cooking, with the baking section, obviously taking pride of place.

So, the first thing Billy made was the Chocolate Birthday Cake from Jo Wheatley’s A Passion for Baking – she was the winner from the Great British Bake off in 2011 – of course made all the more topical with all the hype surrounding the most recent series.

I have to say, he did pretty well and this is the result.

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Today, Billy decided to make his first pasta sauce which involved a trip to our new butcher in Bebek. They were recommended by our favourite coffee shop (think Monmouth and you’ll understand how good they are) and it was great to watch them strip down a couple of chickens for us in order to take the thigh and leg meat – Billy and I were in awe.

This is Billy with his new best friend, the butcher, as he gave him a chocolate muffin!

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Anyway, it was great to watch Billy getting stuck into chopping the chicken, onions, garlic, parsley, etc learning how to skin the tomatoes – and here is the finished result – a chicken and tomato pasta sauce with some aubergine sneaked in by me!

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