Category Archives: Restaurants

The Road to Istanbul Modern

As Charles Atlas would have it, Istanbul is a place of dynamic tensions.

On the Beyoğlu road

On the Beyoğlu road

For the visitor of course, these contrasts are both exciting and challenging.  We have been intrigued by traditional Istanbul, hugely impressed by ancient Istanbul, and quite confronted by religious and conservative Istanbul.  Not surprisingly, we are most comfortable with modern Istanbul, even though that’s not without its challenges.

After almost two weeks here, some recurring themes are appearing.  Eating and restaurants of course, and the Taksim protests, but an unexpected theme of considerable importance has turned out to be roads.

IMG_1243Before the Taksim protests showed just how differently the government and their supporters were thinking, most would have said that Turkey was roaring down the road to modern Turkey, European Turkey, and certainly modern Istanbul.

Just how on earth Erdogan thinks he can put that genie back in the bottle defies all logic.  While the crushing of the protests, which he has all but achieved, will slow things down a bit, nothing will stop the path that Istanbul is on.

One way - but which way?

One way – but which way?

There is of course a short-term cost, and the European media are suggesting that the violent and duplicitous way that the PM has reacted to the Taksim protests has finally killed off Turkey’s desire to join the European Union.  However, if they manage to get the Olympics in 2020, Istanbul will move even further away from Erdogan’s Turkey.

Our road to modern Istanbul has of course been a little more pedestrian (heh heh).

Being quite literal, the actual roads are crazy, like the small one-way street we are staying in, where cars just ignore the rules and drive straight at each other.  The really steep streets falling away from Beyoğlu and Istiklal Street are also a wonder to behold.

Back in the metaphorical, while we have loved the uber-cheap street cafes and old fashioned shops and markets, we have also really enjoyed the upmarket restaurants and fashionable neighbourhoods that are an equal to any modern city.

On the Bosphorus

On the Bosphorus

We had a superb meal at Lokanta Maya (Kemankeş Cd, Karaköy) run by New York trained Istanbul chef Didem Şenol (though she is off having a baby at the moment).  We breakfasted on the Bosphorus at The House Café at Ortaköy (Salhane Sk), surrounded by wealthy and very modern locals.

But we probably had the most modern fun on our visit to the Istanbul Modern, which turned out to be a very telling metaphor for modern Istanbul.

The road to the Istanbul Modern is in fact an ugly driveway into a carpark, with no dedicated space for pedestrians.  The entrance is at the end of said carpark, and looks like the sign-on shed for crew for the nearby docks.  The museum building itself fares no better, sandwhiched between a machinery storage yard and the docks.  On a good day, the docks provide a spectacular view of the Bosphorus and the Asian side from the museum café; problem is, on most days, there is a huge cruise ship docked there, totally blocking the view.

The view to nowhere

The view to nowhere

Once inside, the Istanbul Modern is the very model of a modern major art museum, and fortunately the current exhibitions included a major retrospective of their collection, Past and Future.  Populist at one level, but a great opportunity for the one-time visitor.

There was also a very strong retrospective of local artist Erol Akyavaş.

But to prove that Art Imitates Life just as often as the other way around, our favourite piece in the Istanbul Modern retrospective was a video piece by two Istanbul artists titled …….

Road to Tate Modern.

[It’s only 6:41 long but you can skip to 4:55 and get the gist]

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More chicken feet

Another post from Phil, this time from London:

Today we just had chicken and chips for lunch…

chook pic

Should’ve taken an after-photo as well. The waitress looked at the remains (including gnawed feet), raised an eyebrow and said “impressive”. It was at a place called Tramshed, which sports its very own Damien Hirst artwork suspended from the ceiling.

Tramshed

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Meat bones tea

While we’ve been acclimatising to Istanbul, Helen’s brother Phil has been eating his way through Singapore and London on his way to meet us here on Monday. Here’s his account of last Sunday and Monday in Singapore. (And just so you know, one SPD is worth about 0.80 AUD).

Can’t believe I failed to notice that the World Street Food Congress was having its last night the very same night I arrived! Nor did I notice The Guardian’s piece on Singapore Cheap Eats just days earlier.

Phil

Phil

That might explain why half of the stalls at Maxwell Rd seemed to be closed that night. Actually I think it’s more likely to be a Sunday thing.

One of those that was closed was Tian Tian, the former best Chicken Rice place whose chef left to start Ah Tai a few stalls down. Which, of course, was one of the places where I ate last night, grateful that the relative quietness meant I only had to queue for about 10 minutes. Marvellous, was the Chicken Rice (4 SPD), as were the chicken feet (boned, of course, which is not too much to expect for a dish costing 3 SPD).

Afterwards, I went wandering further into Chinatown and discovered a place for which I only seem to be able to get understanding nods from locals if I say Chinatown “Level 2”. Wow! Much more down and dirty and busy and clearly the place to go for Chinese style Fish Head. They looked great, but enormous – much more than just the head – braised.

I was intending to go to Little India for Indian style Fish Head Curry the next day, so instead had a thing called Bah Kut Teh (“meat bones tea”). Absolutely delicious pork ribs cooked and served in the most clear, flavoursome, peppery broth you can imagine. Pure, fall off the bone, pork.

Yesterday I made good on the Fish Head Curry intent at Little India. OMG, so good. More expensive than the previous night at 18 SPD but it was enough for two so still ridiculously cheap.

Dinner last night was at Lau Pa Sat food market. Started with the smallest serve available of Satays, 10 chicken plus 10 mutton (12SPD). Delicious. Followed that with BBQ Stingray with Sambal (12SPD) – sweet, juicy wings of fish smothered with a pungent sambal paste. Fantastic. Phil pic1

Then couldn’t resist a couple of charcoal grilled chicken wings (1.50 SPD) with chilli sauce to dip.

Phil pic2

But I digress. Back to the question… Is street food, Singapore-style, a model worth copying?

Yes.

Yes, I do think Britain (& Australia) should copy Singapore. Mind, I have no recollection of a “jealously guarded individuality” in British street food. Nor much recollection of British street food at all. Will find out soon if that’s changed. But if there are any decent vendors, they’ll be able to offer more variety, better quality & cheaper prices if they have a permanent home with decent gear.

An interesting article that one, ignoring the slightly embarrassing mix up on the name of Chicken Rice vs one particular vendor.

A closing thought. I saw a guy last night with a rotisserie loaded with hunks of marinated pork belly cooking slowly over charcoal until they were black on the outside, but juicy and lovely on the inside. Just think about that for a moment…

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