While census calculations place Istanbul’s population at a handy 13-million people, the unofficial count tells a different story about Turkey’s teeming metropolitan capital: The true number hovers closer to 20-million residents. If you can’t quite wrap your head around this figure, try doubling the whole of New York City and adding a few million for good measure. Istanbul, my friends, brings new meaning to the term megacity.
I was lucky enough to land there last week, where I was researching hamami–traditional Turkish bath houses–for a New York Times Globespotters article. Apart from many hours spent in humid, marble-hewn dens among naked, soapy women, I also feasted upon the Near East’s remarkable culinary riches. Lest you have any doubt, I ate well (and abundantly) in Istanbul.
Pickled vegetables, herb salads, and preserved fruits ruled the day, served on small plates called mezze. Along with a host of baked goods and array of homemade cheeses, meals consisted of prolonged, delectable nibbling and conversations that stretched for hours. The most-pronounced difference between the morning and evening spreads on tables in Istanbul? Not much, unless you count the liquids. Turkish coffee paired with breakfast, while Raki–a traditional, anise-flavored spirit–rounded out dinner. I’m not sure what I loved more–the staggering caffeine highs or libations-governed jollies.
Whatever drink you fancy, Istanbul is one of the world’s true cultural capitals–from its former status as Constantinople and Byzantium, to its current reign-on-high wonders. I’ll definitely be going back and, just maybe, I’ll invite you along for the ride. It’s spectacular. Trust me.
Special thanks to my Turkish host, Bekir, for guiding me on a crash-course into Istanbul’s imminently-cool hipster nightlife. Big hugs to my Danish travel companion, Isabel, for being a salve to my beleaguered, Berlin-weary soul–I’m back in Deutschland with a newfound lightness in my heart, thanks to you.