The Pull of It by Wendy Fox

The Pull of It by Wendy Fox

Wendy Fox’s new novel The Pull of It puts a spotlight on the way travel gives us the chance to start our lives again. To find answers to the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What makes me happy?’ Laura, the main character in the book, is discontent and unsettled in her marriage and life in America. Her worries about leaving her daughter with a baby sitter on New Year’s Eve are brushed aside by her husband, of whom she writes, “Julian, ever practical, told me to stop wondering so much about other people’s lives. Truthfully, this did nothing for me: What kind of person doesn’t wonder about other people’s lives, and do I want to be married to him?”

Soon after she boards a plane for Turkey, and once there she is quickly seduced, coming under the spell of a country I have been lucky enough to call home for ten years. Fox quickly reels us in by using the commonly accepted idea that Turkey is a place full of mystery and dangerous unknowns, which she cleverly weaves in as the backdrop for Laura’s physical and emotional journey. In Turkey Laura finds a familiar home of a sorts, one that echoes her needs and uncertainties, and provides her with a safety net as she grapples with the pull of her past, the present and a frightening but potentially different and better future. Being in Turkey allows Laura to try to work out who she is, separate from her roles as lover, wife and mother, what she wants and where she wants to be.

Fox draws a picture of Laura’s dilemma with carefully chosen words which paint beautiful and at times painful scenes. Sometimes the things we love the most for the security and safety they offer, be it people, a place or a memory, have to be sacrificed in order that we can change to become a new and whole person. Fox forces us to accept this by sacrificing all three, but the outcome is something unexpectedly positive.

The Pull of It is Wendy Fox’s first novel, and I can’t wait to read her next one. If you’re a person who forever wonders about the people sitting opposite you on the train, in front of you on the plane, or eating in the same out of the way restaurant in a small town in a foreign country, then this is the book for you.

Click here to buy your copy today. To learn more about Wendy’s writing journey, check out my interview with her on English Kills.

Title: The Pull of It
Publisher: Underground Voices
Date: September, 2016
ISBN: 978-0990433170

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Turkish National Public Holidays 2017

Useful Turkish National Public Holiday dates to remember!

Turkish national public holidays include international public holidays, important dates in the nation’s history and major religious events. On these days banks, administration offices, schools, government offices and some businesses are closed. Although government and many private museums are closed, tourist centres such as Istanbul, Antalya, Izmir and Bodrum can be extremely busy as many Turks take the opportunity to have a short break. This is especially the case when the holiday is being held to celebrate a religious occasion. During the two main ones, Kurban Bayramı and Şeker Bayramı it’s obligatory for family members to visit one another, so interstate flights, buses and trains will be heavily booked. If you’re planning to travel to Turkey during these periods it’s advisable to book interstate flights, buses, tours and accommodation well in advance. If driving, roads are busier than usual. To help you plan your holiday here’s a list of Turkey national public holidays for 2017.

1 January: New Year’s Day
23 April: National Sovereignty and Children’s Day1
1 May: Labour and Solidarity Day2
19 May: Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth and Sports Day3
27 May – June 25: Holy Month of Ramazan
26 June – 28 June: Şeker Bayramı (end of Ramazan) – a feast of chocolates and sweets
15 July: Democracy and National Solidarity Day4
30 August: Victory Day5
1 September – 4 September: Sacrifice (Kurban Bayramı) Feast
28 October: Republic Day Eve
29 October: Republic Day6

  1. National Sovereignty & Children’s Day

Solemn ceremonies and children’s festivals take place throughout Turkey on National Sovereignty and Children’s Day (Ulusal Egemenlik ve Çocuk Bayramı), held on April 23 each year. This commemoration of the first opening of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey at Ankara in 1920 sees children take seats in the Turkish Parliament and symbolically govern the country for one day. Elsewhere school children march in unison, bearing the Turkish flag, people attend local ceremonies or lay wreaths at monuments of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.

  1. Labour & Solidarity Day

In Turkey, Labour and Solidarity Day (Emek ve Dayanışma Günü), internationally known as May Day, is an occasion for people to celebrate improvements in working conditions and to demand better conditions for skilled labourers and union workers. In recent years peaceful demonstrations have turned ugly, and in Istanbul much of the public transport system is shut down to prevent large gatherings. It’s wise to plan your movements accordingly.

  1. Commemoration of Atatürk Youth & Sports Day

Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day (Atatürk’ü Anma Gençlik ve Spor Bayramı) includes state ceremonies and sports events throughout the country on May 19 each year. Although the exact date of Atatürk’s birth isn’t known, many Turks celebrate May 19 as his birthday, because he used to say he was born on that day. It was on this day in 1919 that Atatürk arrived in the Black Sea province of Samsun where he started the Turkish Nationalist Movement. This led to the start of the Turkish War of Independence which resulted in the foundation of the modern Turkish Republic four years later. Many people lay wreaths on his monuments to commemorate this day and hang Turkish flags featuring his profile from their windows.

  1. Democracy and National Solidarity Day

On July 15, 2016 a failed coup took place which resulted in the deaths of at least 241 people, including seven civilians who were shot dead as they resisted the coup forces near the Akıncı air force base north of Ankara. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, a number of structures and public spaces were renamed, most notably Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge, which was retitled the “July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge.”

  1. Victory Day

Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı) commemorates the crucial Turkish victory against Greek forces in the Battle of Dumlupınar (August 26-30, 1922). The outcome of this battle helped determine the overall outcome of the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923). Shops, public offices, hotels and people’s houses are awash with Turkish flags, and military parades and ceremonies at monuments to Atatürk are held.

  1. Republic Day

Republic Day (Cumhuriyet Bayramı) marks the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The Turkish parliament proclaimed the new Turkish state a republic after the nation’s victory in the War of Independence. A new constitution was adopted on October 29, 1923, replacing the constitution of the Ottoman Empire. On the same day Mustafa Kemal Atatürk became the country’s first president. On Republic Day people go to theatre, poetry and traditional Turkish dance performances dedicated to the Republic of Turkey. Parades are held in some towns and cities, people lay wreaths in memory of Atatürk and in the evening many cities hold traditional processions with flags and musical bands, ending the night with firework displays.

If you want to know more about everyday life in Istanbul, away from the tourist centres, check out my latest book Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul.

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New Year’s Eve in Turkey – Red is for Health

Come celebrate new Year the Turkish way!

If you’ve lived here for more than a year you’ll likely have had at least one conversation with a Turkish friend or colleague about Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve in Turkey. Despite your best efforts at explaining that Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December and New Year’s Eve on the 31st, some of them will still confuse the two. This misunderstanding means that some Turks choose not to do anything special on New Year’s Eve in case they’re celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s probably also why I see Christmas decorations being put up after the 25th. There’s no fear of bringing on bad luck by ignoring the edict of taking down the tree and all decorations by the 12th day of Christmas when you don’t know when Christmas was.

Come decorate your Christmas tree!The festive season can be a hard time for expats, because even if you aren’t religious, it’s a much-loved occasion when we think of family and friends. Understandably, most of us organise our own Christmas festivities which are as close to the way we’d spend the day back home as possible. Being honest, it never is the same, so maybe it’s time to establish some new traditions, incorporating the best of all worlds.

One good place to start is on December the 31st. Although the dates for celebrating Christmas and New Year vary country to country according to the calendar in use, this particular night is on almost everyone’s festive list in some way. In Turkey, most people spend the night with family and friends, either at home or out at a restaurant with dinner and dancing. At home the time is spent eating (of course), watching New Year’s Eve TV specials and playing tombola, a game similar to bingo. Organised parties either end sedately soon after midnight or continue on into the small hours of the morning.

Why not start your own new tradition?There are two different traditions I’ve come across in Turkey that would make interesting additions to any celebration. The first is to open a pomegranate on New Year’s Eve. Doing so ensures richness and wealth, the idea being that as there are lots of seeds inside this fruit, the one becomes many. Some people, especially Armenians, throw the pomegranate onto the ground as hard as they can to break it open. They believe the more pieces there are and the further the seeds spread, the richer they’ll be.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that people give red underwear on New Year’s Eve. I’d always thought fire engine red lingerie was a gift restricted to Valentines Day, but I’ve since learnt red is popular because it symbolizes health. Women wear red underwear on the night and other new clothes to ensure well-being in the new year. The Turkish slang for underwear is don, and is derived from the word donanmak, meaning to spruce oneself up. When combined with the word table it means to have a rich table, laden with bountiful plenty.

However you ring in midnight on December 31st, I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year.

Posted in Culture & Tradition, Inside out in Istanbul | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Tokapi bus station

Topkapi bus station in the 1980s.Anyone who’s spent any time in Turkey is likely to have caught a long distance bus. And if you’ve only ever had to use the Esenler bus station in Istanbul you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s chaotic. Compared to what came before, it’s a oasis of calm. Here’s what I experienced the first time I arrived at the old Topkapı bus station on the outskirts of the city.

“Fourteen hours later, after stopping every two hours so that passengers could visit the bathroom and have a cigarette, even though they all smoked furiously on the bus anyway, we reached Istanbul. In the dim early morning light I could just make out huge thick ancient stone fortifications I later learnt were part of the original wall surrounding the city. To my weary eyes they were mere crumbling ruins that only added to the disorder surrounding us. The Topkapı bus station was overrun by chaos and pandemonium. Little yellow buses packed to the gunnels with people and parcels whizzed past, the drivers frantically honking their horns to make everyone jump out of the way. Large red and blue local buses with rusty sides and bits hanging off the bumper bars belched smoke from their exhaust pipes and turned impossibly large circles, cutting through the crowds of passengers, relatives, touts, food vendors, porters and an assortment of men who appeared to be at the bus station simply for something to do.

We were all milling around to the accompaniment of what seemed like a million voices screaming in my ear at once. “Ankara!”, “Eskişehir!”, “Van!”, “Kayseri!” . . . The words rolled on and over me until I suddenly realised they were the names of towns and the men shouting them worked for the various bus companies going to those places. At regular intervals someone clutching a suitcase or an assortment of sacks and cardboard boxes would peel off from the crowd and be claimed by a bus company tout. The tout would grab their luggage and lead them away at lightening speed through the throngs of people straight to the appropriate bus. It was crazy.”

If you want to know what happened next, you can find out in my book “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul”.

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Visit Kadikoy like a local: five top tips*

Come discover the delights of Kadikoy!

I’m a long time Kadikoy resident and I love it. The maze of backstreets with no names where it’s easy to get lost as you stop and stare, duck in and out of little shops to taste and touch and buy. However when you’ve only come over on a day trip from your hotel in Sultanahmet it can be quite daunting. Many’s the time I’ve seen couples standing at the start of the chaos, the guy insistently pointing at the map while frantically looking for the non-existent street signs, while his female companion looks hopefully at the passing fray for a friendly face to ask for help. To make the most of your time put away your guide book and learn how to visit Kadikoy like a local.

  1. Brunch is the only way to start the day

Discover the hidden houses of Artists' Street.Begin the day out by heading up the hill from the ferry wharf to Bahariye Caddesi, Kadikoy’s answer to Istiklal Street. Ignore the eateries on the main street and turn down Artist Street where you can have a lavish Turkish breakfast of spicy sausage, white cheese, zesty green and black olives, fresh bread and endless glasses of Turkish tea in one of the family run cafes housed in historical wooden konak buildings. Afterwards join the throngs in browsing the small studios displaying the works of the artisans that line the laneways. Here you can buy traditional Turkish crafts, ebru (marbling) paper, earrings made out of felt worked from goat’s wool, glass blown jewellery, or have your portrait drawn by one of the talented caricature artists. If all this makes you thirsty, head for the Nazim Hikmet Cultural centre, built in honour of Turkey’s famous romantic communist poet. No matter the season hardened locals always sit outside under the trees, drinking tea and smoking furiously while making plans to set the world to rights.

  1. Fresh is best

Kalkan - not for the faint hearted!Stroll back down the walking street to the famous statue of a bull at the spot where everyone meets up, and turn left. At the bottom of the hill, just past the 400 year old Osmanağa Mosque, you come to Fish Street. Not its real name, it’s identified according to the Turkish tradition of calling streets by the main trade or business practiced in them. These days the street is crammed full of people and shops. There are butchers with lovingly displayed skinned sheep heads, pickle shops with windows full of jars of preserved bell peppers, aubergines and cucumbers and spice shops with herbal cures for every ailment. Then come rows and rows of carefully laid out and symmetrically arranged fish, watching you with vacant glassy eyes. The species on offer change according to the season and many of them defy description, like the pock-marked kalkan I’m told make good eating. Squeeze your way past women doing their daily shopping trailed by porters with hand woven baskets on their backs ready to carry everything home, to check out the spice sellers, charcuteries, honey specialists, green grocers and restaurants further up the street.

  1. The second most important meal of the day

By now you’ll have realised there’s no such thing as a quiet street in Istanbul, but there are secluded corners where you can catch your breath and recharge your batteries. Moda Caddesi, parallel to Fish St one street up, leads to a suburb of the same name. Follow it along until you reach a set of tram lines running across the street. This is Cem Sokak, home of the aptly names Saklı Kösk, the Hidden Pavilion. Built in 1909 for a Romanian businessman called Miltiadi Patos, and later residence of the famous Turkish caricaturist Cemil Cem, it now houses a wonderful restaurant. You can sit inside or outside in the beautiful garden but make sure you go upstairs and admire the gorgeous hand painted ceilings and walls while you glide across the original squeaky parquet flooring. Take your time to bask in the old fashioned Turkish service while you debate what to eat. Food plays an important role in Turkish culture and the menu here, with its contemporary take on traditional cuisine, deserves careful study.

  1. You always have room for something sweet

My favourite flavour is hazelnut. What's yours?Make sure you leave room for dessert, specifically ice cream  from Ali Usta Dondurmaci. The short walk to this shop near the end of Moda Caddesi should give you enough time to make some space in your stomach. Don’t be surprised if you hear a mix of languages as you walk along. This old established suburb is home to many expats, well-travelled Turks and people seeking new tastes in one of the many specialist cafes and bistros that have opened up in the last few years. When you reach Ali Usta don’t be put off by the queue, there was probably one there when they first opened in 1969. This is one of the few establishments where Turks wait in an orderly line to be served, and having time to decide what you want is essential. Turkish ice cream is made with mastic, a natural gum giving it a unique chewiness and sahlep, a type of flour made from orchids, which adds an irresistible texture. There are so many flavours on offer, like chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio, strawberry, raspberry and coconut and more, that it’s hard to make a choice. It helps that you can have two different types in the one scoop, instantly making your two scoop ice cream into four. If the ice cream alone isn’t enough of a taste sensation, say yes to chopped nuts and chocolate sauce on the top. Take advantage of the outdoor tables and chairs where you can sit and lick away your dessert while lazily watching the passing crowds.

  1. Even when you’re full!

Come try the true delights of Turkey.By the time you’ve completed the fifteen minute stroll back into the heart of Kadikoy you’ll be ready for a cup of Turkish coffee. Go straight to Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, who’ve been in business since 1777. Haci Bekir is famous for their Turkish Delight, which they’ve been making since the 18th century. It’s well worth taking your time over their mouth-wateringly varied selection of this tasty sweet known in Turkish as lokum. Naturally they offer the famous rose water lokum, along with other classics such as those studded with pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts, but I adore the newer flavours such as pomegranate or in winter, lemon lokum with a fresh kaymak (clotted cream) centre. It’s wickedly indulgent so you’re expected to be as fussy as the sultans Haci Bekir once supplied. Ordering your coffee is the easy part. Just decide if you want it sade (straight), orta (medium sugar) or şekerli (very sweet). Make sure you take some Turkish Delight home with you too, to give as a gift and for when you get hungry later.

Don’t forget the unofficial sixth way to live like a local by enjoying the ferry ride back across the Sea of Marmara, passing over the spot where the sea meets the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. And yes, you can get tea or coffee and a snack on board, should you so desire

*for non-Turks or people coming to Turkey for the first time, having a light meal the night before of even skipping dinner altogether is advisable if you want to survive the next day.

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8 signs you’ve lived in Turkey too long

Stay calm and think of Turkey. Ark!

I’ve lived in Turkey for about ten years now, and have almost completely adapted to the way of life. I’m no longer surprised if I’m offered a piece of stinky cheese direct from a goat skin and can use even the most basic of squat toilets without needing to hold my nose. I’m so assimilated I sometimes forget there’s any other way of living, until I come back from a holiday abroad. That’s when I realise that …. you know you’ve lived in Turkey too long because rather than telling friends about what you saw, you recall with a kind of wonder that over there,

  1. people say sorry if they bump into you by accident.
  2. when drivers stop to let you cross the road at a pedestrian crossing, they aren’t simply stopping by chance before nearly running you over when they take off again without looking.
  3. commuters let you get off the bus/train/public transport before they try to get on.
  4. you don’t have to worry about death by asphyxiation when you catch a bus. They aren’t rank with the intense odour of unwashed bodies because all the windows are closed, winter or summer, for fear of catching a cold.
  5. when people ask guests in their home if they’d like a glass of water they don’t first check if the person wants it ılık (lukewarm), or soğuk (cold) from the refrigerator.
  6. if you’re a woman it’s not necessary to hide your underwear underneath another item of clothing when you hang it out to dry.
  7. no one has to run around the house closing all the windows in summer when the sound of the generator on the mosquito spray truck comes drifting inside.
  8. you can organise for a groups of friends to get together without the need to check that everyone is happy with absolutely every tiny detail of the arrangements. And no one cancels at the last minute by telling you their mother, cousin, aunt, in-laws, brother or best friend from their hometown has suddenly decided to land on their doorstep, unexpectedly, for a three week/month stay which means you won’t see them again until their guest has gone home.

Now I know this list isn’t comprehensive, so I’ve love you to tell me the things that surprise you when you come back to Turkey after being in another country. You can write them in the comments section below.

Posted in Living in Istanbul, Living in Turkey | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Turkish fez, hats & Atatürk

Get the lowdown on the Turkish fez.I’m Australian, so coming from a country with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, wearing a hat in summer, or in my case any time the sun shines, is imperative. When I first moved to Turkey hats on heads, like umbrellas in the rain, were scarce. These days they’ve become quite fashionable and are more widely available. However the story behind their disappearance and eventual re-emergence is telling.

Prior to 1925, the Turkish fez, a conical hat made of red felt, was synonymous with Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, the factory that made them, now converted into an exhibition centre showcasing the cultures and cuisines of different regions of Turkey, can still be seen on the shores of the Golden Horn. Long associated with the dangerous wilds of the Orient, a fez is still a popular souvenir to bring home, although the only people you’re likely to see wearing them are ice cream sellers in tourist centres

The early decades of the 20th century saw major changes in Turkey, all led by one man, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Renowned military strategist and founder of the Turkish Republic, he introduced numerous policies to bring Turkey into line with Western standards and expectations. Banning the fez was one of them. The ‘Hat Law’ meant that only Western-style hats could be worn in public places and it was mandatory for all civil servants to wear one. Individuals could choose to go hatless but on no account could they wear a traditional turban or fez. Anyone daring to be seen in a fez would be punished, and could even have faced the death penalty.

Harsh as this may seem today, Atatürk was trying to unite a country shattered by the losses suffered in World War One and the subsequent Occupation of Constantinople. On the 13th of November 1918, French troops entered the city, followed by British troops the next day. Just as it seemed likely the country would be carved up by its former enemies, the Turkish nationalist movement was born, leading to the Turkish War of Independence in which Atatürk played a major role. Although he did not want Turkey to become a Western territory, he gave a speech in Inebolu on the Black Sea Coast in which he promoted the wearing of hats and other items of Western dress as essential if the country were to be considered nationalistic, civilised and universal in outlook.

Phasing out the fez was a rocky affair which saw clashes between supporters of Atatürk’s reforms and those against them. Nonetheless the law is still in place today, and was responsible for the rise to fame of Vitali Hakko, the man behind the world famous Vakko label. He started making and selling hats in his Istanbul shop in 1934 and has made his fortune many times over since then.

Although not many people still wear the felt fedoras introduced by Atatürk back in 1925, there are several styles of hat that seem to be timeless in Turkey.

Did you know Andy Capp was in Turkey?

The main style I’ve seen ever since I first came here in 1990 is the flat cap, known in Australia and the UK as an ‘Andy Capp’, after the famous cartoon character. For many years I always thought it was called a ‘handicap’, given the physical state of the old men who favour them.




The takke is coming out of the mosque!


Then there’s the shiny small white Muslim prayercap called a takke. These were once restricted to the mosque but are now being worn in public by more devout individuals.


Which hat is your favourite?Lastly, there are the faux Panamas gracing heads all over the country this summer. Even though their popularity is connected to both fashion and health, I like to think a little bit of the past is coming back to remind us how far the country has come.


Posted in Culture & Tradition, History & Politics | 4 Comments

Traditional Turkish drinks

Tempt your tastebuds with traditional Turkish drinksIn Turkey, all traditional drinks come with their own history. Whether it’s the better known tipples like rakı, ayran and tea (soon to have its own dedicated post) or one of the more local, acquired tastes, each drink has its own story and specific ritual. What unites them all (other than the Turks’ passionate devotion to each) is that there’s always a right time to imbibe.



Boza - Another healthy way to have chick peas!I think the best way to explain this drink to you is to quote from my book “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul”.

“Now that winter is approaching once more, the boza man will come around every night. His plaintive cry of “boza-bo” with a long drawn out emphasis on the bo, can be heard from several streets away, and sounds almost like a lament. Boza is made from fermented barley or wheat, and looks like a well-blended glass of porridge. It’s served hot and usually sprinkled with roasted chickpeas. I’ve only tasted it once but some people swear by it, insisting it’s nutritious, filling and high in vitamin B, while others allude to its qualities as an aphrodisiac. Whatever their reasons for drinking it, all my Turkish friends say you should never buy it from a street seller. Consequently, when I first hear the boza man calling his wares at eight in the evening and again at eleven, I feel a terrible sadness. His call is truly heart-rending, and my imagination has him eking out the poorest of existences, due to everyone’s mistrust of him.”


Sahlep makes aa great the coldest day seem warm.Salep is a creamy winter drink made from the ground tubers of the orchid genus ‘Orchis’. Always served with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon, its milky texture reminds me of my childhood. On grey stormy days after school I’d sit by the heater sipping on a mug of less exotic but equally satisfying hot chocolate. These days, I love the arrival of the cooler weather because it means salep is once more available. For me, it’s best accompanied by pieces of Turkish delight, but that’s another story.



Vefa Bozacisi, for the best boza, serbert and more!The first time I ever drank what I thought was şerbet (a sweet drink made from fruits or flower petals) I was in Mardin. A şerbetçi, a man who sells these drinks, was standing on the pavement surrounded by women. On his back he carried a big brass flask with a long nozzle, called an ibrik (pitcher), which held the liquid. By leaning over he was able to pour out a serve. I ordered a cup and he took a glass from the sash around his waist and served me something that tasted so indescribably bitter I nearly spat it right back out. The local ladies told me it was good for ‘women’s troubles’. I still don’t know what it was, but when I did later on drink şerbet at Vefa Bozacisi it was everything I’d been told, sweet, refreshing and very easy to drink.

A cooling drink for the hot days of summer.Limonata

In Turkey limonata, or lemonade, is an art form. I’m not talking about the bottled variety but the drink made from the fruit off your neighbour’s backyard tree. Despite the added sugar reducing the health benefits of the lemons, I think it’s good to drink just for how it makes you feel. Turks are well known for consuming certain drinks for health, so I always look out for juice bars, which offer the full range of flavours, from freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice, right through to avocado, carrot and pomegranate, depending on the season.



Are you lion enough to drink Raki?Sadly I don’t have the stomach for rakı, but many a time I’ve enjoyed the company of those who do. This anise-flavoured alcoholic beverage is made from distilling grape pomace (grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over after pressing the grapes for their juice) and best drunk with friends. It only seems to take one or two glasses of rakı to set the spirit free, initially resulting in spirited dancing followed by melancholy choruses of popular songs continuing well into the small hours of the night.

Usually served with meze, small serves of food such as white cheese, melon and smoked eggplant, rakı can be drunk straight or diluted with water. When served with water the clear liquid turns a milky white, called aslan sütü, the Turkish for ‘lion’s milk. Aslan is a Turkish colloquial metaphor meaning a strong, courageous man, which seems at odds with the sight of a dozen or so Turkish men well into a night of rakı drinking, arms around each other’s shoulders, weeping gentle tears as they sing of love lost and battles won.

Şalgam suyu

may-shalgumLiterally meaning ‘turnip water’, şalgam is made from pickled red carrots flavoured with aromatic turnips fermented in barrels. It hails from the south east of the country and is definitely an acquired taste. Nonetheless, paired with the correct food, it’s sublime. I drink it when I eat Adana kebab as the flavour of the şalgam heightens the zing of the spices.


Ayran - good for your stomach, good for your heart!Loved all over the country, ayran is a very popular drink particularly in east. The blend of yoghurt and salt acts to cool the body and settle the stomach in a sometimes extremely hot and dusty landscape. The best ayran I ever drank was in Şanliurfa. We sat on low stools in a busy market place, eating fatty Urfa kebab, and enjoyed the sourness of the frothy ayran served in hand-beaten copper cups.

Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee being made the traditional way.According to my Turkish friends, the key to a good cup of Turkish coffee is to start with cold water, not hot. Add the coffee and sugar to taste. The mixture has to be gently simmered and is ready to pour once the froth has started to roll across the surface. I am yet to master the art of making Turkish coffee, or tea for that matter, but it gives me the perfect excuse to go out for a cup. After the coffee comes fal, traditional Turkish coffee grind reading. It is best paired with friends and brunch, which you can read more about in my book “Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City


Whatever you choose to drink it’s sure to delight!

Posted in Food, Living in Turkey | 2 Comments

Kandil – five holy nights in the Islamic world

Come learn about kandili and the night of power!Most people are aware of the big events in the Islamic world, such as the fasting month of Ramazan (Ramadan) and Kurban Bayramı (Eid al Fitr), when an animal is sacrificed to Allah. Less well known are the five holy nights on the Muslim calendar called kandil, meaning candle. The tradition dates back to the reign of Sultan Selim II in the 16th century, when he ordered that kandil, that is candles, be lit on the minarets of the mosques to announce these holy nights to the public. Mosques are brightly illuminated for these special evenings and the Muslim congregation recite special prayers. People usually worship and sing the Mevlit, an epic poem written to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Mohammad. Most of the pastry shops and bakeries sell Kandil simidi, similar to a small simit with or without sesame seeds. In some apartments the neighbors hand out helva or lokma tatlısı (a special Turkish dessert made of deep fried dough served with lashings of honey syrup).

Special kandil simit packets from my local Safranbolu Firin shop.The nights on which these holy nights fall are calculated according to the revolution of the moon around the earth so the dates of the kandil differ every year. However, the names and meaning of each night remains the same. They are

Mevlid Kandili – The birth of Prophet the Mohammad
Regaip Kandili – The conception of the Prophet Mohammad
Miraç Kandili – Prophet Mohammad’s ascent into heaven
Berat Kandili – The day of forgiveness
Kadir Gecesi – The Koran’s first appearance to the Prophet Mohammad

Of all the nights, Kadir Gecesi is the most revered. According to the 97th chapter of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, this is the night on which the first verses of the Koran were revealed to Mohammed so Muslims are encouraged to seek out God’s forgiveness on this night. It is a special time when the blessings and mercy of Allah are abundant and all sins are forgiven. One prayer in particular is recited, the words of which mean, “O God, verily you are forgiving and love forgiveness, so forgive me.” Prayers made on this night are thought to be worth a 1000 months of worship.

It is not certain in which of the last ten days of Ramazan Kadir Gecesi falls, so many Muslim countries, including Turkey, usually designate the 27th day of Ramadan for this special night. Each year men and women of all ages and social backgrounds flock to large historic mosques in İstanbul such as Eyup Camii, to perform the terawih. This is a night prayer specific to the last ten days of Ramadan which is derived from the Arabic taraweeh, meaning to rest and relax. Muslims will sit and reflect on their lives, offer prayers and supplications and listen to sermons and recitations of the Koran. Known in Arabic as Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power is so important that many mosques remain open all night. Those unable to get out can watch live broadcasts of the prayer services going on at some of the larger mosques. In addition Laylat al-Qadr programs are shown, featuring talks on the importance of the night for Muslims.


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Turkish Awakening – A Personal Discovery of Modern Turkey

Read what Alev Scott has to say in Turkish Awakening!In her introduction, Alev Scott states that Turkish Awakening is as much about her personal discovery of the land of her mother’s birth as it is an exploration of contemporary Turkish life and politics, and she is true to her word. She skilfully combines personal insights with an objective gaze to focus on a confusing and often contradictory culture, teasing out a much fuller picture of Turkey than is usually offered. As a result Scott goes beyond the overused East meets West paradigm usually applied to writing about Turkey, to try to unravel the complex relationship between modernity and religion which is so much a feature of daily life in Istanbul.

I particularly liked her chapter titled ‘Conversations with Taxi Drivers’. As a long term resident of the city, with reasonable Turkish, I’ve come to know that if you want the low down of what’s going on, your local taxi driver is a great source of information. Scott goes well beyond what I’ve ever managed to find out, and reveals some surprising facts about Istanbul and its inhabitants.

From this first chapter she goes on to detail the ‘village in the city’ nature of many Istanbul neighbourhoods. Most surprising is the way prostitution and transgender inhabitants coexist, albeit sometimes uneasily, alongside their devout Muslim neighbours who have relocated from the country. She goes on to explore the influence of popular soap operas featuring the new rich, living in ostentatiously flashy homes most Turks can only dream of, and the way these surreal stories have brought Arab tourists to Turkey in search of their new heroes and heroines.

She even writes about her experiences teaching in a highly regarded government university. Through her experience, we see how the respect with which teachers are regarded in Turkey clashes with low salaries, a serious lack of resources and students whose primary aim in learning is to know only the answers to the exam questions and nothing more. Indepth academic research is shunned in favour of multiple choice based exams, and excellence for its own sake has become a sad remnant of a distant past.

The book is rounded out by looking at Turkey’s changing relationship with the EU, no longer seen as a positive aspiration, and the rise and rise of the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP – Party for Justice and Progress). Having initially been seen as a praiseworthy example of moderate Islam, Scott reveals how the AKP is now seen as the harbinger of a darker future facing Turkey.

Many of her observations were made against the backdrop of the 2013 Gezi Park protests. During that summer Istanbul, Ankara, Eskisehir and numerous other Turkish cities saw extraordinary displays of public unity against what many saw as an increasingly Draconian government. Scott captures the vitality and hope of those days brilliantly, but her perspective is very much coloured by being in that particular moment. Consequently the book ends on a high which could be misleading to readers unaware of more recent Turkish history. Granted, Scott does offer some analysis of events from the perspectives of supporters of Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, as well as those who continue to support the AKP. However I suspect she might offer a significantly different take on events were she to rewrite the final chapter now.

Nonetheless this is a seriously good read which will see you turning the pages non-stop until you reach the end. Scott gives us fascinating glimpses into her personal experiences in Istanbul and Turkey, breathing fresh life into modern history so that we live and feel it as we read. Turkish Awakening A Personal Discovery of Modern Turkey is one of the most engaging histories of contemporary life in Turkey I have read for a long time. I highly recommend it.

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