Istanbul – Deniz Park

Full day at the show yesterday. Turkish exhibitions have unusual opening hours: from 10 am to 8 pm. Great to take things easy in the morning, but when the exhibition draws to a close in the evening I am rather tired! In fact the show does not really get going until 2 pm or so – it seems that the average Turkish businessman likes to go to the office in the morning and visit shows later.

I do not have much to do at the stand as my Man in Turkey and his colleagues take care of the punters. I smile and nod at appropriate moments, with a merhaba and tesekkürler to greet the people. Meanwhile I observe the visitors: Turkish businessmen are rather formally dressed, with dark suits and smartly pressed shirts and ties. None of the more informal wear in vogue in Italy. As for the women, well, here we come across the paradox of Turkish society: plenty of attractive girls with tight trousers and bare midriffs, but also conservative “Islamic” women with long dresses and headscarves. Not that there was a split between the two: curious to see both varieties of women chatting together on a stand and playing with their mobiles. Another unusual aspect of Turkish exhibitions is the presence of large flower wreaths on many stands. No, these are not funeral wreaths but are intended as celebratory gifts by business partners to wish a successful show!

After the show, we decide to go for dinner on the Bosphorus – a 40 km drive away from the exhibition in Yeniköy – “new village”, on the shores of the Bosphorus, overlooking Asia on the far side. The restaurant, called Deniz Park but known to locals as “Aleko”, by its former owner’s name, is set in an old 19th century wooden family house. Similar waterside houses, appropriately restored, are luxury mansions fetching $ 3-4 million! The main dining area at Aleko is set right over the water, with large picture windows open to envoy the stunning view. Large schools of fish jump in the clear waters a the diners throw scraps of bread. This being a balik lokantasi, fish we eat! Assortment of starters, amongst which delicious titbits of marinated sea bass, shrimps, puréed aubergines and tomato and cucumber salad. As a main course, an excellent grilled sea bass. Turkish coffee and baklava to follow.

Our party is a mixed one, featuring one Turkish Muslim, two Italian Catholics, one Israeli Jew, and another Israeli Jew of Turkish descent (there is a large Jewish community in Istanbul who arrived from Spain after their expulsion by the Reyes Catolicos in 1492). As the raki flows, our conversation turns to the role of religion in a modern state. Our Turkish host is decidedly on the secular end, strongly in favour of the banning of headscarves in public offices, à  la française, and warning that the mildly Islamist party in power has a hidden agenda to impose shariah in Turkey. Our Israelis shrug: Israel is a Jewish state, where politics and religion are inseparable. Strangely enough, I find myself in the middle, supporting a certain tolerance for religion without it being enshrined in the state. An interesting mix of views!

Back to the hotel via the scenic route: first through the well-to-do neighbourhood of Etiler, full of expensive shops, Mercedes, Porsches and Hummers on the streets, then to the central Taksim square, and down to the Galata Bridge with a splendid view over the Golden Horn towards the minarets and domes of Sultanahmet. On this moonlit night, Istanbul is one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Istanbul – Tike

Travelling to Istanbul this week to visit a packaging show where my Man in Turkey is exhibiting. I speak little Turkish, so my presence will be a mainly a “moral support” job. I arrive at Atatürk International to find it has been expanded yet again. However the queues for the visa and passport control are still long… the sooner Turkey enters the EU, the better!

I am picked up by my Man’s driver who ferries me to the hotel to drop my bags and then to the exhibition halls that are 20 km out of town. Horrendous traffic: Istanbul is expanding massively, and houses, apartment blocks and industrial areas are sprouting as mushrooms. I hope that they are respecting the earthquake codes…

There is the usual confusion of pre-fair work in progress at the exhibition site: workmen hammering, sawing and screwing stands together. Lots of stand people watching. Some booths seem to be totally deserted with no work going on at all. Our stand is happily almost finished, and all I have to do is to get our products nicely organised in the display cases. We give instructions to the cleaning party, then we’re off to brush up at the hotel and on to dinner.

Our chosen restaurant is called Tike in Florya, a well-to-do suburb of Istanbul near the airport. It can be described as a “modern” kebapcisi (kebab restaurant), lots of wood, neatly arranged tables, subdued lighting, indeed the impression is almost Japanese, not Levantine. It is a warm late summer evening, so we sit at the balcony…overlooking the Galatasaray football team training ground! Apparently the restaurant is very popular on training days!

The fare is the standard kebap variety: starters of Lahmacun (“Turkish Pizza”), Pastirmali Humus (chickpea hummus, but served warm with slices of pastirma meat on top) and Gavurdagi, a tomato salad with pomegranate juice and basil. To follow, assorted kebabs of lamb and chicken, including my favourite spicy Adana Kebap and Fistikli Kebap, made with minced meat and pistachios. As a dessert the delicious künefe, best described as a Weetabix filled with cream cheese and covered with honey syrup. Yum!

Another Bosphorus dinner

More customer visits today, mainly in Istanbul itself. Our man is doing his job well and he knows loads of people, most of whom seem to regard him as a good friend. Whilst driving around, I notice how green Istanbul is: there are no great parks, but everywhere squads of council workmen are busy, planting flowers or watering small garden beds by the road side. There is certainly a big effort to prettify the city.

We stop for lunch in Galatasaray, right in the city centre. We are in a small restaurant just off Istiklal Caddesi, the main Istanbul shopping street. It’s a small, homely place, and the food is homely too: Aubergine kebab, which turns out to be like a tasty aubergine and tomato ratatouille, a side of yogurt and cucumber, a few dried figs to finish. This is a typical dish that the Turkish family eats at home – meat kebabs, shish, döner and köfte are not the norm at all!

More meetings with yet more tea in the afternoon and into the early evening. No time to brush up at the hotel before dinner: as it’s my last evening in Turkey, we’re off to a special meal tonight! We drive out towards the shores of the Bosphorus and go to Park Fora in Kurucesme, near Örtaköy where I had the Happy Hour party two days ago. Park Fora is a large seafood restaurant set on a terrace amongst landscaped gardens with a great view over the straits. This is decidedly an upscale establishment and so are the patrons.

Sea bass As the sun sets and the candles are lit, a bevy of waiters bring our dinner. Several meze to start with, including shrimps, puréed aubergine (a real staple here in Turkey!), deep fried anchovies and squid. The main course is a huge sea bass baked in salt. The waiters put on a show cracking open the salt shell, and the taste of the sea bass is equally spectacular: this particular way of cooking seals in all the juices, and the fish is exceptionally tender! A couple of baklava sweets and a good Turkish coffee rounds off this excellent meal!

As we enjoy our dinner, the conversation spaces far and wide, but one comment from my Man in Turkey grabs my attention: “You do realize that all this would be banned, if the Islamists start ruling the country?” he remarks, waving his hand at the tables around us. “They will impose shariah law, ban alcohol and cover the women up! Then I think it would be right for the army to restore order.” I stare at him dumbfounded: does this mild, progressive man really contemplate the possibility of a military coup? Modern Turkey is a country of contradictions, with the two poles in society far apart. In the well-to-do areas of Istanbul we pass on the way back to the hotel, Western consumerism is rampant, with a concentration of Ferraris, Porsches and BMW SUVs greater than in any other European city.


Today we are off to Asia! Even to jaded travellers, there is a certain frisson of excitement as you pass the huge suspension bridge over the Bosphorus and you see a sign “Welcome to Asia”! The start of a vast continent… a few hours driving and I could be in Vladivostok… But to Istanbulis this is everyday commuting, and the Asian suburbs of the city are the fastest growing in Turkey. So many live here that they have even built a new airport to serve the Asian side inhabitants.

We do the usual drive around customers and drink yet more tea! As we pass through the towns, I notice how many Turkish words have a French origin: kuaför = coiffeur, şöför = chauffeur, viadügü = viaduc. Could this have been inspired by the francophile Atatürk, who latinised the Turkish alphabet? Once you get the hang of the curious spellings, Turkish isn’t the obtuse language it seems!

K�fte Lunch at a small resort by the Marmara seaside. Our restaurant is a köftecisi – a köfte meatball restaurant called Kekik (translates as “oregano”). Köfte are wonderful things, and ideal for a light meal: I have a mixed köfte dish, featuring spicy Adana köfte, plain grilled köfte and cheese köfte (I assure you, an entirely different experience from a Cheese Whopper!!). A tomato and cucumber salad and a little portion of rice by the side. A Turkish coffee and I’m done!

More visits in the afternoon, usual mixture of large and small companies. In the evening, we move back towards the European side, crossing by the second suspension bridge over the Bosphorus. It’s getting a little late by the time we get back near the hotel, and I’m tired so we have a quick dinner at Dürümcü Baba in Yesilköy. The speciality here is dürüm, that can best be described as a Turkish fajita: tender chunks of grilled lamb wrapped up with salad in a flat bread. With a couple of slices of watermelon, this makes for a quick and tasty meal!

The Bosphorus

Great start to the day – the hotel is right by the seaside and when I fling the curtains open I have a great view out from the 24th floor towards the glittering waters of the Sea of Marmara with many ships at anchor and the Prince’s Islands beyond.

Busy morning at our distributor’s office discussing the market situation and our strategies, then we move out to visit a few customers to the west of Istanbul. The city is expanding rapidly, with a lot of migrants from the Anatolian countryside. As a result, housing development and construction sites are everywhere and high rises dot the hills. Where houses go, mosques will follow, I see many minarets taking shape.

The companies we meet are a wide mixture: from modern, professionally managed organizations in smart, functional premises, to distinctly dingier outfits in dimly-lit concrete prefab buildings. One thing in common – the Turkish industrial areas all seem to have dirt roads full of potholes! As part of the meetings, a cup of Turkish coffee (kahve) or tea (çay) in a tulip shaped glass is invariably served.

After our last afternoon meeting we head off to a cocktail party! The transport company used by our distributor is hosting a “Happy Hour” for their customers. The location could not be more spectacular: a cocktail bar in Ortaköy, right on the shore of the Bosphorus. We sit by the lapping water, sun setting over the green shores of Asia on the other side of the straits. Huge tankers and small fishing boats ply the waters linking the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, the domes of a white 19th century mosque are just in front and the minarets of Sultanahmet in the distance. With this great view, we pass a Happy Hour indeed!

Ortaköy is a trendy area of Istanbul, narrow streets with old wooden buildings and small squares lined with cafés and restaurants. It is here that we choose to dine, in a balik (fish) restaurant. We ate a few snacks at the cocktail, so we have a light meal – the usual starters, salad, aubergine, börek, and then a plate of grilled shrimps. Turkish drink: raki and water!

Istanbul dinner

Dinner time! My Man in Turkey arrives, and after a short consultation, we decide to go to Kasibeyaz in Florya, just on the other side of the airport and one of my favourite restaurants in Istanbul! This is an et lokantasi, a restaurant specialising in meat, and the kebabs here are delicious! It is a large establishment, featuring even a large playground for the children, but the number of waiters is astonishing, and service is fast.

MIT takes care of the ordering and soon the starters arrive, plentiful and varied in the Levantine tradition: puréed aubergines, yogurt, a couple of puff pastry cheese börek, some raw spiced meatballs eaten with a leaf of lettuce, and a lahmacun, a small “Turkish pizza”, with parsley and minced meat on top.

The main course is also varied: we have chosen to order a küçük porsyon – a small portion, rather in the Spanish tapa style – of several dishes. We have Adana köfte, spicy meatballs named after the southern Turkish city where spicy food is the norm, a couple of very tender lamb kebabs, roast lamb slices, and finally Adana kebab. A few glasses of excellent Efes Pilsen beer from Izmir to accompany the feast.

To finish we share a classic Turkish dessert: künefe, a nest of pastry threads with honey and soft cheese, served warm. Delicious and very filling! An altogether excellent meal!

Istanbul arrival

This week I’m off to Turkey! A regular occasion for me, and always a pleasure as the Turks are a friendly and hospitable people and their cuisine, in the immortal words of the Michelin guide, “vaut un voyage”! This is another distributor support trip, to talk shop with our Man in Turkey and a few customer visits to show the flag.

Usual early morning start from home to catch a 7:45 flight from Venice to….Vienna! It may seem a little strange, but it is in fact a convenient connection eastwards, faster and cheaper than travelling with Alitalia via Rome. The Venice-Vienna leg is in a somewhat cramped Dash 7 turboprop, fast changeover to a roomier A320 to Istanbul, but full of screaming babies that don’t let up screaming until we arrive! Thank God the flight is only 2 hours long!

Two long queues to join at Istanbul airport: before you go through the immigration queue you have to first get a “visa” (in reality an visitors entry tax stamp) – cost 10 Euro for Europeans but 100 USD for Americans!! I wonder why this disparity??

I am met by my Man in Turkey in the arrivals hall and he takes me straight to the Polat hotel near the airport – about 17 km out of Istanbul centre, but comfortable and convenient for his offices. With a cheery goodbye he leaves me until the evening. What can I do but relax by the Olympic poolside for the rest of the afternoon? Every working day should be like this!


Well, where was I? Ah yes, Ankara! The day after my arrival our appointments could only be scheduled for the afternoon, so my Man in Turkey, called Ridvan, and I had some time for sightseeing – nice to start a biz trip this way!

We headed for Anitkabir – the mausoleum built for Atatürk on a hill in the middle of the city. Now normally mausolea are places are to be avoided, pretentious memorials to obscure long-dead personalities. But Anitkabir is grandiose whilst at the same time restrained, a granite and marble edifice in a simple design, set amongst beautifully landscaped gardens. And Atatürk is no obscurity – the founder of modern Turkey, who dragged the country out of the Ottoman period. The tomb itself within the building is simple and unadorned. A small museum nearby houses his personal effects – collections of everyday items and three black Lincoln staff cars that used to carry him around on his visits, strangely without windscreen wipers!

Then off to the Citadel, the heart of the small village Ankara was before Atatürk came along. A collection of old houses around a defensive fort. The houses are, strangely enough, Fachwerkhäuser as you see in the German countryside. We perused the small pazar (bazaar) which is still in the old style: lots of tiny shops selling (and making on the premises) an incredible variety of objects: scissors, scales, hayforks, spices, drums, mousetraps – you name it, someone has got it. Such bazaars used to be commonplace all over Turkey, but they are now disappearing as modern shopping centres take over. Istanbul has none left.

Lunch in an open air café in the industrial area – Izgara Köfte (grilled meatballs), Arabic bread, tomato and onion salad. Ayran (yogurt and water) to drink. Splendidly simple stuff! A bargain for hard-currency earners at 10 DM for two.

After our meetings in the afternoon, we head off to Istanbul, 450 km away. It’s boiling hot, good that Ridvan has a Mercedes Vito (a sort of upmarket Tranny van) with a powerful A/C. The motorway snakes through the Anatolian plain full of wheat fields, rises up to the mountains dividing it from the Black Sea and then ceases for about 40 km. They were building a tunnel through the mountains until they had to suspend work after the 1999 earthquake. More earthquake damage appears as we get nearer Istanbul, much of the population still lives in prefab shelters.

It was late when we arrived in Istanbul, but a glorious sight awaited us – the view of the city when driving on the Bosphorus suspension bridge. Illuminated palaces, mosques, minarets, all framed by the green banks of the Bosphorus and the many boats plying on it. This is one of my personal “top ten scenic views”.

More meetings Thursday and Friday. With Turkey being in deep economic shit, the everyday topic of conversation is the exchange rate. I am not surprised. On the day of my arrival the TRL dropped 20%, then recovered 15% the next day. Something to do with ministerial reshuffles and the IMF. With such a yo-yo currency, economic planning is impossible, all business prices are denominated in DM or greenbacks. Turkish stuff is ridiculously cheap – I bought a load of towels (Turkish cotton being one of the worlds finest) at a quarter of the Italian price.

Speaking of meals, here are my gastro recommendations for Istanbul:

Gelik – Sahil Yolu, Ataköy (just next to the Crowne Plaza)
Kasibeyaz – Senlikköy, Catal Sokak 10, Florya (near the airport)

Gelik is an “Et lokantasi”, a meat restaurant, and Kasibeyaz is a “Kebapcici”, a Kebab restaurant. Hard for me to tell the difference, I seem to have kebap in both! Both feature the great Turkish cuisine: an avalanche of starters (aubergines, hummus, raw pressed meat and garlic, salads etc) then kebap of every type: lamb skewers, minced lamb, lamb meatballs all with the excellent local bread. Gelik has an side dish consisting of Baked rice with mushrooms and dill. To finish: I love künefe – a sort of shredded wheat with honey and soft cheese, served hot.

To drink: Bira (self explanatory) and raki (aka ouzo in Greece).

Istanbul – Ankara

Departed Rome for Turkey, flying to Ankara via Istanbul. The approach to Istanbul’s Yesilköy airport is spectacular: you fly right over the city, and the grand sights of Constantinople scroll past the window. First the Bosphorus and its green shores, flotillas of boats large and small negotiate the narrow stretch of water linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. Then you see the two giant suspension bridges linking Europe to Asia. The Golden Horn with the Galata bridge swings into view, then the hill of Sultanahmet with the six minarets of the Blue Mosque and the great dome of Ayasofya. Next door the Topkapi palace with its Sultans, harems of concubines…..ah, the great mysteries of the East!

I am brought down to earth with a bump on rwy 18 and deplane into an ultramodern stainless steel terminal building. Negotiate the way through immigration and customs and then onto the connecting flight to Ankara. It’s just a short hop, barely an hour and we are there, smack in the middle of the Anatolian plain.

I expected a dry, dusty place, but no! Ankara is a pleasant green city with many parks and wide boulevards. Traffic is disciplined and low-key, none of the jerry-built apartment blocks that surround Istanbul. It’s a modern city, having been planned and built in the 1920s and 1930s after Atatürk chose the spot as the national capital. Government dominates the place, with ministries, embassies, military estabishments etc.

To be followed…..