Eat

IstaNoir

… the country’s cuisine is a cultural crock pot with as many flavors as there are ethnic groups. But, the real feast comes by moonlight…

Story and Photos by Teo J. Babini - teo@citizenbrooklyn.com
Photo © Icarus Blake

Sweets Photo © Teo Babini

I like to think of meself as a poor man’s epicure, so it stands to reason that my stomach is as well traveled as my gypsy feet, if not more so. Turkey, not the poultry, was no exception. From the impressive Mediterranean breakfast spreads served alongside eggs with spicy sausage and tea in little glasses to the various types of Turkish delight that accompanies the foamy, fortune-telling coffee (do not stir), the country’s cuisine is a cultural crock pot with as many flavors as there are ethnic groups. But, the real feast comes by moonlight…

Photo © Icarus Blake

Haci and Meself overlooking Holy Istanbul Photo © Icarus Blake

Probably an extension of the welcoming Turkish hospitality, dinner is kind of a big deal, and it provides a solid foundation of fuel for the night that follows. In my experience, the decision to be made is either fish or meat. Meat ranges from the super exclusive, reservation necessary restaurant where one lone hairy, brawlick man cooks meat over charcoals right in front of you, for the entire place (incredible); to the local doner spot full of head scarfed women while the meat is veiled by flatbread to keep it warm, simplicity at its best. Never have I ever been full to the point of near sickness as often as I am in Turkish kebab joints, but the story of my first real night on the town begins with the sea…

Photo © Icarus Blake

Yum! Photo © Teo Babini

It had been a long day of sightseeing (Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, etc.), which culminated in an unexpectedly cold boat tour of the Bosphorus. Having finished all the vodka himself, the red-faced waiter could offer us only tea to warm our shivering souls. Something in the sea spray must have got its hooks in Haci, a like-minded local mad man who would be my spirit guide into the Turkish night, because he suddenly decided that we must have fish. “Fish”, he said in his signature Kayseri accent, “… and raki!” So we made our way to the Galata bridge, where old men can be found fishing at all times, and passed through the fish market to find a nice little joint with a huge outdoor space for seating that overlooks the water, while the Genovese-built Galata tower overlooked us.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Turkish Shawarma Photo © Teo Babini

As always, the meal began with hot and cold mezes, Turkish tapas, and the raki was served in small glasses with a carafe of H2O and a bucket of ice. Raki is a typical Mediterranean anise aperitivo (similar to ouzo, arak, and Sambuca) that turns milky white when mixed with water. What followed was a festival of fish, which, as promised, perfectly complimented the drink. My personal favorite was the little fried anchovies, each one being the perfect mouthful of greasy pelagic goodness.

Photo © Icarus Blake

More sweets… Photo © Teo Babini

Once we had exhausted our appetites, and our bottle, we carried on into the evening. Although the legalities are a little muddy, it seems like most times you can get away with drinking on the street, especially if your near a bar. In fact, many of the bars along the main road sport very small indoor spaces, while the party tends to be on the cobbles. Our post dinner drink was some sweet Sinatra style lemonade cocktail with a good dose of Jack served in a mason jar. The one advantage of being two men, Haci told me, was that the flower sellers and traveling musicians wouldn’t bother with us. We downed the drinks and pressed onwards.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Bar Spill Street Scene Photo © Teo Babini

First stop, Babylon, a two-story music venue which hosts everything from indie rock to electronica. It was all lights and uncharacteristically aggressive girls in denim jackets. We sipped Jameson to digest. Having had our fill of music for the moment, we left our glasses perched upon the fence outside. This also seems to be highly acceptable, with beer bottles piling up on windowsills and glasses that migrate from one establishment to the next. So, we grabbed a few brews and bopped around the windy streets with wall-to-wall bars, only stopping to sample some spicy tripe, slow cooked over a fire, served on a roll. We tend to snack a bit when we indulge in the sauce.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Serious Meat Photo © Icarus Blake

The next spot, Araf, was a bit strict on the door. Haci said it would be better if I spearheaded the campaign, and so I did my best stupid tourist impersonation to which, Haci later told me, the bouncer responded, “He’s a foreigner, let him in.” With a great view of the rooftops of Istanbul, a good amount of space, cheap beer, a mixed crowd, and a pigeon coop for smoking; this place felt like a little piece of paradise. The crowd was dancing wildly for this mad, mustached, bug-eyed gypsy band, and I was enjoying my first taste of more traditional music. To my dismay, I met some rich American kid who was couch surfing around Europe prior to law school, and he insisted that we follow him and his friends to the next spot.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Haci Photo © Teo Babini

On the way there, scenes of chaos were beginning to pile up, most notably a man jumping up and down on the hood of a police car. Next thing I knew, we were ringing the buzzer of an apartment building, which turned out to house a speakeasy on its upper floor. The ambiance was cool, dartboards and old furniture, but I just had to get away from my fellow citizen. Nothing bothers me more than traveling half way around the world and running into some provincial small town North-Easterner, come to think of it, I don’t even like it when I see them back home.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Seasoned Meat with Peppers Photo © Icarus Blake

By this time, the drunk had settled over the streets of Beyoglu/Taxsim like a fog. Young men and women crouched in inebriated meditation while friends tried to move their seemingly lifeless bodies about. Meanwhile, the older male population seemed to have lost their taste for booze in exchange for blood. Brawls were breaking out in intersections with men pouring out of non-nude strip clubs and tough chicks scolding their childish bruisers in shrill voices. We grubbed a short stack of muscle dolmas from a street vendor, served with lemon, to “kill the hangover”, and headed into the final portion of the night… After hours.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Babylon Stage Photo © Teo Babini

This is when it became all too apparent that we were lacking an essential element without the accompaniment of women. Most places just wouldn’t have it, but money talks, always has, always will. We entered a blue-lit basement through a cloud of smoke. The music was loud enough not to hear anything anybody said and Meat Packing-esque crowd wasn’t sayin’ much anyway. I tried to dance with a couple local gals, but found them a bit stand-offish. Haci told me it was impossible, I’d be better off going after the Russians. Minutes blurred into the hours, and when I shattered a glass on the floor in the full bathroom, I decided it was time to kick rocks.

Photo © Icarus Blake

“Broken Flowers” Photo © Icarus Blake

Now I’ve heard birds chirping on my way home from a night out before, maybe even seen the first blue lighting up the sky, but this was the very first time I ever walked out of a club into full blown, midday sunlight. Blinded, I suddenly realized the zombie-like condition I was in and needed to be walked home immediately, like a small child. Later that day, on my ten-hour, hung-over trip across the pond, all I could think about was that damn tripe. Wild night.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Babylon Crowd Photo © Teo J. Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Muscle Dolmas (Hangover Killer) Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Couldn’t tell ya Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

One Shot, Two Shot, Red Shot, Blue Shot Photo © Teo J. Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Popcorn Nocturne Photo © Teo J. Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Babylon Bar Photo © Teo J. Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

More Meat… Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Local Beer Photo © Teo J. Babini

Photo © Icarus Blake

Nuts Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Petite Pyramids Photo © Icarus Blake

2 Responses to “IstaNoir”

  1. gaya says:

    This makes me wanna go to Istanbul and eat and dance all night!!! Thanks.

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