Ramadan Celebrations

It is with immeasurable sadness and compassion regarding the continued attacks on Turkey, that we send prayers to all those suffering and choose to forge ahead with open hearts and minds. We desire to learn and share our personal experiences during the holy month of Ramadan which ends today, July 5, 2016.

Ramadan each year corresponds as closely as possible to the month Muhammad, the founder of Islam, received the Qu’ran from God. During this most sacred time of year, Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours, observing with no food or liquids, from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer, allowing the devout to contemplate their relationship to God and focus on positive attributes of the human experience. It is not only an introspective time, but also quite festive, with Iftar (breaking of the daily fast), welcoming a spirit of celebration among family and friends.


We were fortunate to partake in an Iftar celebration at Orkide in Gaziantep, Turkey. The restaurant and patisserie is committed to perfecting their craft, as evidenced through a vast array of awe-inspiring fresh pastries, sweets, baklava and colorful puddings.


Led to beautifully set tables, we could barely control our excitement as we began the memorable experience of a traditional Iftar dinner. A wide variety of meze (appetizers and salads) are laid out and we joyfully united with the Muslim patrons prior to sunset, awaiting the evening prayer call which signals the beginning of the meal just as the sun dips below its horizon.


The Turkish table, especially in Gaziantep, is renowned for its meze, and we were dazzled by small plates of herb based salads, the freshest vegetables, olives, cheese, pickled dishes, savory stuffed pastries called borek, nuts, dried and stewed fruits, a rich clotted cream called kaymak and some of the freshest breads we have ever tasted.  Orkide is at the top of their game in this arena offering soup, refreshing greens and a full table top of traditional starters to the delight of guests.


Another uniquely Turkish dish we have fallen deeply in love with is the cig kofte (pictured above), a bulgur, herb and spice mix formed into distinct peaked portions that diners douse with fresh lemon juice and roll in lettuce leaves, before biting into each spicy, refreshing packet.


The main course changes nightly, but is always hearty and followed by their delectable sweets assortment.

We are huge fans of Orkide for their extensive talents showcasing Turkish cuisine, along with an infinite willingness to open their arms to those of us hungry to learn about their abundant table of delicacies. Thank you to the Turkish people and Orkide for sharing with us the heart of Ramadan celebrations and the true nature and generosity of the religion that encourages the best qualities of mankind through love, hospitality and a spirituality that nourishes in every way.

Orkide Pastanesi – Four locations in Gaziantep, please visit the web site to find the location most easily accessible to you.

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The Turkish Temptress: Börek


Strolling through the streets of Istanbul, it is impossible to miss the warm, buttery aroma and seductive window displays of börek shops strategically tucked into nooks and crannies all over the city. Börek are savory pastries fashioned from flour, water and salt doughs of varying thicknesses, resembling anything from thin filo sheets to thick egg noodles. These light, flakey pies can be found stuffed with meat, cheese, potato, herbs, mixed fillings or nothing at all. The fundamental focus is on the butter slathered layers formed into a myriad of shapes from squares, rounds, crescents, cigars, to whatever a baker can dream up.


Börek may be boiled, baked, sautéed or fried and half the fun is sampling as many versions as possible to find a favorite.


At Ça?da? Börek, on a corner across Taxim Square from Istiklal Caddesi, we sampled meat, cheese and potato börek, finding them all light, flakey and just the slightest touch greasy. Our favorites were the beef and potato, both packing a flavor punch of spices we wish the more mellow cheese bundles carried.


The unfilled börek look like hot crossed buns,


or big slabs that are cut into long slices with the help of a wooden measuring tool. Both are served with packets of powdered sugar.


The protocol is to dip the unencumbered, warm layers into a mound of sweet, soft, sugar dust, turning each bite into a habit forming, melt in your mouth, fluff of Ottoman Empire culinary history.


Börek are usually served for breakfast, but are available all day and late into the evening at a myriad of brightly lit shops all over Istanbul. Don’t hesitate to take the edge off your hunger with this savory or sweet snack regarded as one of the national treasures of Turkey.


Ça?da? Börek Merkez-Tarlabasi Cd No. 20 A,Taksim-IST(0212) 237 67 41

Ça?da? Börek     Istasyon Cad. No. 7/B,   Yesilkoy/IST   (0212) 663 32 47

Ça?da? Börek     Sipahiglu Cad. No. 5/B   Yesilyurt/IST  (0212) 662 99 69

Ça?da? Börek     Cekmece Cad. No. 4/1     Florya/IST      (0212) 580 80 64

For börek in West Los Angeles try:

Aroma Cafe, 2530 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-836-2919

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Captivating Culinary Tours


One of the most intriguing facets of Turkish culture is the dedication to stunning presentation alongside a perfected foundation. This trait is eloquently showcased at Istanbul’s most famous baklava emporium, Karaköy Güllüo?lu. Trays of meticulously crafted pastries seduce customers at this bakery established in 1949 in the Karaköy district of Istanbul, by a family that has been honing exemplary baklava in Gaziantep, Turkey since the 1800’s.


This Turkish sanctuary of multi layered wonders, is known by locals for uncompromising dedication to tradition and quality which oozes from the depths of each morsel.


We were lovingly guided to Karaköy Güllüo?lu by Turkish gastronomy expert, consultant and writer, Hülya Ek?igil on Context Travel’s Beyond Baklava Tour. Hülya’s expertise and organic streaming of relevant information, storytelling, and joy flowed effortlessly, adding exponential value to our explorations. Insider tips, hidden treasures and historic tidbits poured forth, keeping us spellbound as we savored our way through a tasting walk that covered much more than the title suggested.


Our journey went far beyond baklava and deep into the heart of smooth milk puddings, gooey Turkish delight, thick fruit jams, almond paste candies, Turkish sesame desserts, to a tiny hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that roasts their own beans and lays claim to the best cup of Turkish coffee in Istanbul. We traversed fascinating, funky, and lively old neighborhoods where historic sweet shops, artisanal bakeries and hip cafes abound.


Tucked between organic markets and artist studios we explored local cheese shops, traditional bakeries, and small restaurants, sampling unique cheeses, fresh baked breads, and thick rice flour puddings made with chicken. We learned about the history and significance of these diverse culinary gems, and the Ottoman Empire’s mixing of cultures to create a distinct and significant cuisine.


At our last stop we savored layers of buttery filo, chopped pistachios and a perfect balance of honey while reflecting on the enjoyment of the day. It was difficult to tear away from our little group as Hülya continued to fascinate to the end with animated tales of Turkey, the owners of Güllüo?lu and Istanbul’s growth and transformation over the decades.


We cannot overemphasize the value of a passionate and knowledgeable guide in a new city. We feel as guests with limited time abroad, we now have a basic understanding of the Turkish people, cuisine and culture that would have taken months if not years to gain on our own. Thank you to Hülya Ek?igil, Context Travel, Karaköy Güllüo?lu and an abundance of small shops and businesses that granted us an overwhelmingly hospitable and luscious peek into the heart of Istanbul. We have fallen deeply in love with Turkey’s culture and cuisine and look forward to returning at the earliest possible opportunity to delve deeper into your warm, creative and inspired soul.


Karaköy Güllüo?lu Factory and HQ : Karaköy, Mumhane Cad. No: 171 34425 ?stanbul / Türkiye        T: +90 212 249 96 80 – F: +90 212 244 71 17

Karaköy Güllüo?lu Shop:Karaköy, R?ht?m Cad. Katl? Otopark Alt? No: 3-4 ?stanbul / Türkiye   T: +90 212 293 09 10      E-Mail: info@karakoygulluoglu.com

Context Travel offers intimate (six participants or less), local expert led walking seminars in some of the worlds most stunning cultural capitals of Europe, Asia, Australia, North and South America .


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The Power Of The Pomegranate


Street vendors all over Istanbul soothe parched pedestrians with freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice. The orange is delightful, but it’s the red, juicy, ancient (dating back to 4000 BC) nar (Turkish for pomegranate) nectar that has us dropping Turkish lire all over the city.


We are told that autum is prime season for the power packed fruit, but we have found the most vibrant, ruby red seeds are still exploding with the sweetest juice in early March.  Even the sweet, slightly tart cups we encounter have us singing the praises of this enchantress.


It takes just moments for our juice barista to halve and squeeze two or three globes, place them in the sturdy manual juicer and extract the liquid ambrosia.


Small servings set us back about .50 cents with larger cups ranging from a dollar to two depending on size and vendor location. At this price we indulge daily, taking advantage of the benefits of this Turkish delight.


Celebrated for its high antioxidant content and inflammation reducing properties, we find it one of the most restorative beverages we’ve encountered. Ordering large glasses after long days exploring the vast treasures of Istanbul we feel instantly revitalized and up for more adventures.


Fresh pomegranite kiosks and stands are located throughout Istanbul.  Every pedestrian and tourist area we have explored offers abundant opportunities to experience these glasses of pure refreshment. Don’t miss this charming tradition.


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Learning About Turkish Food In Turkey

We are more than a little surprised at how difficult it is to find Turkish food in Los Angeles, a city we perceive as overflowing with culture and cuisine. So when we were invited to celebrate UNESCO’s embracing of the Turkish city of Gaziantep into its Creative Cities Network, we jumped at the opportunity and a week and a half later found ourselves in Istanbul.


Having only the most rudimentary knowledge and experience with the cuisine, our goal is to explore from the ground up and share what we find. Starting with street food we will work our way through to the gala celebration dinner so we can all gain an understanding of the Turkish table and how Gaziantep came to be honored for her contributions to Gastronomy.


Our first exposure to Turkish food came in the streets. On practically every corner and in numerous locations on each square we encountered red and white striped carts selling simit, ring shaped bread piled high and covered in sesame seeds.  These soft, chewy, crisp crusted, pretzel-like baked goods are inexpensive, often eaten as a breakfast or snack on the run, go hand in hand with tea, another Turkish staple, and can be combined with butter, cheese, jam or Nutella for a little extra umph.


The carts offer a small variety of savory and occasionally sweet breads, but simit has been the Turkish, transport friendly, bread of choice since it came into favor in the 16th century Ottoman royal courts and then trickled down through society.


No trip to Turkey would be complete without a taste of simit and we have had a blast searching carts and bakeries for our favorite version.


Acknowledging this as our first trip to Turkey, as well as limited exposure to the cuisine, we welcome feedback, discussion and correction for any mistakes made. Our commitment is to deliver the most accurate information, but as we attempt to travel, learn and share, all at the same time, we are happy to defer to experts, the Turkish people and anyone else with superior knowledge and love of this delightful country and her exciting bounty. Let the discovery begin.

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