Woke up at 7 a.m. fuelled by nothing but the determination to meet Hattie at THE baklava place for a proper sit-down breakfast coffee and baklava — despite how exhausted we’ve become from the early starts to see it all, the all-day doing-it-all and the late-evening leg-and-feet cramps as we’d settle into bed to rev up for another day of sightseeing and food-touristing.
Oh, we bickered over this one. Will said it wasn’t worth waking up so early to hop over to the other side of the Bosphorus, only to have to get back to see the sights on our side — squandering half of our remaining half-day just for baklava’s sake! But it was the perfect way to send off Hattie and Duncan, who had an earlier flight to catch, and we could go up the nearby Galata Tower, which we’d been unsuccessful doing in the past few days.
Karaköy Güllüoğlu took our breath away after we saw this video, where Yotam Ottolenghi visits the shop and its factory of honey, butter, nuts and pastry magic:
It was everything Yotam promised — feather-light, crisp texture shattering between your teeth, not-too-sweet runny honey and an abundance of sweet pistachios or earthy walnuts. The cafe itself is intriguingly Continental — with its blush-pink ceiling and crystal-embellished, twinkling lights and wood panels, you feel like you could be in an elegant Viennese or French cafe while nibbling exotic treats.
I wasn’t too bothered about a tower — hey, I thought we’d had our fill of sweeping waterfront views… did we really need to hike up a pile of old rubble to do more of that? — But Will wanted to; hiking and heights is sort of his thing. We got there 5 minutes before opening time and were treated to lots of space (read: no PEOPLE except for 4 others) on the narrow lookout terrace which hugs the circular tower. Seagulls swooped by to tease my increasing vertigo. When I could steady myself, clutching my iPhone tight, I looked up and saw a most spectacular sight — the view across the Bosphorus to Sultanahmet, the old city, where a landscape of low houses were punctuated by magnificent mosques, like a caravan of them guarding over the city’s spiritual soul.
Last stop: Asitane, a restaurant featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. This restaurant is known for serving Ottoman Court Cuisine. They’ve done their research through historical documents of the Topkapi Palace to find out what the sultans ate through the ages — say, during a circumcision banquet in 1493; or a receipt from the 17th century detailing what foods were ordered for the palace — and recreate these dishes to give locals and visitors alike a taste of the exquisite, historic and unusual.
We had trekked up a hill on a crowded marketplace, suitcases and bags in tow, to get to the Grand Bazaar – quite a letdown, as I knew it would only reveal lots of touristy goods, but worth going for historical value. From there we gambled on taking a local bus, sensing we couldn’t go wrong as Asitane and its neighbour, the Chora museum, was straight down a main highway. I was nervous about this but the first bus that came along was an affirmative — the bus driver nodded when we asked, “Erdine Kapi?” (the stop we needed to get to). We hopped on this metal tin of a bus and felt like locals, absorbing for the first time the bustling sights of “real”, as opposed to glossed and “touristy”, Istanbul, where Turkish people were living their lives — going to school, market, work.
We arrived at Asitane at an awkward 4pm — I believe we were in time for “dunch”, dinner-lunch, and the staff were more than acquiescing. Will and I had the tranquil, white-tablothed dining room all to ourselves. The menu reads like a historical record, with dishes given a year to indicate the date it originated. Of course we had to go for the oldest ones…. one being a delicious chestnut soup. A duck stew with pastry lid was very disappointing, the duck stringy and tough in a clear, insipid broth, but Will’s grilled sea bass was a marvellous surprise. Who knew that heavy Arabic spices typically used for meat — cinnamon, cumin, walnut, saffron, rose water — would complement a white fish?
Filled to the gills, we hopped on a taxi to the airport. A nice touch, when seated on our Turkish Airlines plane, was when a stewardess walk down the aisle offering a silver tray with Turkish delights skewered on a toothpick — a sweet ending to an exhausting, but overwhelmingly beautiful, journey to the edge of the Orient and back.