This post is written by Emily Behar, my fellow Portu-gal, during her recent trip to Istanbul. Enjoy!
I’ve been in Istanbul for three days and so far have spent only $3 – now I’m on a mission to make it 5 days on $5! (Suck it Seth Kugel!)
I arrived in Istanbul on Saturday and spent the day browsing around Beyoglu – the trendy, modern part of town. Istiklal Caddesi is the main drag, filled with international standards: starbuck, sephora, Armani, and a surprising amount of Tommy Hilfiger knockoff stores. (Niffy – your more fashion-forward self might be able to explain the Tommy Hilfiger phenomena. I don’t get it). I grabbed a sandwich for $1 (the English on the menu translated to ‘scrambled lamb,’ but whatever it was, it was delicious). Other than that, I just browsed, bought nothing.
I ventured out to dinner Saturday night, and after painfully trying to navigate Istanbul’s side streets, I found Asmali Cavit – a very cute restaurant that had been recommended to me by a friend (and mentioned in this nytimes article). The restaurant, however, was full. Defeated, I left when, wait! The owner of the restaurant chased me down and said that 3 customers had invited me to join their table. I crossed my fingers that they wouldn’t kidnap or kill me, and took them up on their offer. I spent the night eating and drinking with an American expat, her Turkish husband, and their 60 year old scruffy Parisian friend Pierre. They ordered me everything on the menu, demanding that I have an authentic Turkish dining experience. By the end of the night, I was filled with food and sufficiently drunk off raki and they wouldn’t let me pay!
On to Sunday: spent the day in the old city visiting the mosques and bazaars. I didn’t buy anything out of principle against the vendors’ incessant squawking.
After a day of walking, I ate a delicious fish sandwich by the boats on the Golden Horn – fishermen catch the fish and grill it on the boat then throw it on a hoagie roll with some lettuce and onions. Bones, scales, skin and all. I think Amoroso’s has a secret pact with the Turkish government to share their bread supply – the rolls are identical. I got sick Sunday night, which was a bummer, but at least I didn’t spend any $ on dinner! At this point, it’s two days and I’ve spent $2.
Monday: The day’s adventure was out of walking distance and I needed a metro card (which was going to throw off my up-until-this-point practically free trip). But while chatting with the cook at breakfast about her crepes (did I mention that breakfast at my B&B is free, huge and delicious), she told me that she wasn’t using her metro card for the day and promptly gave it to me. Score! I had free access to all the trams, buses and funiculars. Bought another street sandwich ($1) for lunch, this time it was a chicken kabab. I walked to Ortakoy to catch an afternoon boat ride up and down the Bosporus, but made a tactical error and forgot to check what time the boats leave. I was stuck waiting for 2 hours. The only thing around was a book vendor so I bought an Agatha Christie book (slim pickings, don’t judge), which set me back another $0.75.
That night I went to dinner with Murat (the owner of my b&b aka my best friend). He took me to a restaurant that seemed very ordinary at first – but he walked us through the kitchen, kissing and hugging all the chefs, and two floors up a secret staircase to a weird mess hall filled with Turks and cigarettes and raki and live music and strangely no roof. He ordered me everything from spicy shrimp, to anchovies, eggplant dip, unidentifiable fish, fried cheese, meat-filled pastries, some weird seaweed concoction, and of course an always full glass of raki. At the end of the meal, Murat wouldn’t let me pay.
The streak continues!