Friday, February 13, 2015

Restaurant Day: From Helsinki to the world

It's pretty much an urban food-lover's dream: a four-times yearly "holiday" that turns an entire city into a festival of pop-up restaurants, with amateur (and some professional) chefs setting up shop in parks and on sidewalks, and opening their homes to strangers, to cook and serve favorite dishes, from Korean bibimbap to French macarons.

Started in Helsinki, Finland, four years ago, the event known as "Restaurant Day" has spread around the globe, though sadly for this Istanbul-based American, it has yet to get much traction in either Turkey or the United States. Mouth watering all the while, I interviewed a co-founder of the event and numerous participants about how Restaurant Day creates community through food -- and ended up digging in to its broader impacts on urban citizenship as well.

Read my articles for The Atlantic's CityLab and for Zester Daily about Restaurant Day:
Attention, eaters! This year's Restaurant Day events will be held Feb. 15, May 16, Aug. 16, and Nov. 21.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A full deck of 'Istanbul Secrets'

The "secret" to a good night out in Istanbul? Just pick a card, any card...

The latest guide to the city's eating and drinking scene is a pocket-sized deck of 52 cards, each featuring one of Istanbul's best restaurants, cafes, or bars.

Released this week along with an app version, "Istanbul Secrets" was produced by the Melbourne, Australia-based travel company Deck of Secrets, which enlisted Istanbul experts Serra Tükel of Guruology, Simon Johnson of THAT Magazine, and Başak Miller of NEW-IST, along with myself, to write up some of our favorite haunts.

Afiyet olsun.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Urban planning from the ground (or sea) up

Anyone who's spent any time in Istanbul has probably observed how few public spaces (especially green ones) this congested city has, and how eagerly people make use of unlikely recreational areas --
whether picnicking on a traffic median or fishing from a half-built pier.

Istanbul-based architects Can Sucuoğlu and Elif Ensari noticed the same phenomenon in the coastal city of İzmir, where they saw people flock to the shoreline despite its lack of urban amenities, pacing endlessly or sitting on the pavement just to be close to the sea.

The ingenious solution they devised -- a kind of floating parklet -- was showcased recently at the 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial, along with a kindred-spirit project in Istanbul's Kadıköy neighborhood to create street furniture from recycled materials. Both initiatives, as I wrote for The Atlantic's CityLab site, seemed to offer an alternative to the massive, top-down "urban transformation" projects that have been so disruptive and controversial: "human-scale, easily replicable urban improvements that are responsive to local residents’ needs."

Read my article, "Why DIY Public Spaces Are Starting to Take Off in Turkey," on CityLab.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Rethinking (and reviving) the Mediterranean diet

It’s not what most people think of when they envision the famously light, healthy “Mediterranean diet.” But hearty dishes like smoked game meats; the mélange of cabbage, fish, eggs, cheese, olive oil, pepper, garlic and sweet wine dubbed monokythron (literally, “one-pot”); and the fermented fish sauce garum were once common fare in the region whose traditional dietary patterns are now seen by many as a global model for better eating.

Evidence that the Mediterranean diet as we now know it was not predominant in the region during the long Byzantine era (roughly the years 330 to 1453) has been gathered by Dr. Ilias Anagnostakis from the National Hellenic Research Foundation in Athens. His findings have sparked controversy in his home country, he says...

Read the rest of my article, ‘Traditional’ Mediterranean Diet Isn’t What You Think, on Zester Daily.

Find out more about the Consulate General of Greece in Istanbul's ongoing lecture series Food, Spirits and Gastronomic Traditions in the Eastern Mediterranean” (scroll down for English).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Two-wheeled revolution?

When you think of bike-friendly cities, Abu Dhabi doesn't come readily to mind. Neither, frankly, does Istanbul. But the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National is trying to give cycling culture a bit of a kickstart in the United Arab Emirates, promoting a ‪#‎CycleToWorkUAE‬ day on 13 January 2015.

As part of the paper's coverage ahead of the event, one of its opinion editors asked me to write a piece about efforts to develop a cycling culture in Turkey -- which, despite appearances, have come a long way in the past decade, though there is still much work to be done to make the streets safe for cyclists, not to mention pedestrians and runners like myself.

I tip my hat to the intrepid cyclists in both countries, especially those in Turkey who generously shared their experiences and opinions with me.

Read my article, "Istanbul Is Slowly But Surely Getting On Its Bike," on The National's website.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Adventures in Turkish cooking

Travel throughout southeastern Turkey in the height of summer and you’re likely to see rooftops, courtyards and gardens blanketed with color — row after row of peppers, eggplant and other vegetables drying in the sun.

Later rehydrated to be stuffed or stewed, dried vegetables are an essential ingredient in the traditional Turkish kitchen, but one that can be difficult to replicate for urban dwellers without a balcony or even a sunny window to call their own.

How to reconnect residents of Turkey’s large cities with the rich culinary culture of their rural roots is just one of the questions being posed by a new Istanbul-based group seeking to re-envision and rebrand Turkish cuisine, in much the same way as the New Nordic culinary movement has both celebrated and changed Scandinavian cooking...

Read the rest of my article about the innovative Gastronomika collective on Zester Daily: "Reinventing Turkish Traditions For A New Generation"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cities of possibility

Istanbul’s position at the crossroads of two continents is looking like an increasingly precarious perch these days, with violent conflicts erupting in Syria and Iraq to the south and Russia and Ukraine to the north. Domestically, electoral victories in 2014 by the country’s longtime ruling party demoralized those energized by last year’s mass anti-government protests. But neither strife nor political stagnation seems to prevent forward-looking initiatives from cropping up all around Istanbul...

Amid challenging and often depressing times, it was revitalizing to seek out some positive, inspiring initiatives for the 2014 GOOD City Index. As it did with last year's inaugural list, the quarterly, U.S.-based magazine GOOD again seeks to celebrate the "cities around the world that best capture the elusive quality of possibility" -- not the ones where everything is necessarily working right, but ones with a heartbeat of "creativity, hustle, and civic engagement."

Istanbul, which the editors ranked at #6 on this year's index, certainly qualifies. Though the energy of last year's Gezi Park demonstrations has long faded, around the city, activists of all stripes are buckling down to attend to the task of trying to build a better future.

Read the rest of my entry in the 2014 GOOD City Index: "Istanbul, Turkey: Now the real work begins"