Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fishy business in Istanbul

Back in the 1950s, it wasn’t unusual for fishermen plying the waters off Istanbul to land tuna weighing hundreds of pounds, or to have one of the massive fish leap out of the sea and over the prow of their boat. Dolphins cavorted alongside fishing vessels that hauled in lobster, oysters, razor clams, four kinds of crab and eight varieties of mussels.

“Fishermen in their 70s and 80s tell stories depicting Istanbul like an island in the middle of the ocean. It’s as if we’ve moved to a totally different place since then,” says Defne Koryürek, the founder of Slow Food Istanbul, which has organized an annual holiday to draw attention to the city’s rapidly depleting waterways and to try and reverse the tide.

Celebrated each October with fishing competitions, film screenings, children’s art activities, talks, and special meals, the holiday is named after one of Istanbul’s favorite fish, the fatty, flavorful — but now endangered — lüfer (bluefish)...

I've been following the issue of overfishing in Istanbul and the fight to save the lüfer for a few years now, previously covering the start of the campaign to increase the minimum catch size; the inaugural Lüfer Bayramı; and the dangerous world of illegal fishing for

Now you can read the rest of my latest article on this subject, "Istanbul Chefs Band Together To Save Their Favorite Fish," on Zester Daily.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Seeds of hope for Istanbul's urban agriculture?

Farm-fresh food for sale
in Gümüşdere
Looking out across today's concrete-covered expanses, it's hard to imagine that Istanbul was once a city of gardens -- and not all that long ago, either.

In Ottoman times, according to researcher Aleksandar Sopov, there were bostan (market gardens) all along the ridge passing through Istanbul's old city, many associated with that area's large mosques, and fed by water from the Valens Aqueduct. As recently as 1900, Istanbul was home to more than 1,200 bostan covering as many as 12 square kilometers. Highly productive and tended with sustainable techniques passed down through generations, many of these gardens continued providing food for the local population until mass urbanization kicked off in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Tarlataban garden at
Boğaziçi University
These days, only a scant few bostan remain in the city. The extensive gardens at the base of the old city walls are under threat from development, as I wrote last summer for The Atlantic's CityLab. Now, so too is the farmland in Gümüşdere, on Istanbul's Black Sea coast and close to the path of the third bridge being built over the Bosphorus Strait.

But the rapid transformation of the city has also sparked a movement to plant new gardens as a form of resistance, with community-based groups of volunteers taking over empty lots and trying to revive urban food-growing.

Read my articles for Culinary Backstreets and Zester Daily on these interlinked developments:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Garden party

With the world's largest collection of living plants, and its scientists working around the globe to preserve biodiversity, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London is internationally renowned for its conservation work. Less well known, perhaps, is the fact that its 300-acre grounds harbor the ingredients for some darn good cocktails...

While visiting London earlier this summer, I ventured out to the Kew Gardens with a journalist friend from the International New York Times to partake in an impossible-to-resist combination: fancy cocktails, fresh air, and a fantastic setting. As we sipped on Kew-cumbers, Rose Gardens, Gooseberry & Fennels, and Strawberry Cups -- all gin-based drinks concocted from fresh botanicals and seasonal fruits that grow in Kew Gardens -- we chatted with Gin Garden founder Jo Farish about her enviable job creating plant-based pop-up bars at all kinds of interesting places in and around London.

Read the rest of my article, "Cocktails Get Royal Treatment In Gin Garden Pop-Up Bar," on Zester Daily.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bringing the art world to Istanbul

Eighty modern and contemporary art galleries hailing from Helsinki to Hong Kong are set to join ArtInternational for its return to the banks of Istanbul’s Golden Horn in the fall. This year, the fair will bring with it a fresh focus on collecting practices and on experimental film and video art.

The inaugural edition last September of ArtInternational, brought to Istanbul by Art HK co-founder Sandy Angus, netted an estimated 21 million euros in sales for its participating galleries.

“It’s a truly international art fair with high-quality works, coherence and a good ratio between Turkish and international galleries. That differentiates it from other fairs in Turkey and the region,” says Istanbul collector Tansa Ekşioğlu...

Read the rest of my preview of ArtInternational, which will be held held 26-28 September at Istanbul's Haliç Congress Center, in the Fall 2014 issue of Selections magazine's Art Paper supplement: "Bringing the world to Istanbul" (pdf)

Friday, July 18, 2014

A sweet but fading tradition

Inside a weathered storefront surrounded by hardware shops, colorful gems gleam in the dim light — large jars full of hard candies flavored with sesame, cinnamon, rose, orange, bergamot and lemon.

Candy-maker Hüseyin
Aksoy at work
Proprietor Hakan Altanoğlu and his forefathers have been making and selling the Turkish candy called akide şekeri at this shop in Istanbul’s Fatih district since 1865, but the bite-size treat’s history goes back to the glory days of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries...

The Altan Şekerleme candy shop was a frequent and favorite stop during my time as a tour guide for Istanbul Eats' culinary walks, but what happened in the candy-making operation upstairs was always a closely guarded secret. At a recent press event at the Istanbul Culinary Arts Center, however, I finally had the chance to see how those glistening hard candies were made, and to return for a chat with one of the master şekerci (confectioners) carrying on a tradition that dates back, with little change, to Ottoman times.
Read the rest of my article, "Turkish Candy Entices Through the Ages," on Zester Daily.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Turkish artist 'Through the Looking Glass'

Initially ignored and dismissed for her experimental approach, Füsun Onur has become recognised as one of Turkey’s most influential contemporary artists by steadfastly continuing to follow her own path. She has described her art as "musical work without sound," explaining, "I am taking everyday objects and using them as notes."

Born in 1938, Onur got her undergraduate degree at what is now the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts in Istanbul, where she studied with Ali Hadi Bara. The Iranian-born sculptor was influential in moving Turkish sculpture away from official monuments and into more abstract realms.

Onur made her own mark by pioneering installation art that pushes the boundaries of both sculpture and painting, incorporating everyday objects and aspects of daily life but taking them out of their normal context in a way that prompts the viewer to reassess the meanings typically attributed to them..

Read the rest of my preview of "Füsun Onur: Through the Looking Glass" in the Summer 2014 issue of Selections magazine's Art Paper supplement: "Making Meaning from the Mundane" (pdf)

This Emre Baykal-curated retrospective is being exhibited at Istanbul's ARTER until August 17. Don't miss the complementary video piece downstairs by artist Ali Kazma, who further illuminates Onur's artistic influences with his evocative footage shot in her Istanbul home.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The human cost of Turkey’s building boom

High above the street, construction workers scale rickety scaffolding without helmets or harnesses. Near the sidewalk, a man welds a piece of metal, his face bare as sparks shoot all around. These are common sights in Turkey, where worker safety often seems to be an afterthought.

The horrific death of at least 301 workers in the Soma coal mine disaster last month has put the spotlight on Turkey’s dangerous, under-regulated mining industry, but the construction industry that has fueled the country’s recent economic growth and boosted its global profile is rife with dangers too: One-third of all work accidents reported in Turkey come from the building sector, more than any other industry.

With the deaths in Soma still weighing heavily on my mind, I looked into the safety risks faced by construction workers in Turkey for the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), and filed this report: "Turkey's Building Boom Takes Toll on Worker Safety."