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"

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 for Zester Daily, "Cocktails Get Royal Treatment In Gin Garden Pop-Up Bar," as a pdf.

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."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Creative guide to a GREAT city

The inaugural GREAT Festival of Creativity rolls into Istanbul next week (20-22 May at SEED), showcasing innovative ideas in a wide range of fields -- from fashion and design to technology and education to food and drink.

The festival, which travels next to Hong Kong and Shanghai, is part of the British Prime Ministry's GREAT campaign, an ongoing drive to promote Britain abroad as a place to visit and do business.

To further inspire the "cross-section of creative and commercial Britain" visiting Istanbul for the event, I contributed pithy write-ups of galleries, restaurants, shops and other spots across the city to the GREAT Festival Guide to Creative Istanbul, an online "directory of all that's creative and unusual in one of the world's GREAT cities."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Turkey's 'Garbage Ladies'

It's a warm July day in the small harbor town of Ayvalık, on Turkey's Aegean coast. A horse cart with wooden wheels clatters down a cobblestone street, past a bustling, sun-drenched workshop, its front door flung open. Inside, a half dozen women are hunkered down over long wooden tables, cutting, stitching and crafting. Using bits of thrown-away packaging and factory rejects -- leather scraps, swaths of felt, surplus canned-food labels -- they're transforming trash destined for the dump into colorful clutches, purses and wallets to be sold in trendy gift shops around Turkey. Even more remarkably, the women, most of whom have no more than a fifth-grade education, are also transforming their lives: For the first time ever, they're being paid for their work...

I met American expat Tara Hopkins not long after I moved to Istanbul, when she had recently founded Çöp(m)adam, a path-breaking social enterprise that combined women's empowerment with environmental responsibility in a way largely unknown in Turkey. I knew from the start that it was a great story -- one that finally found a worthy home this year in the U.S. women's magazine More. To write the profile of Hopkins and her talented team of "Garbage Ladies," I spent time at their workshop in the seaside town of Ayvalık, hearing heartbreaking and inspiring stories about the women, their families, and their new lives.

Read my article about Çöp(m)adam, "She Turns Trash Into Cash..." as it appeared in More magazine's March issue (pdf).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Making soup for Syria

When faced with almost 1 million needy people, a bowl of soup -- even a large vat -- doesn't go a very long way.

But Barbara Massaad refuses to let the daunting scale of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon deter her from doing her small part to help -- one bowl of soup at a time...

I first heard of the "Soup for Syria" project on Twitter and contacted Beirut-based Slow Food member and author Barbara Massaad about her plans to use a soup cookbook as a fundraising tool to help fight the growing food insecurity among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Though her project can only affect the lives of a small number of the now 9 million people displaced (internally and externally) by the Syrian crisis, her determination to do something was inspiring to hear in the face of so much hopelessness about the situation.

With Lebanon overwhelmed by refugees and now seeking to limit their number, and a potential drought threatening to worsen the already disastrous state of food production in Syria itself, anything and everything that can be done to alleviate food insecurity for refugees and those who remain in Syria matters.

Read the rest of my article, "'Soup For Syria' Dips Into Refugees' Culinary Lore," on Zester Daily.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Picturing Turkey's urban growing pains

From empty rural schools to blighted inner-city neighborhoods, there have been many victims, along with beneficiaries, of Turkey's rapid urbanization and recent economic growth. Frustration with the pace and nature of the changes, especially in Istanbul, helped fuel last summer’s dramatic street protests. The ups and downs of the country's transformation also sparked the passions of many of the talented students featured in the American Turkish Society’s 2013 Young Photographers Award competition.

Photo credit: Osman Demir/
Young Photographers Award
“This year’s submissions were striking in their melancholy air, and the focus on abandoned spaces, overcrowded cities, and the everyday difficulties – particularly for children and young people – more conspicuous [than in years past],” competition jurors Karen Haas and Anne E. Havinga told me in an email.

The work of the competition winner and two recipients of honorable mentions, as well as that of other participants that I featured in a photo gallery for The Atlantic's CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities), puts an important -- if often forgotten -- human face on Turkey's ongoing urban transformation.

Read my article, "The Hidden Side of Turkey's Urban Transformation, Told in 10 Pictures," and see more of these powerful photos on CityLab.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Contemporary Istanbul 2013

Istanbul's oldest and largest art fair returned to the city for its 8th edition in November, and once again I was on hand to cover it for the Beirut-based lifestyle magazine Selections, which recently launched its own art-focused supplement, Art Paper.

My highlights feature on Contemporary Istanbul appeared over a two-page spread in the Winter 2013-14 issue of Art Paper, which also included a related "Collector Profile" of Turkish textile magnate Öner Kocabeyoğlu, who opened his private collection up to visitors during the art fair.

Read my Contemporary Istanbul wrap-up for Selections: "Home Colours Stay Strong at Turkey's Top Art Fair" (pdf)

Read my other piece for Selections: "Collector Profile: Öner Kocabeyoğlu" (pdf)