Mısır Çarşısı – Spice Market

We stepped off the tram in Eminönü one afternoon when Berkay’s eyes lit up at the sight of Mısır Çarşısı.  This historical and famous spice market is right next to Galata Bridge and the impressive ‘Yeni Cami’ / New Mosque (which is actually over 350 years old). It is the second largest undercover market in Istanbul, with the Grand Bazaar obviously being number one. 

Built in 1664, this market is a real joy for the senses! Piles of colourful spices stacked high, beautiful chunks of lokum / Turkish delight in every flavour, chocolates, dried fruits, nuts, herbs, teas… the list is endless! 

Mısır means Egypt in Turkish, and the market got this name from the trade routes the spices took to reach Istanbul before being exported to Europe. It has an oriental feel to it and reminded me a bit of Aladdin, which was coincidentally the name of one of the vendors stalls.
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Foodstuff isn’t the only thing for sale here, with vendors catering more and more for tourists you can find souvenirs, ceramics, jewellery, lamps, soaps, oils and all sorts! One shop we went into had real sea sponges for sale, which doubled up as lovely ceiling decorations! You can also find holistic remedies for almost everything, including natural ‘Turkish Viagra’, proudly advertised and sold.

We bought some Turkish delight which I took back home to share with my colleagues, and some chocolate covered fruit and nuts, which were all neatly vacuum packed, making them last longer and handy to put in my luggage!

I believe the market has been renovated in the last few years, with the archways reinforced and painted – it does look shiny and fresh, but I don’t think that this has taken away anything from the atmosphere.

The place just feels magical, beautiful arched ceilings with the newly painted patterns, the sound of the call to prayer echoing around from nearby mosques, bustling with locals and tourists shopping, and the smells, oh the smells! Cinnamon, mint, thyme.. every herb and spice you can think of just fills the air. Wonderful! 



The 5* Titanic Hotel, Lara Beach…

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Up until fairly recently I had never stayed in an all inclusive hotel anywhere, so when we had to go to Antalya for the day to apply for Berkay’s visa in 2016, we decided to treat ourselves and book a night in the stunning Titanic Hotel in Lara Beach.

I remember watching the travel channel on TV around 9 years ago and seeing this hotel advertised and thinking how amazing it looked, and looking at the photos online when I booked it made me really excited, I wasn’t disappointed!

As soon as we pulled up to the hotel in the car we were in awe at how big the place was. A member of staff helped us with our luggage and took our car keys to go and park it while we checked in.
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The lobby is just as spectacular inside as it looks from outside. A huge glass ceiling letting in a lot of bright sunlight, massive sparkling chandeliers and very fancy glass lifts, taking you up to the several floors of long corridors of rooms.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of Titanic references around the hotel (other than the fact the whole hotel is shaped like a cruise ship!), they even show the film in the on-sight cinema.
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The hotel has 586 rooms, most are in the main building, but there are a few separate annex buildings which have lower level rooms with direct pool access via balcony steps. We had a standard room in the main part, which was lovely, and had a side on sea view. It had a huge bed , a sofa, coffee table, tv, wardrobe, shower and bathtub. It also had little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, a shower cap, nail files, razor, tooth brush and toothpaste, cotton buds, makeup remover pads, shoe polish, lavender pouches, slippers and a robe, tea and coffee making facilities with lots of sachets of fruit tea, green tea, coffee, hot chocolate, bags of crisps and peanuts and a fridge stocked with bottles of water and soda!

As if all of that wasn’t enough, when we came back to the room a bit later on, we found a neatly wrapped plate of baklava, turkish delight and chocolate had been delivered.
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Titanic hotel has several pools – a huge main one which is right infront of the main building, it stretches around the other side and you can swim under the bridges to other sections – I didn’t really get a decent photo! It also has an olympic sized pool with lanes, and another large pool which is heated from october to may, along with a Jacuzzi. For children, there is a kids pool and mini pirate ship with waterslides coming from it, and another separate waterpark area with 4 big slides, one of which is enclosed and has pretty lights inside while you’re whizzing through it! There is also an indoor pool, kids pool and Jacuzzi area which is stunning with beautiful tiled floor and pillars.
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Around the main pool there are little gazebos which looked so comfortable with beds and cushions in, we didn’t realise you had to pay extra for these and went to sit in one before being told we needed to have reserved it and paid in advance – I didn’t like this idea, as if they weren’t already making enough money! Rather than everyone being in the same boat (no pun intended) I feel like this just made people feel a bit superior to us riff-raff!
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The hotel has its own private section of beach, with rows of sun loungers, more gazebos and a jetty with giant bean bags. The jetty has steps directly into the sea, so you don’t need to struggle in and out of the water from the beach. I didn’t have time to swim in the sea but  I wish I had because it looked so beautiful, especially at sunset.
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As I’d never stayed in an all inclusive before, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the food – I’d heard bad stories about all inclusive places serving up the same things for lunch and dinner, reheating leftovers etc, but the food here was amazing! There was literally something for everyone and the mini desserts and baklava were the best! The breakfast buffet was delicious too. The only thing I didn’t like was that there was always a crowd of people waiting outside for the restaurant doors to open and then a bit of an initial mad rush. There’s a main buffet restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, but also 3 à la carte restaurants, one Turkish, one Italian, and one specialising in seafood. I think you get one night free in one of the ala-carte ones, but you have to book in advance so they can fit you in. There’s also 2 snack bars, and a patisserie serving cake, biscuits and ice-cream which is open in the evening until midnight.
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Aside from the eating, swimming and waterslides, there are loads of other activities on offer, including a cinema, bowling lane, games and arcade room, beach and pool games, a gym, tennis courts, football pitches, a kids club, spa, Turkish bath and outdoor theatre with nightly entertainment shows. The hotel grounds cover 95 thousand square meters, so there’s a lot to explore and our one day/night there wasn’t nearly enough to see everything.

Overall, I loved the hotel and it definitely made us feel like royalty for a day! A huge bonus is the distance to the airport, which is only a 15-20 minute drive away. The food, entertainment, services and facilities were all great from what we experienced, but I do think that because it’s so big, it does feel very impersonal – there are thousands of people staying there and even though it’s such a big site, it did feel a little cramped – we were unable to find any free sun loungers at one point. As for Lara Beach itself and the surrounding area, we didn’t get out and explore it at all. Even if we had been there longer, I don’t think we would have since the hotel has literally everything you could want, and plenty to keep you busy. Essentially you could be anywhere in the world if you only stay within the hotel grounds, but I can see how people go all inclusive and never leave the hotel to see the ‘real Turkey’.

Titanic hotel is definitely 5* standard though, and worth a visit, even for a little ‘mini holiday’ within a holiday like we did, that way you get the best of both!

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Hazev – Delicious Turkish food in London.

It was our 2nd wedding anniversary last week, so we went to a Turkish restaurant to celebrate.

The name of the restaurant is Hazev, a cross between the words ‘haz’ meaning ‘enjoyment’, and ‘ev’ meaning ‘home’. It’s near Canary Wharf, between South Quay and Heron Quay DLR stations, right on the waterside with outdoor and indoor seating, I bet it’s lovely to sit outside in summer!

We have eaten here once before, and was really impressed. The waiters recognised us from before and showed us to a table, right next to the window. Berkay had met me at the station after work, armed with a bunch of flowers, bless him, so they were an added table decoration!

Almost as soon as we sat down we were given complimentary bread, olives and a garlic yogurt dip which were very yummy.
 

Then came the hard part of choosing what to order! I’d been looking at the menu whilst at work, trying to decide what to chose, there are SO many options I just couldn’t narrow it down! 3 courses or 2, starter or dessert, chicken or red meat… so many delicious dishes on offer (and a very pretty menu with a whirling dervish on!).

We settled on sharing two starters, karides tava (fried king prawns with garlic dip), and borek (pastry triangles filled with spinach and feta cheese) with salad. Both were delicious but a little overpriced for what they were, I think. The prawns were around £6 and the borek £7.
  
For the main course, I had Iskender, which I’d never had before, not even in Turkey! This looked different to photos I’d seen of a traditional Iskender kebab though, they always look a bit of a sloppy mess! It consisted of a mixed grill of meats covered in tomato sauce and yogurt, on fried bread cubes and served with red cabbage.
 
Berkay had the ‘havez special’ – oven cooked lamb chunks, served on grilled aubergine puree, mixed with cheese, with red cabbage, peppers and tomato salad. I tried a bit of his and it was nice, especially the smokey aubergine puree, my favourite! I think my dish had more meat than his, and I couldn’t finish it so we swapped bowls and he finished mine as well!

When our plates were cleared, we didn’t even need time to think about what to order for dessert….Berkay’s favourite, Kunefe! Kunefe is a popular, authentic Turkish dessert. It’s made from kadayıf (dried shredded dough which looks like shredded wheat) and cheese. It is covered in syrup and eaten straight out of the oven when hot, so the cheese is stringy and gooey but the pastry is crispy. It’s served with crushed pistachios and is delicious, even though it sounds like a weird mixture! Of course we had a glass of Turkish tea to accompany it.
  
Hazev serves delicious food, although it is a little more fancy and perhaps less traditional. Considering the quality of the food the prices are reasonable, although there was a story a few years ago about it selling an extra special, most expensive kebab in the world, at £900! (You can read about that and watch a video here https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/restaurants/pricey-pitta-1000-kebab-goes-on-sale-in-london-a3215546.html )

Hazev isn’t just a restaurant – it’s like 3 separate parts, divided by floor length curtains. The restaurant is in the middle section, with a bar through to the left, and a cafe/deli on the right, which also has a little shop section selling some of our favourite Turkish treats, including sucuk, yummy!

It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in London.

Village breakfast at Pınarbaşı restaurant – Bozüyük

On our way back from Denizli to Fethiye last year, Berkay said he really wanted to take a detour and visit the village of Güzelköy / Bozüyük – while there we stopped at a well known restaurant called ‘Pınarbaşı’ for some late brunch!
 
 
Apparently the restaurant has been featured in a few Turkish tv shows filmed in the local village, so it’s quite popular! Berkay wanted to try their lunch menu, but they hadn’t started serving it at the time we got there, so we had to settle for a traditional village breakfast instead, which was actually just what we needed after a couple of hours of driving.

The food was really good, a typical Turkish ‘köy kahvaltısı’ – cheese, olives, tomato & cucumber, peppers, walnuts, eggs and sucuk, jams and spreads, honey & kaymak, fresh bread and a big pot of çay. Really yummy! We could have sat there for ages just eating and enjoying the surroundings.
  
The best part for me wasn’t actually the food, it was the location. There were trees and gardens all around, along with natural streams of water. We chose a table that was actually sat in the water. They had normal tables and an inside restaurant area, and then little bridges and platforms over the streams leading to tables sat in it. It was mid-September and really warm so it was nice to sit in the shade of the trees with our feet in the cold water, although we were the only ones who chose to do that, I bet it’s really popular in the height of summer. I love the fact they had ducks swimming around the tables and your feet, they definitely benefited from some of our leftover food too! They were so cute.
   
There’s also an ancient 800 year old tree, which is really beautiful to look at! Apparently, in the absence of modern medicine, it used to be used for its healing powers, with ointments and antidotes made from it’s roots. It’s also thought to have granted wishes to those passing through! The tree started to rot and has been protected for the last 20 years with the hope of keeping it alive in it’s full glory. It’s really interesting how the shapes have formed, it’s gigantic!
 
From what I can remember, the breakfast was a bit more expensive than normal, but I would go back and visit again because it was a really relaxing place and Berkay still wants to try their main menu! It’s around 2 hours from Calis/Fethiye, past Mugla city centre towards Aydin, so an ideal stop-off point if you’re on a long journey along that road – definitely worth a visit!
 

 

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 30: Kuru Fasulye


Kuru Fasulye is a real winter comfort food. Made from dried white beans, onion, tomato, tomato paste and olive oil, it’s a kind of stew, great for warming you up in the cold winter months. You can add chunks of meat if you wish, lamb or beef usually. We love to eat it with fresh, crusty bread to mop it up, but it’s commonly served along side a dish of rice too! It’s one of the most popular dishes in Turkey, and you can buy it in lokantas, although there’s something really satisfying about making your own, if you have the time! Click HERE to read a recipe for this dish.

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 29: Kol böreği

Kol böreği is a dish made with puff pastry, rolled up into long pieces – hence the ‘kol’ (arm) in the name. It’s quite soft and a little greasy but so good. The fillings vary – potato, cheese, mincemeat etc. My favourite are the potato or mincemeat ones. We used to eat these for breakfast/brunch in Fethiye sometimes, with a glass of tea, my tummy is rumbling just thinking about it!

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 28: şehriyeli pilav (Turkish rice)

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Turkish rice, the kind with the little brown bits in, is my favourite. It’s buttery, soft fluffy and a staple part of Turkish cuisine – a great side dish to any meal. It’s even a meal on its own with chick peas or beans. The little brown bits are şehriye ( you might know it as Orzo – a small kind of pasta) and it adds a little something to the flavour and texture. It can be cooked with oil or butter, or even a bit of both. Berkay has taught me to add chicken stock too to enhance the flavour even more!

It’s hard to master, but he’s given me a tried and tested fool-proof recipe which you can find on my blog HERE.

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 27: TOST

 

One of my favourite, quick, simple and most importantly – cheap, lunchtime snacks in Turkey is tost. Not to be confused with British toast, the type served with butter and jam, Turkish tost is a Turkish bread sliced down the middle, stuffed with delicious fillings, cooked in a heavy iron press and served with a side of spicy, hot pickles. Yum.

The most popular  is a mixed tost, or “karışık tost” in Turkish, which is a toastie with cheese, sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage) and usually tomato too.  My favourite is just a plain, simple cheese and tomato one. In Berkay’s village we had one with scrambled egg, sucuk and cheese in – some people put salca (tomato puree) and mayonnaise in too.

The only downside to how delicious they are, is how unhealthy they are, it’s a bit of a carb overload, eating half a small loaf of bread in one sitting, and the bread is usually covered in butter on the outside too so it can be rather greasy. Delightful though!

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 26: Keşkek


Keşkek is a very traditional part of Turkish weddings and they take great pride in cooking it. It’s a weird food, served at special occasions, weddings, funerals, religious celebrations etc. A lot of people are involved in the preparing and cooking. It’s made from wheat, locally produced from the villages in most cases, and ground meat, and is lovingly and slowly cooked in these huge cauldrons. It’s a hard job to mix it with the huge wooden spoon as it is so thick, it’s definitely a good arm workout! It’s reminds me of porridge… but porridge mixed with ground meat, butter, and lots of oil… once it’s ready it’s slopped in a bowl and covered in spicy pepper sauce. It certainly doesn’t look, or sound very appealing but it doesn’t taste as bad as you think and it’s a good, hearty food that definitely feels like it’s been lovingly homemade by your grandma!

30 DAYS, 30 DISHES – DAY 25: Baklava

 
Baklava is a sweet dessert, made from layers of filo pastry and melted butter, and layers of nuts (pistachio or walnut).  It’s cut into rectangle, diamond or triangle shapes then baked. Once baked, a syrup is poured over, making it sticky and sweet. The thin, crispy filo pastry is softened by the syrup as it penetrates through every layer. It’s often served with ice cream or cream and sometimes has more pistachio nuts finely ground on top.

So naughty, but so nice!!