30 June 2015

Mount Nemrut

Mount Nemrut has been on my Turkey travel wishlist for years now and I finally got to go!

While many people combine Nemrut with a trip to Malatya or even Mardin, we only had a couple days and Turkey is really rather large-so not enough time to drive around and do more. As such we flew into the nearest airport (Adiyman) and rather than figure out ground transportation when we got there I booked an airport transfer with our hotel. I was so glad I did. This place is so remote. So. Very. Remote. We stayed at the Keravansaray (more on the hotel later) hotel just 8 kilometers away from Nemrut National Park...and aside from our hotel and one or two others there just wasn't anything there. To top it all off, apparently summer is low season for tourists here. We thought we'd be battling crowds of people since it's summer but apparently high season at Nemrut is only the months of April and September.

A lion guardian moved to stand by the alter

In order to get to the peak of Mount Nemrut for sunrise we had to get up at 3 AM. That's so painful. However I'm not sure I've ever seen a more beautiful 3 AM. The combination of the hour and lack of civilization meant that the sky was full of stars. I could have stared at them for hours. I don't think even in Michigan have I seen stars like that. 3 AM is also a little chilly. This is June so it wasn't really cold, not even on the peak, but I was glad that I brought a light jacket.

Commagene, Zeus, Apollo

Apollo and Heracles with eagle & lion guardians

Considered one of many 8th wonders of the world...Mount Nemrut is a 1st Century BC burial site created by Antiochos of Commagene (which I cannot help but see and think Native American tribe Comanche). The grave, or tumulus, rests on the mountain at an elevation of a little more than 7,000 feet and was created by piling fist sized rocks (left over from the creation of the statues).

I did a lot of book and online research about getting here and around and you basically have three choices: rent a car and do it yourself, rely on the super limited local public transportation/hitch hiking/book tours through your hotel. While the last option is probably the most expensive, when it's left to me to do all the research and organizing for a trip I'm going to choose what is the easiest in the end. Book hotel tour (after of course bargaining them down a bit), get picked up at 3:30 AM, drive  through the park up the majority of the mountain, and hike the last bit. Obviously the high elevation and thin air were the cause of my slow pace and huffing and puffing and not any utter and complete out of shapeness on my part...

Heracles with eagle & lion guardians

Apollo and Heracles


We headed first to the East Terrace where are not only the more impressive statues but where you can watch the sun rise. There's a large, raised platform that seems to have been made as a resting place for people who have managed to get to the summit (imagine doing it without get driven up most of the way!) but was, I think, actually an altar. Behind us are the statues of Antiochos I, Commagene, Zeus (Oromasdes), Apollo (Mithras), and Heracles (Artagnes/Ares) flanked on each side by a lion and an eagle.

Eagle, Antiochos I, Commagene, Zeus, Apollo, Heracles

From the east terrace we circle around to the west terrace of the tumulus where the statues (mirrors of the east side) are in slightly less good condition. Both terraces should also have a series of reliefs marching perpendicularly to the statues. While there are some on the west terrace, several of them (most notably the zodiac lion) seem to be missing. They are not in the Adiyaman museum-we checked.

By the time we made it back to our van it wasn't even 7AM and, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I felt like I'd lived a life in those few hours. Well maybe not a life but certainly more than four hours. I've read some reviews of Mount Nemrut in which people have said they felt underwhelmed...how?! Sure the statues aren't in the best condition and some of the magic is disturbed by the chains keeping tourists from crawling all over the statues and the cage enclosing Zeus's head on the east terrace...but you're still standing at the top of a mountain on which, over 2,000 years ago, people quarried rock to create a ceremonial burial ground dedicated to their gods. Without motor vehicles or power tools. How is that in any way underwhelming?

There's still magic here at the top of Mount Nemrut and if someone as cynical and generally jaded as I am can find it then so can you. And if you have one, bring a tripod. I don't have one but it would have been worth lugging it up there for less blurry pictures.

29 June 2015

Sweet Potato Eggplant Thai Curry

The only really good Asian food you can get in Istanbul are Thai and Korean-luckily there are great restaurants near my apartment for these but I do like to cook at home sometimes, especially Thai. Unfortunately (refer to early grumbling about ingredients you can't get here) it can be a little tough. So I take advantage of visitors and people's trips to the US to stock up on important grocery items; in this case, Thai curry paste.

Normally when I post a recipe I put it at the bottom of the post however a friend of mine who can't cook really wanted the recipe so this time I'm doing step-by-step instructions with pictures just for her.

Ingredients (to make enough for 4 people):
  • 2 large-ish sweet potatoes
  • 2 medium to large eggplants-the long kind, not the fat ones
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1-2 red chilies
  • 2 cans of coconut milk
  • lots of Thai red curry paste
  • kaffir lime leaves (if you can get them) or juice of half a lime
  • salt and pepper

Rinse eggplants and peppers and peel the potatoes.

Chop potatoes in cubes, the smaller the cube the faster they will cook.

De-stem and slice the eggplants into rounds.

De-stem, de-seed, and slice bell peppers.

De-stem, de-seed, and slice chillies if using-avoid touching anything before thoroughly wash your hands after handling the chilies.

You're probably going to need about half of one of these jars depending on how spicy you like things.

Mommy's kitchen helper
A feline kitchen helper is not a requirement but I do recommend one!

Pour 1 can coconut milk into a deep saucepan or pot, and heat over low-medium heat until hot.

Stir in 3 generous tablespoons full curry paste (more can always be added later).

Once the paste is incorporated, add remaining coconut milk and bring to a low simmer.

Once the curry milk is simmering add the potatoes and cover, cooking over low to medium heat for about 10-ish minutes.

Add eggplant and bell peppers and simmer another 15 or so minutes until vegetables are cooked through.

Add (if using) chilies and kaffir lime leaves/juice.

Season with salt/pepper to taste then serve over rice, bulgar, or whatever strikes your fancy!

And because everything is ultimately about wine...a reminder that spicy dishes go nicely with sweet white wines like a sweet Riesling, a Muscat, or a light Chenin Blanc!

24 June 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Turasan 2013 Syrah

I must preface this by saying that I actually drank this wine before the Emir I recently both reviewed and enjoyed. So...grain of salt.

Since I've had a couple bad experiences with Turasan wines I was pleasantly surprised by one M bought a while ago. Like the previously reviewed Emir, the 2013 Syrah may have changed my mind. And at 38TL won't break the bank.

A pretty purple and a spicy, plummy nose lead to a soft wine and a mouth full of blackberries. I thought I also tasted sour cherries but either the wine was a little too yeasty or I don't know what a red currant tastes like. According to the bottle I should have been smelling/tasting red currants and it is pretty fair to say that I have never in my life eaten a currant.

Was I super blown away? No. Did I find a decent table wine that I wouldn't be embarrassed to serve people, yes.In a world where a good wine can set you back $50+ that's a win in my book.

22 June 2015

Besiktas Saturday Market

I can't believe I've lived here for as long as I have without exploring the various markets around the city. I have recently started to rectify this situation with a visit to the Besiktas Saturday market.

Even though we went fairly early in the day it was a hot walk. The market is only a few kilometers from my apartment and taking a bus along Dolmabahce Caddesi on a Saturday is really a fruitless endeavor. After you get crammed into the unairconditioned bus like the proverbial sardine you're held captive by the traffic and you may as well have just walked anyway. Especially since Dolmabahce Caddesi is probably one of the few streets in the city with proper sidewalks and it's all pretty and shaded by the trees that line it.

I love the way the above picture turned out-a total accident but it gives an idea of the market's pulsing and slightly frenetic energy.

We eventually made our way up Dolmabahce Caddesi to the turn off on Sair Nedim Caddesi. The Guide Istanbul says it's a short walk up this street...which might be true if you're a giant and take strides 3-4 times the size of a normal person. We started to think we might have missed the market. I was just about to stop and ask somewhere when we spotted the market-which is essentially a parking structure that's been covered with white plastic sheeting. I don't really know what exactly I was looking for but it wasn't that. Although if someone had told me to look for that it would have made spotting it a lot easier!

I really had no intention of buying anything. I have a few decent greengrocers (manav) near my place but when we got into the market I couldn't resist the draw of the piles and piles of produce. We bought bunches of herbs (mostly basil and parsley for making pesto), artichokes, cherries, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, tomatoes, and I even gave in and forked over the insane amount for some precious asparagus.

The market isn't only fresh produce. There were numerous stalls with dried herbs, nuts, dried fruits, and something that was pretty similar to a CornNut. Those I managed to say no to, which was pretty hard, but I did get some walnuts and dates.

Corn makes me sad. I miss sweet corn. They eat field corn here. Shudder.

Grape leaves!

Besiktas market also has a few stalls with fish, flowers (for which I'll return when my terrace renovations are complete), and the second floor is largely clothes and household goods.

Besiktas is a little far for me to schlepp every Saturday but I haven't yet visited the Tarlabasa Sunday market and that's much closer to home!

17 June 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chateau Nuzun 2011 Pinot Noir

I am so far behind on these posts! Wine Wednesday needs to come around more often. Or, knowing that isn't actually possible, I need to be better about writing up full posts when I drink new wines instead of scribbling often enigmatic notes. However even if I've forgotten everything else about the Chateau Nuzun 2011 Pinot Noir, I do at least remember my first impression of it.

Hello, Gorgeous.

There's a verb in Turkish, uflamak which means "to say oof". So first, just sit back and enjoy that Turkish has a verb that means that. Sure we say "oof" in English but (to my knowledge) we don't have a specific verb for it. And on a day when Turkish bureaucracy simultaneously awes me and will be the cause of the aneurism I'm likely going to have; I need a moment to enjoy the uflamak. I bring this up because at my very first sip of the Chateau Nuzun 2011 Pinot Noir I was ufluyorum-ing all over the place.

The wine is a beautiful burgundy color with cherry, raspberry, raspberry, vanilla, and clove on the nose. I love raspberry and clove together and raspberry + clove + wine = me happy. I believe Pinot Noirs generally tend to be on the light-medium bodied and but this bad boy was dense. On the palate it was all beautiful red fruits, spice (of the clove, not pepper variety), and tobacco with medium tannins and a loooong finish. Wow.

Unfortunately like most things I really enjoy I can't afford to indulge in this one often. Even with he current advantageous exchange rate, 140TL (from La Cave in Cihangir) is still a pretty steep per bottle price. And I'm saving up for another bottle of Suvla's Reserve Petit Verdot-Karasakiz. I've had one of them but I want to try the grand reserve. Until I win the lottery then, Chateau Nuzun!

10 June 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Corvus Aegea 2011 Kuntra

I have not had a great deal of Corvus wines. I think I had a cheaper one ages ago, didn't like it, and wrote off the entire winery. Which was really pretty stupid. I recently found a few bottles of Corvus that I had not seen before and decided to give them a try.

I hadn't heard of the Kuntra grape before but a little Googling later discovered that it is in fact the Greek name for the Karaksiz grape. Karaksiz grapes generally produce sweet wines so obviously this was blended with something. With what though I have no idea.

Gotta respect a nicely decorated cork.

Despite my trepidation going in, I think I liked it. Dark, dark garnet in the glass with wafty scents of red fruits and spice. The Kuntra doesn't burn exactly, but it's definitely somewhere on the jammy/hot side of the fence.

Niiiice tannins: well integrated, velvety, stick to tongue and we know that I pretty much enjoy anything with some good tannins. Medium+, well integrated acid help give the Kuntra a long finish and while the red fruits from the nose followed through in the palate I think I also detected some apple?

For 43-ish TL at Carrefour this was a decent find. If I keep sipping my way through Corvus wines as enjoyably as I did the 2011 Kuntra I will be in danger of becoming a Corvus fan!

03 June 2015

Turkish Wine of the Week - Urla Vourla 2011

Urla is a new winery to me, I haven't noticed this one before so when I saw the 2011 Vourla at Comedus (59TL) I had to get it. I'm always on the lookout for a new wine maker here.

A nice solid red color gave way to a truly lovely nose filled with dark fruits and berries.

In the mouth this blend of Boğazkere, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon was pretty bold. The Vourla has a large, dense flavor supported by velvety tannins followed by a long finish. The one slightly off note to the body was that it was oddly thick. Which was really rather off-putting.

On the attack it's like a mouth full of berries, big, fruity, and a little jammy which is something to which I never object. However...there always has to be a however...the finish is clearly alcoholic. Both M and I really liked the wine overall, as long as we swallowed quickly. The longer we held it in our mouths the more obvious the burn.

While I completely plan to scare up more wines by Urla I do have to question their judgement a little. I know China is trying to build its wine industry but given its history of low quality wines, do we really think an award from them is something to brag about? Really?