Monthly Archives: April 2010

Unique Experiences: Don’t leave without experiencing a Turkish Bath: Hamam

Cagaloglu Hamam. Photo by elvedon

In a Turkish hamam there are either two separate sections for each of the sexes or different days and hours allocated to men and women.

When you enter the first section or the changing area of a hamam you begin by taking off your clothes and putting on a “peştemal”, which is a piece of striped cotton cloth. This is wrapped around the midriff and tucked into place. Some people choose to wear their bathing suits underneath or instead of the “peştemal”. A type of wooden clog, called “nalın”, is worn on the feet. They will help you not to slip on the wet marble surface.

Dressed in “peştemal” and clogs, you go to the next room where a “göbek taşı” (navel stone), a marble heated table, is situated in the middle. Marble sinks and taps all around the walls surround the room. Here, you sit next to one of these sinks and start pouring lukewarm water over yourself with a hamam tası (bowl). You keep pouring water until your skin softens, meanwhile increasing the temperature of the water as your body gets used to it.

The hamam attendant, tellak, will take you to the “göbek taşı” when your skin is ready and start rubbing your body with a special glove, kese. Tiny black pieces will get rubbed off your body that most people think is dirt. This is in fact the top layer of dead skin. At this stage a short massage is optional. Next, the tellak will give you a soapy rub down and wash you with water in decreasing temperature in order to make your pores close. He will then wrap you in towels.

Now it is time to go back to the lukewarm section to cool your body gradually while you lie down and drink tea in the traditional tiny glasses. Staying too long in the bath or moving to the hot or cold rooms without spending enough time in the lukewarm section is harmful for the body. Otherwise the whole hamam experience is something very healthy and cures lots of diseases.

10 Best Meat and Kebap Restaurants in İstanbul

Here is my list for the best meat & kebap restaurants in Istanbul. Please share your experiences and I would love to receive your “ten best list”.

1. Beyti ($$)

Address: Orman Sk. No: 8, Florya
Phone: +90 (212) 663 2990 – 92

2. Develi ($$)

Address: Balık Pazarı, Gümüşyüzük Sk. No: 7, Samatya
Phone: +90 (212) 529 0833

3. Günaydın Et ($$)

Address: Kasaplar Çarşısı No: 10, Bostancı
Phone: +90 (216) 417 9209
Address: Bağdat Cad. No:493/1, Suadiye
Phone: +90 (216) 445 6338
Address: Atatürk Cad. No:64, Sahrayıcedid
Phone: +90 (216) 411 6875

4. Hamdi ($$)

Address: Tahmis Cad. Kalçın Sk. No: 17, Eminönü
Phone: +90 (212) 528 0390

5. Komşu Kebap ($$)

Address: Valikonağı Cad. Işık Apt., No: 8/B, Nişantaşı
Phone: +90 (212) 224 9666

6. Köşebaşı ($$)

Address: Çamlık Sk. No:15, 3. Levent
Phone: +90 (212) 270 2433

7. Musa Usta ($)

Address: İstiklal Cad., Küçükparmakkapı Sk., Beyoğlu
Phone: +90 (212) 245 2932

8. Sultanahmet Köftesi ($; no alcohol)

Address: Divanyolu Cad. No: 12, Sultanahmet
Phone: +90 (212) 520 0566

9. Tike ($$)

Address: Hacı Adil Cad. 4. Aralık, 2. Levent
Phone: +90 (212) 281 8871

10. Çiya ($; no alcohol)

Address: Güneşli Bahçe Sk. No: 43, Kadıköy
Phone: +90 (216) 330 3190

Special dishes from Turkish cuisine: Kebaps

What is Kebap?

Kebap is roasted, broiled or grilled meat prepared in many different ways, each of them named by adding a word to kebap; döner kebap, shish (şiş) kebap, patlıcan kebap, etc.

Shish (şiş) Kebap is cubes of marinated chicken or lamb meat on skewers. Meat on skewers is grilled in a barbecue.

Photo by korayatasoy

Adana Kebap is barbecued spicy meat mounted on a wide skewer. This is ground lamb meat that is mixed with fat from lamb’s tail.

Photo by chowdownphoenix

Urfa Kebap is very similar to Adana Kebap but it is not spicy.

Photo by zerrincd

Köfte is grilled or fried meatballs.

Photo by Andra MB

Döner Kebap is lamb meat roasted on a revolving spit.

Photo by CescoCesco

Photo by CescoCesco

Where do you eat kebap?

You eat kebaps at kebapçı. Kebapçı is the place where kebaps are sold. It is a kebap restaurant.

Unique Experiences: Don’t leave without observing a Sema Ritual by Whirling Dervishes

Whirling Dervishes. Photo by Teobius

The Sema is a 700-year-old ritual or a rite of communal recitation which combines the poetry of Rumi, Turkish classical music, chanting from the Koran and the whirling of the dervishes.

It was traditionally performed in the semahane. This was the name given to the place where it was held. It symbolized the attainment of the various levels of mystical union with God and of absolute perfection through spiritual fervor.

The whirling dervish is the icon of the Mevlevi order of Sufism, a branch of Islam that is based on the teachings of the mystic poet Rumi. In addition to the fasting, praying and study of the Koran that marks the typical practice of Islam, a Sufi partakes in zikir, or “rememberence”, extra practices of which the whirling ritual is the most important.

Detail from Yesil Turbe (Green Minaret). Photo by alelade

The sheik is the representative of Mevlana on earth. From the sheik’s animal skin garment extends an imaginary line across the floor of the chamber which is regarded as the cosmic guide to the ultimate truth.

The dervish wears a white coat over a long white skirt, which represents his burial garment. These are covered by a black cloak, which represents his tomb or worldly attachments. The conical brown or white felt hat represents his tombstone. There may be a small difference in the sheik’s clothing. The ritual starts with a communal recitation followed by a recital of the flute. Wailing of the flute expresses longing for the ultimate. They let fall their black cloaks to symbolize their escape from the tomb and readiness for God.

Before beginning to whirl, the dervishes bow to the sheik. They bow to one another and move in three rotations to symbolize resurrection and spiritual rebirth. Then they begin to turn slowly. Right arms are above the body palm facing upward whereas left hands face downward. This symbolizes that what they get from God’s grace and blessing, they pass on to the world.

The dervishes begin to move faster and faster to summon the divine. According to Mevlana, with the Sema, dervishes can reach out and touch the “ultimate”. Dervishes claim that repeating the Islamic name of God (Allah, Allah, Allah) with every revolution reminds the semazen (whirling dervish) of the Rumi tenet: “Wherever you turn is God”. It is this that keeps them from getting dizzy, losing their balance or knocking into one another.

It takes at least a year for a dervish to learn how to whirl. The dervishes are everyday people; students, workers, professors, etc. They can have families too.

Is this a mystic order?

Yes, the Mevlevi order of whirling dervishes is a mystic group whose members are followers of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, a great Turkish poet and mystic.

The brotherhood is based in Konya, where its founder is buried. Mevlana was never the head of an order, and the brotherhood was not established by himself but by his followers and devoted companions. The order derived its essence, rites, moral code and discipline from the mystical path first shown by Mevlana. It was a synthesis of spiritual love attained by a combination of music and whirling which was considered to be the basic requirement for the spiritual devotion.

Who is Rumi?

In the western world he is commonly known with his last name, “Rumi“. His full name is “Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi”, and in Turkey he is rather known with his first name, “Mevlana”.

Mevlana was born in 1207 in Balkh, Afghanistan. His father, Bahaeddin Veled, was a distinguished teacher who, because of his great learning, had been honored with the title of Lord of Scholars.

Possibly because of the threat imposed by the approaching Mongolian armies, Bahaeddin decided to take his family away from Balkh. They went to several places and after staying here and there, Bahaeddin felt drawn to Anatolia and came to Karaman in 1221. There they stayed for 7 years and Mevlana was married in 1225.

Alaattin Keykubat, the ruler of Konya, implored him to come to Konya. Bahaeddin finally acceded to the sultan’s request in 1228 and he taught in Konya until his death in 1231. Mevlana took his father’s place and quickly established a reputation for scholarship. He had an extensive understanding of all aspects of philosophy and was an avid reader of the works of classical authors.

One day in 1244, he met a ragged dervish who asked him a number of searching questions. This was the man known as Shams Tabrizi. Shams and Mevlana quickly became close friends and spent days and weeks closeted together in philosophical discussion.

Mevlana left his teaching and appeared rarely in public. This caused jealousy and anger among his students and friends who believed that he had been bewitched by an evil sorcerer. In 1246 Shams disappeared as suddenly and as mysteriously as he had appeared. Mevlana became crazy and wrote poems about the separation of Shams.

After long inquiries he finally learned that Shams was in Damascus. He wrote him letters begging him to return. Shams returned and their friendship and discussions resumed. In order to draw him more into his family, Mevlana offered his adopted daughter to Shams in marriage. However, one night in 1247, Shams disappeared for good. He was most probably murdered by his enemies.

Mevlana could not be comforted. He gave himself again to writing poetry about Shams. This time it was Husameddin Celebi who helped him to continue his philosophical speculations. He inspired him to write his greatest work, the “Mesnevi”. It was a collection of 25,600 poems in 6 volumes.

In 1273, Mevlana became sick and people around him knew that he was dying and they cried in sorrow. He told his friends that death was union with God and he was longing for this union. Finally he died on December 17, 1273, was buried in Konya, and a tomb was built upon his sarcophagus.

How about Rumi’s views and his philosophy?

Page from Mesnevi. Photo by israphil

Mevlana was not a man of reason, he was on the contrary a man of love and affection. His aim was unification with God. According to him God could not fit into the universe but fit into the heart. Therefore we have to tend to the heart and not to reason.

“Come, come again, whoever, whatever you may be, come:
Heathen, fire-worshipper, sinful of idolatry, come.
Come even if you have broken your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is not the portal of despair and misery, come.”

Instead of dealing with scholars of the time, Mevlana tended towards simple people like Hüsameddin Çelebi who was regarded as ignorant by others. According to Mevlana, a scholar was like a person carrying a big sack of bread on his shoulder. But, he asked, what was the maximum number of loaves they could eat?

Sufi Group of İstanbul Galata Mevlevi Lodge
Hodjapasha Art & Culture Center
212 – 511 4626
212 – 511 4636

Galata Mevlevi Music & Sema Ensemble
505 – 678 0618
535 – 210 4565

Wines of Turkey, One of the Earliest Places for Wine

Cappadocia vineyard. Photo by Yannick Garcin

Turkey is one of the oldest lands for cultivating the grapevine for wine. The history of wine production in Anatolia dates back to 4500 years ago, to the Bronze Age. The Hittites were the first people to make laws and regulations about viticulture and wine making. The Euphrates and Tigris Rivers were used to carry wines of Eastern Turkey to the Assyrian and Sumerian lands.

In the tumulus type grave of King Midas of the Phrygians who ruled in the 8C BC, the remains of wine and bread were discovered.

The biggest temples dedicated to Dionysus, God of wine, were in the Aegean Region of Turkey.

Bozcaada wines. Photo by Volkan Çelik

What is the current situation?

Turkey is the fourth largest producer of grapes in the world; however, the majority of these grapes are used to eat and in producing raisins instead of producing wine. Only 2% is used for wine.

Turkey is divided into 5 regions for wine production. The brands that I list below are among the recommended wines and have been chosen from those most readily available in Turkey.

Recommended wines of Turkey
by Murat Yankı, wine specialist

(A) Average (AA) Above Average (AAA) Much Above Average

Marmara Region (Around the Marmara Sea)

  • Local red grapes: Papazkarası and Adakarası
  • International red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Gamay
  • Local white grapes: Vasilaki and Çavuş
  • International white grapes: Semillon

Recommended Wines:

  • Red: Sarafin Merlot (AAA), Doluca Antik (AA), DLC Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot (AA), Kavaklıdere Angora (A)
  • White: Sarafin Chardonnay (AAA), Doluca Antik (AA) and Villa Doluca (A)

Aegean Region (Western Anatolia)

  • Local red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Syrah
  • Local white grapes: Misket and Sultaniye
  • International white grapes: Chardonnay

Recommended Wines:

  • Red: Sevilen Syrah (AA), Sevilen Majestik (A) and DLC Syrah (AA)
  • White: Kavaklıdere Angora (A), Doluca DLC Sultaniye-Emir (AA) and Sevilen Chardonnay (AA)
  • Rose: Sevilen R. (A)

Pamukkale Region (Inner Aegean)

  • Local red grapes: Çalkarası
  • International red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
  • International white grapes: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

Recommended Wines:

  • Red: Anfora Cabernet Sauvignon (AA), Anfora Syrah (AA)
  • White: Anfora Senfoni (A), Anfora Chardonnay (A)
  • Rose: Kavaklıdere Lal (A)

Central Anatolia (Ankara, Cappadocia and Tokat )

  • Local red grapes: Kalecik Karası
  • International red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
  • Local white grapes: Emir (from Cappadocia), Narince (from Tokat)

Recommended Wines:

  • Red: Kavaklıdere Ancyra (AA), DLC Kalecik Karası (AA)
  • White: Doluca Nevflah (A), Kavaklıdere Çankaya (A), Kavaklıdere Narince (AAA)

Eastern Turkey (Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in North Mesopotamia)

Although there is no white wine production in this region, the red wines are among the best-bodied wines of Turkey.

  • Local red grapes: Boğazkere, Öküzgözü

Recommended Wines:

  • Red: Terra Öküzgözü-Boğazkere (AA), Kavaklıdere Yakut (A), Doluca Kav (AA)
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