Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cheers! Turkish Raki

Cheers! Turkish Raki



From Mavi Boncuk |


When one thinks of Turkey or Turks, one is reminded of Raki. Although it is not known where or when this drink was invented, it is certain that the history of raki does not go as far back as wine or beer. There are many proverbs on raki which is the traditional Turkish drink. Raki is made from different fruits in different regions, but grapes, figs and plums are the main ones.

In the near and middle east countries the drink is known by different names such as Araka, Araki, Ariki which obviously come from the same origin. Some claim that it is called Iraqi (from Iraq) because it was first made in this country and spread to other regions. Others say it got its name from the razaki grapes used in producing it. Both theories are acceptable. Another theory is that arak in Arabic means "sweat" and araki " that which makes one sweat." If one drinks too much raki one does sweat and when raki is being distilled it falls drop by drop like sweat, so the name could have come from Arabic. In neighboring countries different kinds of raki have different names. In Greece gum is added to it and the drink is called "Mastika". Duziko which comes from the slavic word "Duz" means raki with aniseed. In Turkey, raki made from grape residue used to be called Düz Raki or Hay Raki. Zahle raki has taken this name because it is made in the city of Zahle in Lebanon. Raki is not a fermentation drink like wine and beer but a distillation drink, so more technical knowledge and equipment are necessary for its production. Encyclopedias write that in "Eastern India a drink produced by distilling fermented sugar cane juice is called "arak" and the same name is given Ceylon and Maleysia to an alcoholic drink made by the distillation of the juice of the palm tree. It is also noted that in Iran the drink made in the same way from grapes and dates is also called arak.

The drink made in Anatolia and known as Turkish raki has a history going back 300 years. The art of distillation which started in the Arab world and spread to the neighboring countries was implemented when people thought of making use of the sugar in the residue of wine processing. With the addition of aniseed, raki took on its Turkish characteristic. The famous Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi listed the artisans of Istanbul in the first volume of his book on his voyages which he wrote in 1630. Among the artisans he also mentioned the arakmakers. While writing that arak was made from all kinds of plants, he also mentioned the word raki and said that drinking even one drop of this intoxicating drink was sinful. It is known that at that time in Istanbul 300 people in 100 workshop were occupied in the production and sale of this drink. Evliya Çelebi spoke of tavern-keepers as "accursed, ill omened, blame worthy" and said there were taverns all over Istanbul but especially in Samatya, Kumkapi, Balikpazari, Unkapani, Fener, Balat and the two shores of the Bosphorous and added "Galata means Taverns". Evliya Çelebi recorded the small wine shops and the kinds of wine they sold and also mentioned the taverns that sold raki, all kinds of raki, like raki wine, banana raki, mustard raki, linden raki, cinnomon raki, clove raki, pomegranate raki, hay raki aniseed raki.

Club Raki

Club Raki is a Turkish specialty made with raisin neutral spirits and with anis oil added. Distilled and bottled in Istanbul, Turkey, this fine spirit is excellent when served chilled with any meal and goes with every occasion.

Yeni Raki

Yeni Raki is an aniseed flavored spirit drink obtained by distilling Suma (raisin distillate) in traditional copper distilling stills. Suma used in the production of raki is a grape-origin distillate, distilled up to maximum 94.5 % alcohol by volume in order to protect the taste and smell of the grape. Yeni Raki can be taken straight or spring water half and half; but it is always drunk cold (must be served chilled 8-10°C). A smooth and cylindrical glass used in drinking raki is ideal for enjoying magical whitening in the mixture of raki and water. Yeni Raki, can be taken as an aperitif, but it is recommended to drink raki, in line with Turkish drinking tradition, together with original cold and hot dishes and to fill cooled glass with raki by 1/3 and water by 2/3. While sipping this tasteful product, you will find in grape and anise flavor the traces of Anatolian Culture

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Istanbul: Fresh as the Morning, or Rooted in Centuries Past

Tarihi Karakoy Balikcisi is small, but regarded as one of the best fish restaurants in Istanbul.
Photo: Yoray Liberman for The New York Times

Choice Tables

Istanbul: Fresh as the Morning, or Rooted in Centuries Past By HENRY SHUKMAN
Published: October 15, 2006

NAPOLEON said that if the world were a single state then its capital would be Constantinople. Even today, amid the traffic-choked streets of modern Istanbul, among the high-rises, the steep alleys and the glowing ancient churches and mosques, you can still feel exactly what he meant.

The air is thick with centuries of civilization, hallowed by history. Above the Golden Horn, once the wealthiest stretch of water on earth, hovers Hagia Sofia, perhaps the most beautiful church on earth, built in A.D. 537 by the Byzantine emperor Justinian with a dome so broad it was not superseded for a thousand years, until St. Peter’s in Rome. Just a quarter-mile away floats its rival, the Blue Mosque, finished in 1616, after the city had fallen to the Muslim Turks. Islam and Christendom; East and West; Asia and Europe: the clichés are true, they do all meet here, and have brewed up an atmosphere unmatched on the planet.

As you’d expect in the capital of the world, there are restaurants from all over. But I didn’t come to Turkey to eat Chinese, Italian or Russian. Cognoscenti say that Turkish is the best of the eastern Mediterranean cuisines, so I sallied forth in search of the most interesting indigenous kitchens.

As a visitor to Istanbul, you’re sure to be sent to Kumkapi, a district packed with fish restaurants. In fact, it’s nothing but fish restaurants, and by night it’s busy, frantic, overwhelming — a bit like wandering into a cross between a hotel theme-night party and a 70’s disco. Bright lamps, waterfalls of fairy lights, zithers and tambourines raging up and down the little pedestrian streets, amid terrace after terrace of outdoor tables — it gives new meaning to the word garish. Vendors stroll around selling everything you might need: Cohibas, dolls, teddy bears, and I even saw one man with a giant tin sailing ship hoisted on his shoulder.

With the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Black Sea and the Aegean all within a morning’s drive, Istanbul is a great city for fish. But more interesting than any place in Kumkapi is Tarihi Karakoy Balikcisi in the Karakoy district.

Finding the restaurant, however, just behind the fish market near the Galata Bridge, is anything but simple. Down an alley lined with hardware stalls, past 200 yards of screws, drills and hinges, all that gives it away is a wood-framed doorway and a little display window with a small sample of the day’s catch. Everything here is of the day. When they run out they close. And it’s lunch-only, consisting of two tiny upstairs rooms and an even tinier one downstairs. You can’t make a reservation, although you can reserve a particular fish if it’s in (“Hold the sole, we’re on our way”). Choices go up on a blackboard.

Its owner, Hakan Ozkaraman, owner also of a ball-bearing store round the corner, is passionate about fish. “I’m amateur — this is the special thing,” he said, raising a finger. “Here, just I am selling fish. Not ambience, not view, not fancy plates — just fish.”

Start with the locally renowned fish soup, a rich chowder with flat-leaf parsley that will allay any immediate pangs of hunger. While our next courses were being prepared we had a plate of raw vegetables and herbs — baby romaine, rocket, carrot, cucumber, sage and mint, all coated in a thin lemon dressing.

Mr. Ozkaraman has identified a particular bay near the Dardanelles (whose location he prefers not to reveal further) where the currents keep the water the cleanest in the eastern Mediterranean, he said. Only small fishing craft work there, and all his fish comes from it. But he was emphatic about the sources of everything on the table: the vinegar from a farm in the hills is so natural it has to be thrown away if not finished within a few weeks. Likewise his olive oil comes from a particular Anatolian farm.

We followed with a kebab of rolled fillets of sole brushed with olive oil — clean and exquisite. A specialty is the sea bass wrapped in parchment, which arrived like a parcel on the table. Inside it, along with the sea bass fillets, were roasted tomato slices with blackened skins that added a richness that one was sternly instructed to mop up with bread at the end. This is the kind of hole in the wall one dreams of finding. No wonder it has been going, though a succession of owners, since 1934.

From the modest to the opulent: Asitane, a white-cloth establishment with a terrace under the almond trees at the back of the Kariye Hotel, offers not just rare Ottoman cuisine, but actual dishes from a feast given in 1539 by Suleiman the Magnificent to celebrate the circumcision of his two sons (which may not sound too appetizing, but the dishes are sumptuous enough for an emperor).

Under the Ottoman Empire the guilds of cooks were fiercely secretive about their culinary tricks. Consequently few recipes survive from the four and a half centuries of Ottoman rule (1453 to 1918). In a district of old houses just off a little square lined with plane trees, next door to one of the finest Byzantine churches, St. Savior in Chora, Asitane has devoted itself to the re-creation of this lost cuisine. Eating here is a live history class.

I began with chilled tamarind juice in a misty glass — sweet with the tang of tamarind, and the color of silt. Then came a mix of starters representing the various colonies of the Ottoman caliphs: Arabic hummus with pine nuts and raisins on a lettuce leaf; tomato with fresh Turkish yogurt; Circassian chicken minced with walnuts; and from Greece, a grape leaf stuffed with rice and sour cherries. Two small dishes in the middle contained olive-and-walnut tapenade, sweet and bitter at once, and a goat cheese so fresh you could catch a whiff of the nanny goat’s hide.

For the main course we had dishes from the actual feast of 1539: ayva dolmasi, melon stuffed with minced lamb, rice, almonds and pistachios, in which chunks of melon added sweetness to the meat; and nisbah, a phyllo basket containing diced lamb and small meatballs stewed in pomegranate syrup. How else to express opulence but by combining? Chicken? Let’s have it with walnuts. Meatballs? We need pomegranates.

This ancient cuisine, though filling, is light in grease and fat, and surprisingly clean. On the other hand, you can see where the pashas got their bellies. Melon wasn’t the only thing stuffed at the table by the end of lunch. The check finally came in a little brass Ottoman casket.

The Turkish-Finnish chef Mehmet Gurs is a star of the moment. With his own TV show and three establishments in his portfolio, he’s something like an Istanbul equivalent of the Naked Chef.

Istanbul has enjoyed a resurgence at the prospect of joining the European Union. Sleek new trams run with great efficiency through the downtown district, Beyoglu, and there’s enough prosperity to support a new level of chic. One restaurant that clearly reflects this is Lokanta, Mr. Gurs’s original retro-minimalist place. You can tell what a chic place it is by the name: “Restaurant.” It also happens to have one of the tallest restaurant lobbies you are likely to encounter (it goes right up to the roof six stories above).

In summer it moves entirely to the rooftop, known as Nu Teras. A light-box of an elevator whisks you up, where the thing that first hits you is the horizon bar — a curving plastic aerie hovering over the rolling city bisected by the Golden Horn. As the sun goes down, the lights begin to stud the gauzy land, and it’s a spectacle as beguiling as the stars overhead. The next thing that hits you is the resident D.J. The music is soft, some kind of Turkish-house-jazz blend, and apparently necessary for the clientele, who are wealthy, youngish and beautiful, and as cosmopolitan as Istanbul. I overheard Turkish, French, German and Arabic. It’s like clubbing for the dining classes, though the food is truly outstanding.

The menu is mostly fusion, but with Turkish notes. We started with shrimp on chili spinach — big, plump, sweet ones set off well by the piquant greens — and a stew of clams with sucuk (Turkish sausage). A nugget of sausage rode on the empty half of each shell, the clam playing off the sucuk’s saltiness with its sweetness — all in an herb broth with toast on the side. Then moans and groans from across the table: the lamb tenderloin had arrived on three small steel skewers, over tabbouleh, a bed of mint and coriander and cracked wheat. My side, the rare north Aegean tuna smothered in a true au poivre sauce worked well: sushi-rare, the fish held its own against the rich, tangy sauce. We finished with a shared hot chocolate soufflé, frothing out of a white espresso cup.

Up on this terrace you could get just a hint of “Lost in Translation” alienation: the airy music, the chic minimalism. It was a bit like a movie — beautiful people, cocktails, the soundtrack, the view, the old mosques glowing like gold crowns among the city’s buildings below. But it seems a friendly measure of civilization to be as concerned with views as Istanbulians are. In summer you can hardly dine except on terraces.

You couldn’t get near Borsa the night we went. Ibrahim Tatlises (Sweet-voice) was performing in the amphitheater across the street and traffic was jammed. We had to make our way on foot the last half-mile to the restaurant’s outdoor terrace. Borsa — which means Stock Exchange — has been going since 1927, and used to be downtown near the Golden Horn and the old stock exchange. Now it has moved to a rather anonymous setting in the ground floor of a conference center. But the food is anything but anonymous. For eight decades this family-run establishment has been renowned for the highest quality Anatolian cuisine.

Anatolia, as one Turk explained to me, is a big word meaning more or less all Turkey that is neither on the sea nor Istanbul. We started with “false” dolmades — not grape but cabbage leaves, stuffed not with meat but rice. These were soon followed by “true” dolmades, with minced lamb, along with a quichelike pie of onion, eggplant and lentils, and some pilchiye — giant beans slow cooked for 10 hours. Light miniloaves of unleavened lavash bread waited in a basket. Then came an ancient Anatolian dish, keshkek, a wonderful mush of wheat and lamb. These were the appetizers: there’s a pleasure in this old Ottoman habit of enjoying several starters communally.

But the high point was unquestionably the sis (or shish) of lamb — cubes close to the size of tennis balls, and tender as the best steak fillet, proving once again as the Middle Ages knew, and the eastern Mediterranean has not forgotten, that there is no better way to cook meat than on a spit over a fire. With a smoky mash of charcoaled eggplant on the side, like the very best food it was both simple and complex, and memorable.


Prices for one without wine or tip:

Tarihi Karakoy Balikcisi, near Tersane Caddesi, Kardesim sok. 30, Karakoy; (90-212) 251-1371. Lunch only; no alcohol; 23 new liras ($15 at 1.53 new liras to the dollar).

Lokanta, Mesrutiyet Caddesi 149/1, Tepebasi; (90-212) 245-6070; 50 new liras. (Lokanta is being renovated and is to reopen on Oct. 25.)

Asitane, Kariye Hotel, Kariye Camii Sokak 18, Edirnekapi; (90-212) 534-8414; 35 new liras.

Borsa, Lutfi Kirdar Kongre Merkezi, Darülbedai Caddesi 6, Harbiye; (90-212) 232-4201; 35 new liras.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Turkish Chef, Playing Hide-and-Seek

August 23, 2006 NYTimes
A Turkish Chef, Playing Hide-and-Seek By FRANK BRUNI

THE best dish I had at Sip Sak, an artfully constructed lamb gyro platter, isn’t on the menu. Neither are the terrific stuffed meatballs, versions of kibbe with beef, pine nuts and mint. Or the outstanding lamb sausage. Or, for that matter, the Turkish pizza, which is really Syrian pizza, made with a thin, soft crust that’s folded over toppings of minced lamb and tomato, so the end product looks more like an omelet or even a burrito.

Why so secretive? Sip Sak’s principal owner and chef, Orhan Yegen, said in a recent telephone conversation that these dishes hinge on fresh ingredients that the kitchen might run out of, or on labor-intensive preparations that can’t always be sustained during busy periods. Since he can’t promise them, he said, he doesn’t put them in writing.

I wonder. His explanation doesn’t cover the sausage, made in advance. It doesn’t address why servers don’t bother to mention these dishes, even when they’re available, unless asked about them directly.

No, I think Mr. Yegen likes to be difficult. He’s one of the New York restaurant scene’s greatest and most befuddling characters, and Sip Sak mirrors his personality. It’s a kooky artist’s warped — and sometimes wonderful — canvas.

Never heard of him? I’ll bet you’ve heard of at least one of his restaurants, because he’s caromed through an insane number, seldom staying long. He helped start Turkish Kitchen back in the early 1990’s. He went on to cook at Efendi, Beyoglu, Deniz, Dervish and Divane, among other restaurants, some long gone.

At some of these places, he would immodestly prime diners for rapture, telling them that they were receiving their first true glimpse of Turkish cooking. (He was born and reared in Turkey.) He’s nothing if not grandiloquent, though age has mellowed him. Now 50, he has moments when his voice is inflected with something that sounds suspiciously like self-effacement.

“I used to say I’m the best food you can eat,” he told me. “These days I can’t say that. I’m not able to catch every mistake anymore.”

Sip Sak opened in 2004 but didn’t take on the contours of a conventional full-service restaurant until this year, when Mr. Yegen erected a bar just inside the entrance, where several cases for prepared food had been. The restaurant’s name, which means fast or instant in Turkish, is pronounced “ship shock.”

Past the bar is a deep, unadorned dining room with sunshine-colored walls. And in that dining room, during a typical lunch or dinner, is a crowd that speaks to why this city maintains such a splendid array of restaurants.

These people, it seems, don’t come to Sip Sak out of ethnic allegiance: few of them look Turkish. They don’t come for an electric scene, which doesn’t exist, or the wine list, which is meager. But they know special food at special prices when they taste it, and they reward its providers. The most expensive dish on Sip Sak’s menu is $17.50.

As you would expect, lamb, eggplant and yogurt reign supreme, but they don’t always assume predictable forms. The lamb gyro platter, called iskander, had at its base a layer of sautéed cubes of pita bread, crunchy outside and spongy within. They swam in garlicky yogurt and tomato sauces. On top went the gyro meat: thin, fatty shavings with real lamb flavor and crisp edges.

Mr. Yegen’s yogurt sauces were lighter, more garlicky and less tart than the ones you find elsewhere, and that’s one reason a dish of handmade manti, a sort of Turkish tortellini, was so sublime. But the dumplings themselves made an important contribution. They were delicate and so tiny that the ground beef in their centers came as a surprise.

I’m convinced that Mr. Yegen performs some incantation as he whisks eggplant, olive oil, garlic and lemon into a silky spread that he calls eggplant salad, because while none of the ingredients are unusual, they attained an astonishing richness and smokiness.

That spread was served with triangular wedges of a bread that was like crunchier, fluffier focaccia. It put the usual pita to shame, and it stood ready to convey the restaurant’s excellent tarama, made with cod roe, and its hummus as well.

Between Sip Sak’s peaks lie many valleys. Lamb kebabs were gorgeous on one visit but grainy on another. Patties of ground chicken with red peppers were moist, but a dish of chicken kebabs was arid. Cubes of baked lamb over an eggplant purée were overcooked, as was a whole branzino.

Stumble across enough of this low ground and you’re not so willing to overlook the unimpressive desserts, the unfilled water glasses and the fact that you’re so much better off if you happen to know about the unadvertised dishes before you show up.

A friend had clued my companions and me in, and Mr. Yegen, his graying ponytail hanging low, stopped by to congratulate us on our savvy. He said he wasn’t really interested in less committed eaters.

“It’s why I never advertise,” he said. “I don’t want all kinds of diners. I want one kind of diner.”

That’s a strange business plan. But if you get to know Mr. Yegen just a little, it’s not a surprising one.



928 Second Avenue (49th Street), East Side; (212) 583-1900.

ATMOSPHERE A plain yellow-walled room with dim lighting, decent space between the 65 seats and room for the eccentric owner, Orhan Yegen, to roam.

SOUND LEVEL Very loud when crowded.

RECOMMENDED DISHES Eggplant salad; hummus; tarama; sucuk (lamb sausage); iskander kebab; manti; spicy chicken patties; stuffed meatballs; lahmajun (pizza).

WINE LIST Only 15 wines in all, 5 of them Turkish and most under $40 a bottle.

PRICE RANGE Appetizers and salads, $4.50 to $13.50. Entrees, $9.50 to $17.50. Desserts, $4.

HOURS Noon to midnight daily. Closed on Sundays in August.

RESERVATIONS Accepted only for parties of six or more.

CREDIT CARDS All major cards.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS Entrance and dining room on street level; accessible restroom.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Salad Days | Fox Farm Side Rider


I created this salad as a side dish for Sam&Elizabeth FOX when they had their pot luck summer BBQ Party at their Sperryville, Virginia Farm on July 29,2006.

Simple starting points. Think crunchy with powerful taste to partner with BBQ Burgers and sausages. They told me that Pinot Grigio was the wine selected for the event. Good Mediterranean compliment. And...Here is the recipe.

Fox Farm Side Rider

1. In a mixing bowl. Add the following:

5 cloves of pressed garlic
juice of 6 limes
1/4 cup (65 ml.) olive oil
1 serving spoon of pomegranede molasses
1 cup yogurt
2 serving spoons of sesame paste (tahini)
1 cup rougly chopped pecans (walnut is an alternate)
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup of pine nuts
One large Julienned red pepper
1 bunch parsley finely chopped
3 ears of corn (microwaved in their husk and cutstripped with a knife)
white pepper to taste (black pepper looks like sand grit)

2. Seperately prepare finely chopped green cabbage.
V cut and take out the stem beforehand for good measure.
Make it even finer with a double mezzaluna. Salt (2 serving spoons) and crush further with hands. Keep it aside for 30 minutes. Salt extracts more water from the cabbage.
Add water to desalinate. Drain and add to the other ingredients.

3. Mix and press into a serving pot.
For an open air BBQ it is a good idea to select a pot with a lid.

We had good time with good friends and they loved this new salad/BBQ side dish.
The rest is history. This is also my entry for...Yemek Cini


Saturday, July 22, 2006


Sparus aurata

Body oval, rather deep and compressed. Head profile regularly curved. Eye small. Mouth low, very slightly oblique. Lips thick. Four to 6 canine-like teeth anteriorly in each jaw, followed posteriorly by blunter teeth which become progresively molar-like and are arranged in 2 to 4 rows (teeth in the 2 outer rows stronger). Total gill rakers on first arch short, 11 to 13, 7 or 8 lower and 5 (rarely 4) to 6 upper. Dorsal fin with 11 spines and 13 to 14 soft rays. Anal with 3 spines and 11 or 12 soft rays. Cheeks scaly, preopercle scaleless. Scales along lateral line 73 to 85. Colour silvery grey; a large black blotch at origien of lateral line extending on upper margin of opercle where it is edged below by a reddish area; a golden frontal band between eyes edged by two dark areas (not well defined in young individuals); dark longitudinal lines often present on sides of body; a dark band on dorsal fin; fork and tips of caudal fin edged with black.

ALBANIA : Koce .
ALGERIA : Aura .
DENMARK : Guldbraxen .
EGYPT : Denis .
FINLAND : Kultaotsa-ahven .
FRANCE : Daurade , Dorade , Dorade royal .
GERMANY : Goldbrasse .
ITALY : Orata .
LEBANON : Ajâj .
MALTA : Orata .
MAURITANIA : Daurade royale , N'tad , Zapata morisca .
NETHERLANDS : Goud brasem .
NEW ZEALAND : Snapper , Tamure .
POLAND : Dorada .
PORTUGAL : Dourada , Douradinha , Safata .
ROMANIA : Dorada .
SPAIN : Chaparreta , Daurada , Dorada , Dourada , Orada .
SWEDEN : Guldbrasse .
TUNISIA : Gerraf .
TURKEY : Cipura .
UNITED KINGDOM : Gilt-head .
YUGOSLAVIA : Komarca , Ovrata .
UNITED KINGDOM : Gilthead , Gilthead seabream .
UNITED STATES : Gilt head bream , Gilthead bream .

Turkish Path

Turkish Path
Food writer Claudia Roden guides Kevin Gould through the maze of busy streets and alleys that make up the fascinating city of Istanbul, taking in bazaars, mosques and mulberry ice cream along the way.

Claudia Roden's Istanbul is a world of fabulous feasts and fond family memories. Beaming with pleasure, she pronounces: "Istanbul has the best food in the Middle East." This from the writer of the definitive Book of Middle Eastern Cuisine, which has, for a generation, transported cooks to the warm, well-spiced world of the mysterious Levant. "It really is a magical city," she sighs, drinking in the sight of medieval bazaars and Ottoman minarets from the bouncy back seat of our yellow taksi. "You feel elated to be here."

The seeds of Claudia's fascination with the city were sown as a child, when she heard stories of her great-grandfather, who lived in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey. "He was summoned to Istanbul by Abdel Hamid, the last of the Ottoman Sultans," she relates with a hint of pride. "Here, he was appointed Chief Rabbi to the Empire." The family moved to a villa in Ortaköy, a village on the European shore of the Bosphorus, in the lee of Abdel Hamid's gingerbread, rococo Yildiz Palace. "My grandmother was born in Ortaköy, which in those days was a village, far removed from the city's hurly burly." Today, the village has become subsumed into Istanbul, one of the world's largest, most extraordinary cities.

With undisguised delight, Claudia leads us on a tour of her Istanbul, a day which starts with fresh pastries from Güllüoglu. "This is the city's finest bakery," she says, "As you walk in, you bathe in the smells. They make baklava with 40 layers of filo pastry, each so thin as to be almost transparent." Claudia takes a portion with a square of kaymak (clotted buffalo-milk cream). "You die for it," she says smiling, "and you die from it."

Our taksi joins the nose-to-bumper stream of cars and people crossing the Golden Horn into the Old City, an Istanbul of ancient mosques and cascading domed tombs, of grand palaces and humble tumbledown streets. "This city was founded almost 1,700 years ago by Emperor Constantine to rival Holy Rome" she explains. "Since then, it's been the seat of power for both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires." The Old City's hill is crowned by the Blue Mosque, an essay in architectural harmony, decorated within by 21,000 priceless turquoise Iznik tiles. She points across to the 6th-century cathedral of Aya Sofya, and takes in the Topkapi Palace, famous for its intrigues, its harem and its eunuch stranglers. "In Istanbul, tradition is everything, and you really feel the past."

Claudia sweeps us into her favourite köfte salonu, a midday stop for viziers and workers alike. On a marble-topped table at Selim's Sultanahmet Köftecisi, we're served soft patties of minced beef, with a salad of lemon-dressed white bean and carrot on the side. Claudia beams broadly. "The best köfte I've ever eaten. And I've eaten a lot of them."

There's no time to dawdle as we head to the Kapali Carsisi (covered bazaar). "It is a city within a city, with 5,000 shops and bargain hunters from all over the world." Erected by Sultan Fatih Mehmet in 1458, the bazaar's character has barely changed. We are borne on a tide of lingering shoppers and lippy hawkers, of scurrying tea-boys and labouring porters. "Such a pleasurable place to shop," says Claudia. "There is something to suit every mood."

The bazaar ends by the shores of the Golden Horn and the huge studded doors of the Misir Carsisi (spice bazaar). Piles of nuts and herbs, spices, sweetmeats and caviar fill each stall. Claudia is emphatic: "The best food market in the world."

As well as bridging East and West, Istanbul also straddles two continents. "How romantic," she delights, "to pop over to Asia for a late lunch." Our idyllic table at Cengelköy Iskele is right over the water, the Bosphorus Straits, which glint in the sun, while the European side shimmers in the haze. Claudia thinks that Asia seems calmer, less frenetic. "You somehow feel closer to the countryside here."

Feasting on beer-battered anchovies from the Dardanelles and turbot plucked from the waters of the Black Sea, on pungent roka (rocket) salad and potent anis-based raki liqueur, the afternoon would be idled away were it not for the lure of Mado's karadut (black mulberry) ice cream, sold on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu, Istanbul's (rather more charming) version of Oxford Street. Boys on the Clyde-built ferry that glides us back to Europe serve refreshing black tea in tulip-shaped glasses.

Beyoglu offers excellent shopping "for silks and bargain CDs" and numerous meyhane (beer halls). "The tradition is to have an after-work or late-night restorative pitcher of pilsner, or carafe of wine, accompanied by meze such as hot potato krokets stuffed with cheese," says Claudia. Tonight, however, we have a dinner date in Ortaköy.

During the pre-dinner passeggiata, Claudia asks an aged Ortaköy fruiterer with a nose like a pomegranate if he recalls her ancestors, the Al-Fondari family. She's led to the street where her grandmother was born, the house long since demolished, where a resident shares her memories of the school at which Claudia's grandfather was headmaster.

Dinner is at Istanbul's most sumptuous restaurant. Feriye Lokantasi is run by Vedat Basaran, Turkey's leading chef, from waterfront premises. Tonight, he has commanded an Ottoman feast in Claudia's honour. Artichokes are filled with olive pilaf and wrapped in vine leaves; haricot beans are stewed with wild fennel; and sweetbreads and milk lamb tripes are sautéed with orange zest and served with tomato-scented oil. With the floodlit minarets in the distance, and the glittering waters of the Straits reflected in her eyes, Claudia sighs. "I love it here. There are times when you're by the Bosphorus that you feel there's nowhere on earth you'd rather be."

This article was first published on in August 2002