Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

the sound of gulls

I'm packing my bags again after barely unpacking them— mostly because I'm horribly lazy when it comes to unpacking bags. I will continue to live out of my suitcase once I'm home from a trip, and use it as an unfortunate surface to heap the clothes I've peeled off myself at the end of the day. I'm heading to Portugal again, and then I'll be going Stateside for the first time in a long while. I haven't been back since my grandad died, which was two years ago this Friday. My goodness, the things that have happened since then— wonderful things, that I know he would delight in knowing.

Last night I dreamt I was on the shore surrounded by a flock of gulls. I could see myself in the distance as a little girl, playing in the sand with my grandad crouching by my side. We were looking at the green waves and laughing. I strained to hear our conversation, but the noise of the sea and the gulls deafened me, so I tried to walk closer. I suddenly realised that we were never really there; that I had imagined it all, and just as this thought came to my mind, we vanished. I found my present self standing alone in the wet sand, with white flashes of gull wings.

Photo by PeF.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Today Harika turns four, and my goodness, how much has happened in four years!
Thank you, my friends, for your kind words and continued support.
Here's to year five— may it be sketchier than the last!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

with a pencil and an appetite

Be warned, my friends, this post may make your stomach groan. The first sketch was a random stopover before hitting up the Archaeological Museum, but the second was penciled at one of my favourite dürüm places, Dürümzade. Anthony Bourdain likes it too. A dürüm is a wrap sandwich which is pretty hard to get wrong in Istanbul, but there are certainly some places which stand out above others. The crew at Dürümzade know how to season their kebabs to perfection, and rub their lavash (the bread component in this equation) with a pleasantly spicy paste before loading it up with onions, parsley, tomatoes, and the meat. The greatest part of the dürüm is that last five centimeters, where the meat juices lovingly mix with the tomato and the spices— I can't resist flipping my dürüm over to skip ahead to this part.

That night, while attempting to lick my fingers clean with as much grace as I could muster, I debated over whether or not I should sketch the man across the tiny room, who was dining on a bowl of soup. He was out of his mind— barely present, and this worried me a little as his reaction to being sketched might not be positive, if I was discovered.

He was so stratospheric, he never noticed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

breakfast of champions

My favourite place to eat breakfast in Istanbul— other than at my dining table, is the oh so delicious Van Kahvaltı Evi in Cihangir. With a cosy atmosphere and a great team of waiters who fly through the packed room balancing trays of tea glasses and burning plates of menemen, the scene is set for a great experience. Typical Turkish breakfast plates of cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, with a few extra yummies like bal kaymak (thick clotted cream drowning in honey) and cevizli çemen (a tangy walnut and fenugreek paste), make up most of the menu. You can also order eggs cooked in a copper dish with sausage, or a variety of gözleme, which are crêpe-like folds of dough filled with your choice of potatoes, cheese, or spinach.

The best, best part of the experience is being served by the most intense and dedicated waiter Turkey has to offer. I don't know his name, but each time I go, I cross my fingers that I'll get seated at one of his tables. With the utmost seriousness, he'll look you dead in the eye to tell you that the bread is fresh baked, special, and only available at Van Kahvaltı Evi. And it's not a lie— the bread really is that special.

"This olive oil— is ONLY for the salad. You understand?"

Why yes, I do understand, and I would never, ever use the olive oil for anything other than its intended purpose. Never. Time after time I have wanted to sketch him, as he is so integral to the whole Van Kahvaltı Evi experience, but his gravity and quick movements intimidate my sluggish hands. This weekend however, I got the nerve.

As per usual, my sketch was discovered by one of the waiters and whisked away amid good-natured laughter and grins. Every staff member was asked to guess who, and when the man himself saw his portrait, he remained unmoved, and as stoic as ever. I began to worry that I may have offended him, and desperately hoping that I hadn't, I searched his face for any shred of a reaction.


Upon leaving, he came to us, shook my hand, and thanked me.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Back in Istanbul, the temperature has brought out my mittens and scarves, yak wool blankets and endless cups of tea. The mud, freezing rain and greyness of the city has a certain poetry to it; and when you take a moment amid the city's chaos to consider where you are, you realise how lucky you are. There truly is no place like Istanbul, and though my nomadic heart tells me that I'll have to move on at some point, I'm happy to be here right now.

However, it's sometimes necessary to get out for a bit and see something different than the endless maze of construction and rivers of people in dark coats. We wanted to see gulls by the Marmara, and when looking at the satellite imagery of the city on Google Maps, a town near the airport called Menekşe looked intriguing. We headed to Sirkeci Garı, once the last stop of the famed Orient Express, and learned from an evasive information center guide that there was only one inner city rail line, and it passed right through Menekşe— the very train we were looking at.

It felt like we had left Istanbul for somewhere else, somewhere far away— the sea, the quiet and slow pace of Menekşe was so relaxing. We ate fish sandwiches for dinner, and saw our first Caspian gull.

the rise of the moustache index

Yes, you're now in Turkey.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

gannets over the atlantic


When you live in a Muslim country or any country where the pig is not a typical source of food, the thought of sinking your teeth into "the other white meat" becomes a bizarre obsession. You begin to find yourself asking people you barely know who are heading to Budapest on holiday to smuggle back some sausage between the folds of clothes in their suitcase— and anyone who brings a package of bacon in from the outside suddenly becomes everyone's best friend. Meat in general, does not move me the way an avocado or ripe persimmon does, and I rarely eat it— but when something is inaccessible or ridiculously out of your price range (a measly little packet of bacon is around 20 lira at a major supermarket— and alternatively that same 20 lira can get you kilos of beautiful veggies), you start to develop a craving. It's the old forbidden fruit cliché; so when you're in a country which celebrates the pig and its meat, you can yourself, get a little piggish.

I don't think the photos do justice to the enormity of the platter of pork— it was a serious mound. A Tasca do Careca, which translates to "The Inn of the Bald-headed Man," is a little local joint in Vila do Bispo in the Algarve. You'll dine on simple, tasty Portuguese food, surrounded by some odd décor choices (colourful football-related stuff, for some reason combined with wooden and porcelain phalluses). It's the kind of place where you feel you'd better finish your meal or hang your head in shame— no wimps allowed.

It took us two hours to conquer the mound of pork— and from time to time, a bald-headed man who may well be the namesake of the little restaurant, popped out to check the progress of his diners. Unlike the table of Dutch tourists next to us, we were determined to finish every scrap on the platter, and as you can see from the above picture, we succeeded. Then, there was mention of a certain orange cake.

It took a lot of determined coaxing from Pedro for me to believe that this cake was necessary, as the waistband of my pants began to dig into my belly— but we were in Portugal, and there was this orange cake that I simply must try...

It was gorgeous, and went well with the post-gluttony coffee and local firewater, medronho, which I am told is 'unlady-like' to imbibe. We left with a little swagger and a slow stride, our stomachs tipping off our balance— but at least our heads were held high!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

salt water gifts

With all that Atlantic, you know Portugal has got to have a mean sea cuisine— and any garlic and olive oil loving culture is going to do it right. Ever since Pedro casually mentioned something about a fried cuttlefish some time ago, I have been gently demanding to be taken to said cuttlefish. So there we were in Setúbal, looking for the right place for some choco frito, when the ameijôas were brought up.

In their violet-tinged shells, scented with cilantro and garlic, sweet little clams glistened marvellous folds of marigold. There were warm, buttered slices of bread which, when saturated with the garlicky clam liquor, made me forget that there was a cuttlefish on the horizon— but then, it arrived.

Oh, yes.