Still plowing through notes and photos from Central and Eastern Europe, but given it's already halfway through Ramadan, I thought to skip forward briefly to the action in Istanbul.
Ramadan -- or Ramazan, for the Turks -- is the annual month-long fast for Muslims. Any eating or drinking is done sans sunlight. The most electric time of day this time of year, therefore, is just as the prayer call at dusk commences, signalling the break of the day's fast. Food vendors and their customers -- having been poised at the starting blocks -- bound like coiled springs into a blur of lentil soups, mezzes and pides before digging into heavier meatier fare.
Restaurants all over town offer special Ramazan feast menus, but feeling fairly budget-battered after emerging from Russia, Babs and I mostly followed my street-urchin palette around town. I am delighted to say, Istanbul more than delivered.
Above: Evening breakfast by the fish sandwich boats at the Eminonu end of the Galata Bridge
One of the most fun, overload-your-senses way to break-fast in Istanbul is to join the crowd under the fish sandwich tents, at the Eminonu end of the Galata Bridge. Mackeral fillets are fried en-masse on viciously bobbing boats a mere few inches from you (I felt sea-sick just trying to take this photo below).
There's salt and lemon juice at every table for you to jazz up your 4-lira sandwich, and plenty of colourful pickle carts nearby if you want a side dish.
If you're good to eat on your feet, however, look for the pushcart vendors just a few steps away. This gentleman's mackeral fillets were thicker, had more bite (which means they were fresher), had that lovely irreplaceable smokiness of a charcoal flame, and cost only 3 lira.
I am still slightly sore at Babs for scarfing more than his fair share of the sandwich we shared -- he ruthlessly played the "you snooze you lose" card because I was running around snapping photos. Unfortunately, if tried by a jury of our peers, I know his defence would hold.
Only one way to remedy that. Move on to the kofte (spicy meatballs) sandwich cart a few steps on. Yes, I would like a toasted green chilli with that, please, Uncle. Absolutely gorgeous. And only 2 lira! Gawd I love this city.
What's this, what's this? A 2-grill pushcart, one for fish and one for kofte! And a DIY salad bar to boot! I found these street-cuisine geniuses at Sirkeci, right outside the entrance to the ferry to the Harem bus station across the water.
All that grilling and greens too healthy for you? How about some battered and deep fried mussels? Many touristy fish restaurants will have a mussel-stand for the casual passer-by. We found this one on Sahne Sokuk, just off Istikal Caddesi in Beyoglu.
To end your break-fast stroll on a sweet note, grab some tulumba -- deep fried dough drizzled (regularly, throughout the day... urk!) with sugar syrup. Sold as long pretzel-like rings, as below, and thumb-length stubs.
Fast Breaking News: Free Dinner at Fast-Breaking Tents
The most popular break-fast treat in town is evidently in one of the city's many iftar (break-fast) tents, sponsored by local councils. The queues start some 2 hours before dusk, and according to a friendly security guard, this tent feeds about 1,500 people a day. City-wide, Istanbul hosts some 100 tents and according to Turkish English-language newspaper TodaysZaman expects to feed some 300,000 people this Ramazan at the cost of US$15m.
In principle the iftar tents are meant to provide food for the poor and those who are not able to prepare dinner at home because of work -- according to the Muslim faith it's considered a good deed to feed those who have been fasting. It seems plenty of locals join in simply for the festive community atmosphere. We also saw a few tourists in line. In the end we decided we couldn't join in in good conscience -- our budget wasn't that battered, we're not local taxpayers, and we haven't even been fasting -- but the friendly security guard lets me poke my head in to take this photo.
Hayirli Ramazanlar, folks. Going hungry -- especially on a voluntary basis -- has never been a strong point with this particular foodie, so may God look very kindly on your faith.