Saturday, March 22, 2014

Eating my way through Turkey

Hey everyone, happy weekend!  I know my writing has been really sporatic this week, but in all reality, it's the best I can do right now.  Also, most of the thoughts I have swirling in my head and want to get written down have more to do with the random people that I have been meeting, things I have been experiencing, etc. and less about the running and the food -- which is generally what I write about here!

So, as a quick logistical update, I am still in Turkey and loving it.  I spent a few days near the cities of Canakkale and Izmir, and am now exploring the incredible metropolis of Istanbul.  It has been a really great trip both professionally and personally.  At some point I will want to share my notes on the personal side, but still just trying to catch up on sleep when I do have free time!  And honestly, I also don't know how much to share on this blog vs. just documenting for myself/close family and friends.  There is something about posting my observations & thoughts about the countries and people I am meeting that makes me feel a little uneasy.  However, I know many of you have very much been along in this journey with me so I do want to share with you all as well if you're interested in my thoughts on what I am seeing/experiencing while traveling.  Please let me know, because I'd like to hear what you think!

As for the regular stuff that you guys usually read here for... the "food & running & trying to manage being a healthy person while loving sweets and eating and delicious things" stuff.  Here it goes...

Thursday was another busy, busy, on my feet running around all day kind of day.  The hotel we were staying at had a continental breakfast, which, just are killer for me.  I didn't have much time, aka, I was running late, so I had to just grab foods and run.  Usually I've been making smarter choices (for the most part) at the continental breakfasts and opting for some hard boiled eggs, fruit, toast, etc. but I just had to grab and go so I opted for a variety of random pastries... woops.

It did the trick though and held me over until lunchtime, which my colleague was kind of enough to take us out to a small local place that was delicious.  This was my first meal in Turkey and it was so great! I let him order for the table and ended up with "fresh" lamb meat, and the table shared a salad and bread, which I am learning is routine for Turkey, and we all tried Ayran, which is a Turkish milk drink that essentially tastes like you are drinking a thinned out Chobani yogurt.  I am not a fan of that sour-ish taste so I didn't finish my Ayran, but everything else was delicious!

The salad was made up of tomatoes, onions, cucumber, and cheese with a oil and vinegar type dressing.  It was really delicious and a variety of this was served with every meal.  I thought it was really interesting that the salad was just placed in the center with no bread or serving plates.  We all just used our forks and ate off the same plate!

When the meal was over we ended with some cheese halva, a specialty that you can only get in the Canakkale area of Turkey, and some tea.  The cheese halva was made with local cheese from the restaurant's own animals.  It was hard to decipher exactly what was in the cheese halva, but it had some sort of sweeter cheese with semolina and it was baked, and delicious!  I forgot to take a picture until our group was a few bites in :)

Tea is a huge thing in Turkey.  Every meal ends with tea or coffee, and it is also offered often to guests or one another (so I've experienced.)  Every time I entered an office, a tea was offered to me.  Even while shopping today in Istanbul, many of the vendors offered me tea as I browsed.  And even, an old man that I chatted with on a street bench invited me to join him for a tea.  It is served in a small cup that people call a thin-waist or belly dancer cup because of its shape.  You can also buy these tea glasses all throughout the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

One other thing I have noticed is that the Turkish people have all been incredibly hospitable.  In every way possible.  For the days that I was in Canakkale and Izmir with my work colleagues, they took better care of me than you could possibly even imagine (for which, I am so appreciative) to an extent that I have never experienced before.  From offering up the food off their plate, literally giving away a coat and hat when someone commented that they liked it, to driving 3.5 hours to just drop me off somewhere as if it were a 10 minute drive down the road.  And when I said thank you and expressed my gratitude, the response was always the same, "It is not a problem for me" and "This is just how we are in Turkey!" which was wonderful.

After a long day, the same group I was with for lunch went out for dinner as well.  With, again, my local work colleague, taking the lead to take us to an authentic Turkish restaurant and helping us with what to order to experience authentic and delicious dishes.  At this restaurant, we went to a display case and reviewed the meats and kebabs, chose what we wanted, and then they were cooked and brought over to us.

We again had bread and a shared salad with our meal, and finished the meal with tea.  Oh, and we had a shared plate of intestines from some animal.  It was surprisingly not bad, but not something I think I could order on my own, just because of knowing what it was.

The desserts we had were more traditional Turkish foods.  One dessert is called Kunefe and the other I don't think has a name but it was some sort of pound cake dumpling in syrup.  The kunefe was very interesting, it was a cheese dessert with a shredded angel hair type topping, baked.  The cheese was a stringy cheese.  Usually desserts featuring cheese have some sort of a creamy cheese but with the kunefe when you took a forkful, it would be as if you were cutting into fresh pizza or lasagna with the long string of cheese when you pulled the fork away.  Despite being a new sensation for me for cheese desserts, it was really, really good!

So after finishing this meal with my coworkers, we returned to our hotel around 9:30 p.m. and I immediately changed into running clothes and went down to the gym.  Yes, you read that right.  And no, I didn't throw up.  But I have definitely had better runs in my life.

I was scheduled to run 8 miles the day before and on Thursday evening at 9:30 p.m. I was only able to get in 5.5 hours before the gym was closing down.  But to be honest, I sort of used the gym closing as an excuse to stop.  As is apparent from the fact that I kept running to get my Garmin to recognize my 20-miler.  I can keep going if I need to and find a way to finish things.  However, I didn't have the guts to stick it out and find a way to finish the 8-miles, so I let the excuse be an excuse and did 5.5.

On Friday I had an early morning as well and grabbed some food from the hotel continental breakfast before meeting a coworker at 7:00 a.m.  However, it was the same one as the day before and he continued my food education of Turkey by bringing me to a local bakery for breakfast pastries... one savory and one sweet for each of us.  I told him I had eaten but he ordered a ton and let me know which ones were for me.

Friday really was a terrible day for eating for me, but I can't say no to this sort of thing!  I think it would be rude, and also, there is a once in a lifetime chance for me to have a fresh baked chocolate pastry from a small shop in Turkey I would never otherwise be at.  And I love food.

Our lunch was similar to the dinner we had the night before where we chose our meats and they were cooked and brought to us.  We shared a salad, and enjoyed some delicious bread.  It also came with yummy and beautiful grilled peppers.  The meal to the right is called kofta and it is their version of a meatball with ground beef and spices and it is DELICIOUS.  The red, roundish piece, I forget the name but it sort of tasted like kielbasa.

Except it was all eaten outside and I was totally in love with the entire setting and atmosphere of our lunch meal on Friday.  From the little kids running around, shops surrounding us, meat hanging behind us, woman making meatballs next to us, etc.

Even the stray dogs and cats I didn't mind.  They were super cute!

I'm really appreciative that I had the opportunity to have these meals with my coworkers as I love seeing this side of foreign countries rather than just what goes on in the touristy capitals and big cities.  I went from this meal sitting outside on a quiet street corner to Istanbul and thought a lot about the differences and what you miss out when you only see the cities/tourist destinations when you travel.  You miss out on real life a lot.

I think about it in the sense of foreign tourists visiting New York City.  Yes, Manhattan is wonderful and exciting and makes a much better destination vacation than say, Albany, NY where I currently live.  However, NYC is not real life for the vast majority of Americans.  A lot of foreigners when they thing of the U.S. they think of New York City.  And although sometimes people in the city forget this... our country is much bigger and more diverse than New York City and if someone wanted to get a picture of American life they would have to see more than that.  They'd have to see the suburbs, neighborhoods, backyard BBQs, and cul-de-sacs.  And even THAT wouldn't be enough.  They'd have to see smaller cities, farms, and more.

I, by no means, have seen all of Turkey or have a full picture of life for Turkish people.  However, I am really grateful that I got these experiences through food and friends to see more than just what I am now seeing in Istanbul.

I arrived in Istanbul on Friday night and immediately after checking into my hotel room I went to the gym to get in my 4 miles run.  I ran on the treadmill and my legs felt heavy.  I guess +5 hours in a car in addition to a flight will do that to you.  Oh, and all that food...

But I got the run in and I finished this hectic week only behind 2.5 miles.  Tomorrow I have a 12-mile run which I am dreading, and also planning to do outside to get the ground under me again.  I will report back tomorrow with an update on whether or not I collapse and more about what I've been up to travel wise, but I'm glad I was able to get you guys a bit more up to date!  Happy weekend!

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