Devorah Lev-Tov

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Devorah Lev-Tov is a writer and editor with 12 years' experience. She writes about food, travel, luxury, and lifestyle for multiple publications including The New York Times, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic. An ex-pat from the publishing world, she is also an illustrated nonfiction book editor, with expertise in developmental editing and cookbook/recipe editing. In addition, she has several years' experience in event marketing and nonprofit copywriting. She's eaten her way through Central and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, and much of the United States.

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Turkey: The White Wonderland of Pamukkale

When we decided to go to Ephesus, we had another day in the area to explore. Most of the surrounding area is full of ancient ruins (Didyma, Miletus, Priene, etc.), but after Ephesus we were a bit "ruined" out. There are some beaches in the area but it wasn't quite hot enough for that. Last time I was Turkey I saw the natural wonder of Cappadocia, so I thought it would be fun if there was another place like that we could visit. As I began to expand my search of the area, I discovered Pamukkale. While not super close--it was about a 3 hour drive--it seemed like it could be pretty amazing. We did read some mixed reviews noting that it was not the natural wonder it used to be after having become a larger tourist attraction, but our hosts told us that they had guests who had gone recently and loved it, saying it was in better shape because there had been a lot of rain recently. We decided a nice drive along the Turkish countryside would be nice anyway, and decided to go for it.

First off, the drive was lovely. There is some farmland, some more desert-like area, and lots of cute roadside diners (if they have diners in Turkey) and stands selling produce and olives. My favorite was the homemade brined olives packaged in water bottles. They also sold raw olives, not something you can really find in the U.S.! Naturally, we stopped for a snack (gözleme) and I bought a few fresh figs as well.

After the long drive, when you finally see the hulk of Pamukkale in front of you it is somewhat shocking: it looks like a snow-covered slope, about the size of an intermediate ski trail. But then you see incredibly clear-blue water trickling down it into a gorgeous lake. Pamukkale, which means "cotton castle" in Turkish.

It is made up of travertines, which are created from mineral-rich hot springs bubbling all around and depositing calcium carbonate, which starts as a soft jelly but eventually hardens. Luckily, they have begun making people remove their shoes to protect the travertines now so they are in much better shape than they used to be. I was afraid the travertines would be pointy or scratch to walk on but they actually feel quite smooth, but not slippery. And the beautiful clear water that is flowing everywhere is nice and warm.

We were lucky that we started our walk from the bottom. Above Pamukkale are the ancient ruins of Greco-Roman Hierapolis, and many tour buses begin their tours there at the top, allowing the tourists a few minutes to dip their feet in at the top of Pamukkale. So, it was relatively quiet and serene for most of our walk up the hill and we only had to push through some crowds at the very top.

At the top, we wandered around Hierapolis briefly, and then went to find it's famous Cleopatra's Pool, a pool built on hot springs, complete with ancient columns strewn about on the bottom. The pool is a lovely 36-57 °C, and although it was crowded it was still relaxing. We walked back down Pamukkale as the sun started to set.

 

On our drive home we stopped for another snack and came across actual cotton fields at sunset. Perfect end to a perfect day.

Turkey: Kirazli Köy

When we decided to go to Ephesus, I began to look for places to stay. There are a few surrounding towns with accommodations in the area: Kusadasi, which is on the water and popular with the cruise crowd; Selçuk which is the town where Ephesus is actually located but lacks character; and Şirince, a charming town that is famous for it's fruit wines, and apparently, expensive hotels. After poking around lots of hotel websites I decided to check out AirBnB. For those who have never used it, AirBnB is a site that lets home owners rent out all our part of their homes for as little as one night or as long as they wish. The owners have the power to accept or reject any guest applicant and can decide how much to charge.

On there, I found the adorable and affordable Artists Studio in the village of Kirazli, about 15 minutes away from Ephesus. I liked this option because we would have our own studio, completely separate form the owners' house next door so we would have complete privacy, and at $60 a night it was the cheapest thing I'd seen that wasn't a hostel. Plus, Kirazli looked like a very interesting and traditional village, which was more along the lines of what we were interested in.

As we approached Kirazli (which is accessible by a Dolmus that drives from Selçuk to Kusadasi, but we had rented a car), after driving through it's neighbor-village, Gokcealan, we could hardly contain our excitement. This seemed to be the real deal: a traditional Turkish village complete with stone houses and tractors. Not only is Kirazli a traditional Köy, or village, but it is an organic one at that. All the farms are organic and the village has begun working together to market their cottage industry products of jams, preserves, and oils.

There is a farmer's market every Sunday and a small stand set up everyday (where we bought some homemade pasta that we later cooked in India, which was fabulous), and several excellent restaurants serving traditional village food, like koftë (meatballs), manti (meat-stuffed pasta triangles in a tomato sauce and topped with yogurt), and gözleme (thin pancakes with cheese filling).

The most popular restaurant is the Köy Sofrasi, right on the main road as you enter the village, and it did not disappoint.

Our other favorite meal was at what appeared to be someone's home. We sat outside as the wife/mother worked away in the kitchen right inside, serving up possibly the best köfte in Turkey.

Not to mention, everyone in the village is incredibly friendly. The village itself is beautiful. Kirazli means cherry in Turkish and the surrounding mountains are filled with cherry and pine trees, although it wasn't cherry season when we were there, unfortunately. (Although I'm pretty sure it was grape season) There are several hiking trails leading out from the village and it's very easy to be outdoorsy there.

Our hosts at the Artist's Studio were wonderful. Karyn, originally from Wales, built the stone house in the traditional village style five years ago and has become a real part of the community. You can read her blog here. She and her friend Nick know everything about Kirazli and the surrounding area, and they also serve excellent breakfasts and snacks, of course using mostly local ingredients. The Studio was the perfect base for us to explore Ephesus and beyond and we were sad to leave after only two nights.

Turkey: Street and Snack Food At Its Finest

Turkey has amazing food and boasts many specialties. There's kebaps, koftë, pide, simit, baklava, and of course all the yummy items you can get as meze before a meal. While you can get a fantastic upscale modern meal in Istanbul, the traditional delicacies and snack food are affordable and amazing. Let's start with one of the most ubiquitous items: the simit. These can be found all over the streets of Istanbul, sold from wooden carts at all hours of the day. It's kind of like a bagel, but larger and flatter. But it's still fluffy on the inside and with a generous coating of sesame seeds there is plenty of flavor. It makes the perfect snack on the go.

Another snack found all over Istanbul: roasted chestnuts. We didn't sample any, but they smelled delicious.

When we got off in the town of Rumeli Kavağı after our cruise up the Bosphorous we were a little hungry. We popped into a little bakery that had lots of goodies. We got some kind of almond sweet cake number that did the trick.

On our first night in Turkey we were too tired to go very far for dinner so the guy at our hotel took us to a typical pide restaurant. Pide is Turkey's version of pizza, although it's pretty different. It consists of a thick dough made into an oval-ish shape and then topped with your choice of various meats or cheese, sometimes left open and sometimes covered with another layer of dough. I opted for a cheese one while Manor sampled a spicy beef number.

If you're in Istanbul, a must-eat is some fried fish on Galata Bridge. You get to see all the fisherman hauling in their catches, and then you get to eat it! The most popular way is in a sandwich with some veggies. And, it's only 5 liras!

Knafeh, or künefe in Turkish, is a delicious Middle Eastern dessert made from shredded pastry dough that is then layered with soft, creamy cheese, and then doused in a sugar syrup and topped with crushed pistachios. Yes, it is delicious. But half the fun was watching the chef make the tasty treats, it's a fascinating process.

Walking through the spice bazaar, there were many tasty items to smell and eat. We sampled this yummy string cheese and if we had some kind of refrigerator I would have bought some. Of course Manor could not resist buying some halva, which was fantastic--Manor has fully converted me to a halva lover, as long as it's the fresh kind. Packaged halva like Joya that you can get in the U.S. gives halva a bad name!

Of course we had to have a good sampling of baklava. The most highly recommended shop, called Güllüoğlu, actually has a location in New York that I've been to, but I'd like to think the ones we bought in Turkey tasted better. Also, they don't carry my favorite baklava flavor in New York: chocolate! Yup, chocolate baklava, one of the best things ever. We got a nice variety of flavors from Güllüoğlu, including pistachio and walnut in addition to the chocolate. This box of treats took us through Ephesus and Pamukkale and were still just as good.

One of my favorite meze, or appetizers, in Turkey are sigara boregi, these phyllo dough rolls filled with feta cheese and a little parsley that are fried to perfection. They make the perfect snack!

The classic hot drink in Turkey (besides Turkish coffee, of course) is apple tea. If you go into any shop they will sit you down, bring you a glas of apple tea, and try to sell you any number of rugs or other items. It's actually not tea, it's more like a hot apple cider and perfect for those days when it's a bit chilly outside. In Turkey tea is served in these curved glasses that are easy to hold from the top without burning yourself.

The national cold (non-alcoholic--the alcoholic drink is of course raki) drink is sour cherry juice. Tons of cherries grow in Turkey and we actually stayed in a village near Ephesus called Kirazli Koy, which literally means cherry village, as it is surrounded by cherry trees. We stayed at a guesthouse and our hosts served us this amazingly fresh cherry juice. It was a bit tart and super delicious.

We were also served another traditional Turkish delicacy in Kirazli: kaymak, or Turkey's version of clotted cream. I am not exaggerating when I say this may be one of the best things I have ever eaten.  Usually served with honey and best spread on some crusty bread, this stuff is incredible. It's light and fluffy but dense and creamy at the same time. I'm only sorry we didn't discover it sooner as I surely would've eaten it every morning. This article does kaymak justice, as well as mentioning a few places in Istanbul to get some.

Another classic Turkish dish, especially in the area around Izmir and Ephesus, is gözleme. It's kind of the Turkish version of a pancake, but it's more like a crepe. Super thin dough is wrapped around any number of fillings, but cheese is my favorite. It's another one of those things that's super cheap and you get a lot of it.

We also sampled some Ayran, a classic Turkish yogurt drink. It's not sweetened, and in fact contains salt, although not too much. I still couldn't drink very much of it, but Manor managed to finish it.

On our drive back to Ephesus from Pamukkale, we had to stop at the site of this food truck. Yes, even the Turkish countryside has food trucks! The proprietor was serving up kokareç, a spicy lamb sandwich that Manor couldn't say no to. And he was glad he didn't!

Turkey: The Bosphorous and Its Environs

One of the greatest things about Istanbul is the Bosphorous River that runs through it, dividing the European and Asian sides and leading out to the Black Sea on one end and the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara on the other. It's a beautiful body of water and provides a great place to take boat rides!

I'd already gone on a Bosphorous cruise the last time I was here, but I was excited to go again. A highlight is stopping for the famous yogurt made in Kanlica, on the Asian side.

And this time, we stayed on the boat almost until the last stop, right at the entrance to the Black Sea. On the way, we passed beautiful sites, like the Dolmabahce Palace and the Rumeli Hisari fortress, as well as chamring neighborhoods like Ortakoy and Bebek.

There are many opportunities to disembark the ship but we ended up being thrilled we stayed on until the neighborhood of Rumeli Kavağı, a small fishing area right near the Black Sea that felt very far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown and the old city.

From Rumeli Kavağı , we took a Dolmus (shuttle bus) to nearby Sariyer, another, larger fishing area. It has less charm than Rumeli Kavağı, but we were able to sit outside on the water and drink some of Turkey's famous apple tea at a café, and have a deliciously fresh seafood lunch. We also happened upon the fish market and an impromptu outdoor prayer service.

My lunch was battered and fried sardines. Yum!

Turkey: Upscale Restaurants and Bars in Istanbul

One of the great things about Istanbul is, of course, the food. Turkey has some excellent classic and traditional cuisine, but Istanbul also houses some of the finest modern restaurants in the country. We ate plenty of street food and traditional items, but we did make it to a few modern and upscale restaurants and bars and we were very pleased--with the prices and the food! The day we arrived in Istanbul was our second anniversary and while we would have liked to go out that night to celebrate, we were too exhausted after our journey and almost losing my bag at the airport to go very far from our hotel, which meant no fancy dinner for us that night. We postponed our celebration until the following evening when we made the trek out to the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Emerigan, a ways up the European side of the Bosphorous. The museum itself is in a mansion on lovely grounds, facing the water.

It was founded by Sakip Sabanci, a wealthy businessman and art collector who lived in the mansion. He even had a room dedicated to himself, filled with pictures of him with various politicians, celebrities, and dignitaries, as well as various honorary degrees he has received. Yes, it was a little weird. The museum had two exhibitions going on at the time; one called “Across - The Cyclades and Western Anatolia During the 3rd Millennium BC,” which dealt with the trading between the Cyclade islands and Anatolia. They had various artificats, as well as a full-size replica of a Cycladic ship, which was pretty fascinating. The other was more contemporary, and quite interesting. Put on by French artist Sophia Calle, "For the Last and First Time" had two parts. The first was her interviews with blind people about the last thing they remembered seeing, and trying to recreate that image through photograph. The second part was videos filing residents of Istanbul who had never seen the sea (although the city is surrounded by it).

Also in the museum is the restaurant MuzedeChanga. Consulting New Zealand chef Peter Gordon crafted a fantastic menu of modern interpretations of Turkish cuisine, and the space was designed by the Autoban Design Team and won Wallpaper Magazine's design award in 2007.

Not sure how these exactly fit in with the rest of the restaurant design, but the cocktail menus were hilarious. Mine was Freddie Mercury from Queen.

And there was a whole array of celebrities:

I even loved the salt and pepper shakers.

On to the food...we started with a few mezze as is common at Turkish meals. We started with Spicy Walnut and Pumpkin Spread, and also got served a house smoked cheese spread. Both were absolutely delicious and a great start to the meal.

We also had a great artichoke salad with green beans and fried zucchini flowers stuffed with Lor cheese (a local Turkish cheese).

 Our favorite mezze was mushroom dumplings with a mint salad. The flavors were just very complex and interesting, and of course yummy!The mezzes ended with complimentary goat cheese toasts.

Our main courses were a Spinach and Lor Cheese Tortellini with a Lemon Porcini Sauce and Lamb and Beef Kofte (Turkish meat patties) with a wonderful salad. Both were fantastic.

For dessert we had something amazing: a fresh fig and vanilla custard with pastry. The custard was so delicious and I love fresh figs, and of course many of them are grown in Turkey.

Our meal was finished with handmade fresh tangerine Turkish delight. Normally I dislike Turkish delight, but I guess I've never had it fresh before because this was light and fluffy and had such an intense flavor. And, it was pretty.

Our next "fancy" locale was Leb-I-Derya, a rooftop bar in Taksim, on top of the Richmond Hotel. We mostly went there for the view, but had some fabulous drinks there as well.

Our other upscale meal was at Lokanta Maya in Karakoy. We got there early, which was lucky because that's the only reason we got a table without a reservation. It has a modern, sleek design and I loved the main light fixture.

Although the prices at Lokanta Maya are incredibly reasonable, the food is incredibly gourmet, fresh, organic, and creative. We opted to get a few mezze and one entree and it was the perfect amount.

While the dishes sound simple, they were incredibly well-made and very satisfying. Our waiter convinced us to try a traditional Turkish dessert of mastic pudding with sour cherries. The mastic come from the gum tree, and it had a sort of gummy texture and a very faint bubblegum flavor. It was interesting and we were glad we got to try it.

If you're looking for a modern, good meal in Istanbul both MuzedeChanga and Lokanta Maya will satisfy you. And Leb-I-Derya is worth the hefty price tags on the drinks for the spectacular view.

Breakfasts in Israel

In case you're unaware, I write another blog called Toast 'n Jams with some friends about breakfast and music (the world's two greatest pleasures). While on this trip, I'll be posting about my international breakfasts there. Here's a recent post I did on the great breakfasts we had in israel: http://toastnjams.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/eat-this-abroad-breakfast-in-israel/ Next up: tales of our Turkey travels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel: Sukkot and Jerusalem's Old City

After a week of staying somewhere different almost every night, we finally landed at my sister Adina and her husband Dudu's cute apartment in Jerusalem, in the Katamon neighborhood. They moved here back in May and seem to be enjoying their first real home (outside of Africa!) together. While we were there it was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles), where families build and decorate small huts (sukkahs) and eat all their meals in them. These huts symbolize the huts the Jews lived in when they wandered in the desert after leaving Egypt until they got to Israel. Adina and Dudu had a great little sukkah that we enjoyed eating and spending time in. Dudu loves to cook and he's very good at it. He made amazing challah bread and lots of yummy "salatim" (Israeli salads) for the holiday.

Aside from lots of eating, we did find time to explore the city. I've always loved the Old City; it seems there's always a lot going on and something new to discover. We went to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) and walked through the Arab market. We also did the Ramparts Walk, which allows you to walk along the city's walls. It was great to see the city from that vantage point and fascinating to know you're walking along some pretty old stones!

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Israel: Land of Delicious Fruit

Israel is one of our favorite places to get delicious, fresh produce. Because the country is so small, things don't have to travel very far from the farms to the markets, so by the time you get them they are still recently picked. Israel is full of outdoor markets (called Shuks in Hebrew), large and small. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have huge ones, while smaller cities had emore manageable ones. This trip we went to the market in Teverya and saw some beautiful produce, including lots of dates and pomegranates, both of which are in season now here.

The Golan is filled with cherry  orchards, which unfortunately weren't in season now, and apple orchards, which luckily were in their prime. We drove past dozens of pick-your-own farms, and although we didn't have time to stop for that long, we did manage to buy a few from a stand on the side of the road and they were juicy and crisp. We saw lots of Druze men driving tractors like these hauling apples.

We also had some great fresh-squeezed juice in Tel Aviv. There are fruit juice stands everywhere,but this one on Ben Gurion St. was excellent and a huge variety. We went with mango grapefruit.

Because pomegranates are in season now, there were pomegranate juicers everywhere, especially in the Old City in Jerusalem.

We also had our share of pomegranates at various friends' and relatives' houses--everyone seemed to be offering them. And of course, we didn't turn it down as we love them! In Herzilya, Manor helped his cousin peel and seed a bunch of them.

Their dog, Raja, watched and waited patiently:

Hope I didn't make you too hungry!

Israel: Seeing and Eating New Things

First off, sorry it's taken so long to post! Today is the first day we've had Internet on our trip so far, which is pretty surprising because we're not in a third world country yet! But we have been staying somewhat off the beaten path until now. Manor and I have both lived in and visited Israel many times, and we both have lots of family here. Lately, when we come to visit, it's all about running around to see friends and family--which is wonderful, but also exhausting, and leaves little time for personal time. This trip, we knew we would have a lot of people to see, but we managed to carve out a couple days to ourselves soon after our arrival in Tel Aviv--that is of course after seeing my brother-in-law (David) and two friends in Tel Aviv on the day of our arrival. David took us to Chumus Gan Eiden for lunch, at the corner of Allenby and HaNasi in Tel Aviv. Their specialty is what they call Darfur Hummus or Darfur Foul, basically Sudanese style hummus (chickpea spread) or Foul (fava bean spread) with lots of yummy toppings. There are many Sudanese (and other African) refugees in Israel and their cuisine is starting to infiltrate the country.

Darfur Foul comes with lots of Foul, topped with chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped tomatoes and whole chickpeas.

The next day, Manor and I rented a car and drove up north, to the very top of Israel, right by the border with Syria and Lebanon. We went to the small town of Majdal Shams, which is populated mostly by Druze people. The Druzes are actually Syrian Arabs who remained in their village after the 1967 war and so now are part of Israel. There are four Druze villages in northern Israel and Majdal Shams is the largest. The people were given the option to become Israeli citizens, but many refused because they did not want to have to serve in the Israeli army, which has a mandatory military draft. However, if they leave Israel, for example to visit relatives in Syria, they are not allowed to come back. The exception is if they go to study in university in Syria. The 2004 film The Syrian Bride addressed these issues by telling the story of Druze brides from Israel who marry Syrians and have to leave their families in Israel forever. Near Majdal Shams is a place called the Shouting Hill, where family members from each side of the border would meet and yell across to each other. Before the Internet was popular this was their only means of keeping in touch.

I was very curious to see the village and it's inhabitants and was wondering if they would seem unhappy or lonely, but the town is vibrant and beautiful, with amazing views of Mt. Hermon (the tallest mountain range in Israel) and the mountains of Syria.

People were friendly and happy and the town was bustling, with narrow winding streets alongs the hills and mountains.

We stayed in a "tzimmer," a popular phenomenon in Israel--basically a bed and breakfast. There are thousands of them throughout the country and they present a nice, romantic getaway. It seems a requirement to have a jacuzzi and a lavish breakfast. You can find many of them listed at www.zimmer.co.il. We stayed at a very charming tzimmer called Nofesh Barama, overlooking a cliff with a view of Syria. The hostess, Jamila, was very friendly and welcoming, and the three rooms were all clean and cozy.

In the morning we were served a traditional Druze breakfast, which was massive and delicious. It was similar to Israeli breakfast, with the main difference being the Druze bread. It's a very large, very thin flatbread that can be folded and ripped to use in the many dips.

The main Druze dip is labne, one of my favorite dishes. It's a creamy, yogurt-based dip that has been thickened and comes covered with olive oil and za'atar, a popular middle eastern spice mixture. We were also served hummus, a salty feta-type cheese, goat cheese in olive oil, some of the best butter I've ever had, orange marmalade, sliced tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and two other kinds of pita. Suffice to say, it was way more food than any two people could eat, but we tried our best.

The next day we ventured out to see what the Golan (what upper Israel is called) had to offer. We drove to Nimrod's Fortress, the largest fortress in Israel, which dates back to the 13th century. It was built by Muslims during a few different time periods and the remains are mostly intact. It's on a high mountain and the view to the valleys below is quite beautiful.

It was starting to get rather hot, so we got back in the car and drove a few kilometers down the hill to the Banias, a lush green area with springs and waterfalls. It's amazing how many different types of landscapes you can see in Israel in very short distances. We did a nice hour-long walk down to the falls and were rewarded with beautiful scenery along the way.

Manor and I were both shocked that we saw, ate, and experienced new cultures and environs that we hadn't experienced before in Israel, a country we have both spent so much time in. It continues to amaze me how such a tiny country can contain so much!

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