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.

Filtering by Category: Turkey

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: Ephesus

After three wonderful days in Istanbul we hopped on a short flight to Izmir, 564 kilometers south of Istanbul. We took an early morning flight so we could have still spend a full day at Ephesus. We rented a car and after getting lost trying to find the airport exit and subsequently trying to get on a toll road without the proper card, we made our way to Ephesus, about an hour fro Izmir. Ephesus was a major capital city and part of the Ionian League in the classical Greek era and was also a major city in Roman times. It has ruins dating back thousands of years. It used to be home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, but it was destroyed in the year 401 CE. Okay, enough history. We were thrilled to be there in the fall when there are supposedly less crowds and the heat is a little more merciful. It was still quite hot, and there was still a lot of tour groups there, but it was manageable. We did get frustrated with the many tour groups--there seemed to be very few lone explorers like ourselves--but something I read in our guidebook helped me not get too bothered: although the crowds can be annoying, it only makes the experience more lifelike because in ancient times it was home to over 250,000 inhabitants. We opted not to get the audio guide after our disappointing experience at Topkapi Palace and simply used our guidebook and read a lot of signs. The massively imposing and beautiful façade of the Library of Celsus at the end of a long road did not disappoint, and there are also several interesting remains of temples. The large odeon theater was impressive as well. A highlight was the Terrace Houses, which many people opt out of because they cost extra money. Because of this we were rewarded with some peace and quiet (there were only about four other people there), and it's covered by a roof so we were able to cool off. Not to mention, the remains there are fascinating. You can see actual homes, resplendent with marble walls and intricate mosaics.

The worst part about Ephesus is the tacky market right outside it. This is tourism at its worst and it pained me to see people shelling out money for ugly scarves probably made in China and fake watches. Ephesus is a popular stop on the cruise circuit and I guess that's what happens? It reaffirmed my desire to never go on a cruise.


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: Topkapi Palace and the Yerbatan Cistern

Istanbul is full of grand sites, palaces among them. Last time I was here I visited the Dolmabahce Palace, which was magnificent. This time we decided to go to Topkapi Palace, the seat of many a sultan before Atatürk came to power and pulled Turkey into modern democracy.  Topkapi differs from Dolmabahce in that is more museum like. Dolmabahce preserved most of it's grand, lavish rooms as they were and consequently you feel like you are walking through one of the grandest homes you have ever seen. Topkapi is more of a royal court, with everything spread out. Most furniture and objects have been removed or placed in glass cases. it is a huge, sprawling complex with dozens, possibly hundreds, of buildings and courtyards. It takes hours to explore and see everything and we spent a large chunk of one day roaming around. We got an audio guide which proved to be mostly disappointing, but we were able to make our way around. I especially enjoyed how intricate the underside of awnings were, and the lovely arches. It certainly gives you a good taste for Ottoman architecture.

There are several rooms dedicated as "treasuries" with many glass cases filled with jewels, artifacts, and the like, one of which contains an 86-carat pear-shaped diamond. I couldn't get a picture of that, but I did get one of 50ish-carat diamond set in a gold neckpiece. Not bad.

There also many beautifully tiled rooms, and many with gorgeous stained-glass windows, much of which are in the harem, a separate part of the palace (that you also had to pay an extra fee for entry). Many of the domed ceilings are covered in intricate tiles and there is also exquisite mother-of-pearl inlay work on cabinets and drawers. The attention to detail in these walls, shelves, ceilings, and windows is breathtaking.


Some of the best views of the Bosphorous, Golden Horn, and the city can be seen from various spots around the campus.

There is also a large religious section of the palace and you can learn a lot about Islam if you read all the (sometimes lengthy) signs. They have a large collection of hair and teeth that supposedly belonged to the prophet Mohammad (people kept these in special lockets for good luck), as well as sacred swords and pieces of the Kaaba in Mecca. The Ottoman Empire was in charge of Islam for many years and gained the right to have old or ruined pieces of the Kaaba and it's surroundings sent to Topkapi when parts were repaired or renovated. They also had on display what they claimed to be the staff of Moses and a bowl of Abraham's but I'm not so sure about that...The most fascinating object for me was a mother-of-pearl miniature replica of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

We also visited the Yerbatan (Basilica) Cistern, a wonderful and fascinating place to see. I was happy to return here, and this time with a better camera. It's the largest of many cisterns that lie under the city of Istanbul and it was built in the sixth century to provide water to the Great Constantine Palace and continued to provide water all the way through to the Ottoman conquest in 1453 to Topkapi Palace. It's spooky and beautiful at the same time, with grand rows of columns growing out of the water, which is filled with fish. In the northwest corner are two infamous Medusa heads at the base of two columns. No one really knows what they mean and why they were built, but the are fascinating nonetheless.


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.

Turkey: Magnificent Mosques of Istanbul

Istanbul is definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. It's beautiful, with so many ancient structures from the Ottoman period juxtaposed against super modern and sleek new buildings. It's also surrounded by water, which in my book is what any good city should be. There are lots of people, but not too many that it overwhelms you, and most of them are helpful and friendly. Before we embarked on our journey some of our family members were wary about us going to Turkey, especially from Israel, due to the conflict they've had with Israel lately. But as we suspected, the average Turk has no such prejudices, and Manor even ended up entering the country on his Israeli passport because the visa was free, unlike the American on which was $20. One of the most remarkable highlights about Istanbul are it's many beautiful and elaborate mosques. There are of course two very famous ones that sit across from each other in Sultanhamet, Istanbul's old quarter: the Aya Sofya (ask Hagia Sofia) and the Blue Mosque. I've been to both before, but they were no less majestic this time around. The Aya Sofya was especially different because last time I was there they were doing renovations so there was a lot of scaffolding up. The building also has a fascinating history, originally being dedicated as a church in 360 CE, and then turned into a mosque in 1453. In 1935 it was secularized and turned into a museum by Ataturk, the man generally credited with secularizing Turkey and bringing it into the modern world. While it has many of the markings and installments of a mosque, beautiful Christian mosaics have also been uncovered. You can easily spend a couple hours exploring the gigantic building and we did just that.

The Blue Mosque is quite different, in that it is still a functioning mosque that people actually pray in. You can't walk wherever you want (i.e. into the prayer section, which is most of the room), but you can still get a good sense of the beauty and majesty of the building. It was extremely crowded the day we went, which was a bit frustrating, but we managed to carve out our own little spot.

We also visited the New Mosque (or Yeni Camii, in Turkish), which is not that new, but being built in 1597 is comparatively so. It is in a different part of the city, perched above the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn (the part of the Bosphorous River that divides the city and forms a strait leading to the Sea of Marmara). Also a functioning mosque, it was full of people praying.

There are many more mosques in Istanbul, and we awoke each morning to the muezzin's call to prayer, often coming from multiple places at once. As a Jew and an American, being in an Islamic country, albeit a more secular one, allows a new understanding for the religion and its people. There are obviously many prejudices about Muslims, and while there are many in Israel we were mostly shielded from them. Being in Turkey allowed me to be more immersed in the culture and appreciate it as a valid culture and religion.


Turkey and Israel: Kicking Off the Journey

The three week journey from New York to Bombay was a bit hectic. It seemed as though big news stories had been following us around.  Our second week in Israel, the whole country was consumed with constant updates on the release of 5-year Hammas prisoner Gilad Shalit, who finally reached Israel the hour we left it.  Make of it what you will, but on the day of Shalit's release, both foreigners in Israel and Turks asked us the same question: "A THOUSAND prisoners for one soldier?"

A couple days after we arrived in Turkey, news broke of the Kurdish missile attack and subsequent Turkish incursion into Iraq.  A day later, as we returned from an all day trip, we were told by our hosts of the terrible earthquake in eastern Turkey several hours earlier.  Needless to say, our families were worried while we had no idea.

Israel was a whirlwind of family and friends. We went from the center to the north and back several times.  Having been in Israel and experienced the inflation there first hand, I have a much better sense of the cause of the protests several months ago.  I'm not sure how  people survive there financially. Also interesting was Yom Kippur.  We were in Hertzilya for the holiday and it was different than anywhere else I'd been.  To be fair, I'd only previously experienced Israeli Yom Kippur on Kibbutz, where everything comes to a hot standstill for a day.  This was truly different.  People go out and enjoy the day, taking advantage of the lack of cars.  The evening of Yom Kippur, there were tons of people walking and riding bicycles, even on the highway.  The biggest beneficiary of the holiday seemed to be dogs, who could be walked without leashes, free to roam about where they please.  Children rode and played on the city streets--a luxury they don't have the rest of the year.   It was pretty incredible to see this somber, quiet holiday turned into a shared lively experience. We arrived in Turkey to find Istanbul's airport to be deceptively chaotic.  As we went to collect our bags, the belt they were supposed to be on was turned off and no one was standing by it.  After walking around the entire baggage claim section, we found my bag as the lone luggage on different belt.  Devorah's bag was nowhere to be found.  This was not a good start to our trip.  Devorah went to the lost baggage office to fill out a claim and afterwards we decided to do one final check for her bag.  Sure enough, it was in a pile of bags that had been removed off of the belts.  Crisis averted. Istanbul was not exactly the East meets West that I'd envisioned, unless the east that's being referred to is the middle east.  Our first day there we took four different types of public transit: tram, trolley, bus, and two very different funiculars (short distance trains that take commuters up and down hills).  To top it off, a couple days later, we added a light rail, boat, and metro.  We took every possible public commuting option in the city, except the suburban train. It was also pretty amazing to walk through the city and see random ancient Ottoman mausoleums and landmarks.  There are so many things to see in that city, so much history, I feel we could have easily spent weeks there and not seen everything.

After Israel, driving in Turkey was a pleasure.  There were no cars driving dangerously fast, drivers used their blinkers to indicate they wanted to pass rather than tailgating for as long as it takes, and there was no unsafe passing.  It was a stark difference from Israel, where I got clipped by a bus driver that cut me off and then proceeded to drive away and pretended he hadn't left a piece of the bus lodged in my car.  Turkey will be the last time I drive a (four wheel) vehicle for a while.

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