This is the third and final blog of a series on my recent adventures in Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey. I love Mediterranean cuisine and hope to inspire you to plan a cruise to this area, so you can enjoy the flavors of these ancient cultures as I did on this voyage, Lands of Time.
After a delightful few days in Israel, it was off to Rhodes, one of my favorite ports. The old town was bustling with colorful shops and friendly merchants (and even a white parrot). For me, lunch in Rhodes is always at the welcoming fish house overlooking the church ruins. Here the tzatziki was creamy with a hint of garlic and the keftas were grilled to perfection.
After lunch I returned to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Riviera to teach a class on Greek cuisine. We had fun using the grape leaves I purchased in Israel a few days before. We also made twice-baked barley cakes that we immersed in water for 10 seconds and then dressed with grated tomato, salt, olive oil, feta cheese and dried oregano. The taste of the barley is earthy and the sweet tomato and salty feta are a perfect complement to the fruity Cretan olive oil and uniquely flavored Cretan oregano.
Our Lands of Time cruise concluded in Turkey in one of my most beloved cities, Istanbul.
Because we didn’t arrive until noon, I had time for a Turkish Delights class onboard that morning in
the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. We made Turkish lentil soup with bulgur, b’stilla with a Turkish twist,
keftas on yogurt with a sweet tomato sauce, grilled flatbread, and a delicate rice pudding scented with rose water.
One of the class favorites was the b’stilla: puff pastries filled with spiced rice and chicken, served with a cilantro and mint yogurt sauce. Here is our sous chef, Daniel, popping those in the oven.
When we arrived in Istanbul, my first stop was the spice market to visit my favorite spice merchant, Andnet at Sen Baharat. This is the best place I have found to purchase the red pepper paste that we use in our Turkish lentil soup and karniyarik (stuffed eggplant). My sister and I stopped into a recommended restaurant, Hadimi, where we enjoyed some traditional Turkish foods: humus with ground walnuts, nazuktan (eggplant with mint, almonds and yogurt) and cerkez tavugu (shredded chicken with walnuts and coriander).
Since we stayed overnight in Istanbul, we had a second day to hang out in Sultanahmet, one of my favorite neighborhoods because of the great shops, food and people watching. I had to try the baklava at an adorable little food cart and make a stop at the exquisite English bookshop, Galeri Kayseri, which specializes in English-language books on Turkish art, architecture, travel,
history and cooking. Here I found a fabulous Turkish cookbook, Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Basan. It’s very approachable, and the recipes are traditional and authentic. We are testing several in the culinary center now.
It was a warm day in Istanbul, so we stopped for some perfectly pink watermelon. I always enjoy the unique offerings of Istanbul’s street vendors, such as grilled corn, freshly squeezed orange juice, and simit, which is a circular sesame bread often made with ground cherry kernels. I love that many of the merchants in Istanbul specialize in one thing and know that one thing well.
I am reading John Freely’s Istanbul (the book that Hugh Grant tried to sell Julia Roberts in the movie Notting Hill), and it’s clear that this city has a rich and complex culinary history. I think to really understand any cuisine, one must dive deep into the history of its people. Nowhere is this truer than in Istanbul. I recommend this book to anyone who is traveling to Istanbul or who simply wants to learn more about this dazzling place.
Before leaving Istanbul, we were able to squeeze in a class celebrating
the latest book by Jacques Pépin, Essential Pepin. In the class I focused on 10 tips that Pépin offers to help anyone “cook like a professional” at home. We covered the basic emulsion used for salad dressings, dry and moist heat cooking methods, crepes and the perfect tart dough. It was a great class, and we enjoyed sharing Jacques and Julia stories from his television shows with Julia Child. We also drank Jacques’ favorite wine, a Provence rosé!
And so ended another delightful trip through one of my favorite areas of the world. It was sad to leave the bustling harbor of Istanbul and say goodbye to the guests I had gotten to know over the last 15 days. I hope they will be back to visit their Oceania Cruises family soon. And if you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the extraordinary sights, sounds and tastes of the Mediterranean, I hope to see you onboard as well. Bon appétit!