The Insider’s Guide to Turkish Pizza

Wes, Ekrem, and me on Sabanci University's campus

Wes, Ekrem, and me on Sabanci University’s campus

We are sitting at pizza place on a back street in Beşiktaş, a section of Istanbul near the European shore of the Bosporus. We are here with Ekrem, a Turkish teacher from the university who has generously offered to bring us around his neighborhood. The back street offers relative quiet in this busy part of town.

In any case, we are getting pizza soon, so I am organizing my attack plan.

Most people have travel “barometers,” things they use to gauge a city or country’s acceptability in terms of travel. These can include a good cultural scene, good hotels, or no cholera. Mine is pizza.

If I were in charge of the world, places with bad pizza would be put on a UN watch list.

The pizza we get is called pide and it’s made with kashar, a cheese made in the coastal Turkish town of Trabzon. The pizza has since replaced Scarlett Johansson on my list of irrational obsessions.

Ekrem pays, does not say a word about it, and when we ask he states simply that the bill has been taken care of. He’s already leading us through herds of people on the street, so we don’t have time to argue. Our next stop is a bakery so we can try another local delicacy. This one is a bulgur-based mixture wrapped in leaves that I would quite frankly sell one of my kidneys to have every morning. The guys in the bakery chat with Ekrem and in my food induced euphoria I think that Turkish sounds like a language that would be overheard at the Mos Eisley Cantina.

There is nothing better than going on a tour with a local. It allows you to peek into the real world of the place you are visiting. And Ekrem is a fantastic tour guide; he’s generous and friendly, and truly loves his country. He tells us about Turkey, about the people, and the history. He tells us funny stories of his military service, about Turkey’s relationship with Europe, and the bureaucracy. Each stop is gastronomically oriented, so the man knows his audience.



Our final stop is at a café where we enjoy Turkish tea and a creamy cake called trileçe. It has strawberry icing and a cake saturated with three milks (goat, cow, and buffalo). I utter sounds of such deep satisfaction that I begin to reenact Meg Ryan’s deli scene from When Harry Met Sally.

To finish the night, Ekrem brings us to his mosque, describes the décor and translates the banners. He invites us to remain for the evening prayer and as we have heard the mysterious and mellow call to prayer every day, we jump on the opportunity. It is as though we are being allowed to view something awesome and sacred, because that’s exactly what it is.

My time in Istanbul has been fantastic. Seeing the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and the Bosporus up close has been unforgettable. But this evening, Ekrem has given us the gift of his time and generosity. He has brought us on an off-the-beaten-track tour of pizza places, cafes, and local mosques, and we have met his friends, relatives, and son. It’s the highlight of this trip, and in many ways better than visiting a historical site. It’s indicative of the open arms we’ve been treated with by the Turkish people and our colleagues at the university.

Plus, we got good pizza.

  1. #1 by greg galeone on April 16, 2014 - 3:05 am

    Damo-That is as enriching an experience that travel can bring you. A very enjoyable read.

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