Friday, March 27, 2009

Cooking with İkbal: Ispanak

İkbal gave me a cooking lesson a few days ago for making ıspanak. It's a fast, healthy and easy dish to make with mainly spinach and ground beef. And it sure is tasty too!
As many of you know, when I cook I don't usually follow a recipe. I just get out the ingredients required and then season it to taste. Guess what? That's how İkbal cooks too! Thus, I have no measurements in which to advise you on for this recipe. Season it to your own tastes and I'm sure it'll turn out great. Good luck and let me know how it turns out if you try to make it!

  • olive oil
  • chopped onions
  • "not that much" ground meat of choice (İkbal used beef)
  • diced carrots
  • tomato paste
  • small handful of rice (optional)
  • fresh spinach, chopped
  • salt
  • water
In a large pot, heat oil and salt. Add onions.
When the onions are starting to brown, add in the carrots and 2 heaping spoons of tomato paste. Mix well. Add the meat and cook thoroughly. Keep in mind that the meat is not the focus of the dish, the spinach is, so you don't need that much at all. If I had to quantify, I would say no more than 1/2 pound of meat.
Rinse a small handful of rice with water, drain and add to the mixture. Add the spinach into the pot and stir well.
Cover and let simmer until the spinach is tender. Stir occasionally, adding salt for taste.

The liquid from the spinach should cook out into the pot, making it a bit runny.You can add a little bit of water if you want but the dish should be thick, not soupy.
Serve over pasta or rice with a dallop of plain yogurt on top. Yum!

PS. How do we feel about having the pictures imbedded in the blog? I like it for blogs like this, but in general, I'm not a fan. Especially if there are a lot of pictures. Your opinion?

© Connie Hum 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Daily (Mis)Adventures

It's funny how, when people are placed in new surroundings and situations, even the most ordinary things can become adventures of great interest. Mundane things such as taking a bus, having breakfast, shopping around town, getting a bite to eat all become challenges with often hilarious or anecdotal consequences.

Ever since my arrival into Istanbul, I've been walking around with eyes wide open, taking in every possible sight and relishing in the daily adventures that have become my life, no matter how ordinary these sights and daily tasks may have been before my arrival. I don't want to miss a single thing that makes my experience of living in Istanbul living in Istanbul.

Taking public transportation around the city has become an exciting daily adventure for me. Did you know that you're not allowed to talk on your cell phone while riding a bus? It's commonly believed that the cell phone connection interferes with the bus' braking system. I didn't know until I answered my phone and people started giving me weird looks. I thought it was because they were surprised to see an Asian girl on the bus but after someone told me that we weren't allowed to use our phones and someone else explained about the "braking issue," did I understand that the weird looks came from the fear of careening into pedestrians or storefronts because I was on my phone. Why they would believe that cell phones have anything to do with braking systems, I have no idea.

Once I was on my way to Taksim and I was waiting for a dolmuş (mini van buses) on a popular street. Numerous dolmuş's kept honking at me to get in but they weren't going to where I needed to go. Taksi's (that's how they're spelled here) were also honking at me but I didn't want to pay that much to get to Taksim so I kept waiting. A taksi slows down and I walk passed, shaking my head. The driver puts the car in reverse and the two guys in the back open the door and ask me where I'm going. I say Taksim and they say "Get in! We're going to the European side too! We'll help you get to Taksim!" Since I was late, I jumped into the taksi with them. We did a quick introduction and then they and the driver started to get into a heated argument in Turkish. I couldn't completely follow along but I knew that they were arguing about me. Soon, the irrate driver started driving like a mad man. I honestly thought my life would end on the bridge as he weaved in between cars and busses, driving at speeds unwarranted for the amount of traffic around. We get to the European side, we pay the driver 5 liras each and as we're getting out of the car, the driver starts yelling at the two guys again before speeding off. They explained that he was upset at them for telling me the fair price (he had wanted to charge me the "tourist rate") and for not telling me to take the taksi all the way to Taksim. They pointed me toward the metro station, which I paid 1.5 liras for with my Akbil (similar to a Metrocard) and I continued on my way to Taksim.

Many of you know that I've never come across street food that I could pass up and while walking through the rather odd gypsy market, I saw a man selling sandwiches from a food cart. I decided to buy one. I asked for the price in Turkish and I thought he said 5 liras, which is rather pricey for street food in Istanbul but Kemal asked again and said it was 1.5 liras. I paid for it and dug into my sandwich. To my dismay, it wasn't beef or lamb in the sandwich as I thought but liver! Ack! Kemal laughed at me and said "I could have told you it was liver!" I guess that's just the chance you take when you try street food: sometimes it's not what you expected but most of the time, it's so darn tasty!

Perhaps one of my favorite daily adventures is having breakfast at home with Medina and İkbal. I wake up later than the rest of the house and come down for breakfast when they're finishing theirs. We have our usual customary conversation of asking how we're doing, if we've slept well and what we'll be doing that day in Turkish. Then we hit the limit of my Turkish conversational skills and resort to pantomime and pointing, with Medina trying her hardest to use her limited English vocabulary to translate for İkbal. It's often hilarious, with me just smiling and shrugging my misunderstanding and İkbal getting exasperated at me. Often she'll just laugh and pinch my cheeks, mumbling something in Turkish that I can't understand.

It's always fun to rediscover the extraordinary in the ordinary and it makes life so much more enjoyable. I invite you to find your own silly daily (mis)adventures and share them in the below comment section with me and whoever else may be reading. Let's stop taking life's precious moments for granted and start documenting them (whether mentally or publicly) as a way to remind ourselves how wonderful life really is.

© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm Turning Japanese: Shoko in Istanbul


What better way to discover more of Istanbul than with Shoko by my side? Shoko came to visit and we've been walking around Istanbul together and sometimes with her Couchsurfing host, Kemal, who was just simply an amazing resource to have around.

Everywhere I've previously gone in Turkey, I've always been mistaken for a Japanese tourist. With Shoko, this was even more prominent and we heard "Konichiwa!" at least a dozen times a day! This proved to be an advantage because Kemal told us that Turks were "sympathetic" towards the Japanese, whatever that means...

Some of the amazing things Shoko and I have done together during her visit: toured Topkapı Palace and harem, Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque, went shopping in the Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, fruit and vegetable market, fish market, as well as the gypsy market, rode up the Bosphorus on a ferry, walked around various Istanbuli districts, drank Turkish çay, ate tons of food and baklava and of course, took lots of pictures.

Most memorable moments:
  • Blue Mosque: As we were inside taking pictures, a group of Muslim girls come up to us and in broken English asked what we thought was "Can you take our picture?" We said yes and then they posed WITH us! Turns out they were very delighted to have a picture with Asian girls. Who knew?
  • Spice Bazaar: The peddlers in the bazaars are notorious for trying to get you to buy things from them and one of the funniest lines we heard as we walked pass one of the many spice stalls was "Hello, spice girls!"
  • Secret cafe?: Kemal took us to an amazing rooftop cafe near the Galata Tower that gave us amazing views of the city and the Bosphorus. It was a bit chilly out there but the cafe is definitely going to be one of my favorite hangouts in Istanbul. Hopefully it really is a well-kept secret in Istanbul for when the weather gets nicer!
  • Wet feet: One day, I wore ballet flats when I was walking around with Shoko. Of course, this turns out to be the day that poured rain (yes, I am notorious for having inappropriate shoes at any given moment). Needless to say, my feet were wet and I was very cold for most of the day. We came upon a store just outside of the Grand Bazaar selling Turkish style lamps and the four young men working there started talking to us as we were taking pictures. We were all joking around and I somehow mentioned how cold my feet were. One of the guys gives me a pair of socks as a token of "Turkish hospitality." They even joked that they once gave another person their boxers because he was cold.
I'm so glad that Shoko came to visit me here and that we were able to explore parts of Istanbul together! Shoko, I'm so glad that you came to love Istanbul as much as I do! Come back soon!

Okay, so who's next to visit me here? I'll take you to the secret cafe!

*Photos from Shoko's visit are posted on my Picassa album, which can be found through

© Connie Hum 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Day of Break-Throughs: My New Home and "Nanny"

Yesterday I spent a majority of my day with İkbal, the nanny of my two young students. She has taken me in as one of her own. İkbal feeds me and tries to teach me Turkish. She showed me how to make Turkish dolma and kofte, then we lunched and took a stroll through a small but nice garden in Fenerbahçe, before coming home for afternoon çay.

When we arrived home, Melda, the youngest who had been apprehensive of my presence up to this point, started playing with me! She even took my hands to guide me around the house and let me carry her! I was pretty astounded and quite pleased with this new affection coming my way.

Everyone keeps asking how my living situation is and to be honest, it's really fantastic! Pictures of my apartment are posted in my Picassa album, which can be found via for everyone to see. You'll also find pictures from my day with İkbal as well.

Things are really beginning to shape up nicely here in Istanbul and I'm excited to share with you all the rest of my upcoming experiences!

© Connie Hum 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Settling In Istanbul

Merhaba from Istanbul!

Istanbul has welcomed me with rain my first few days but I've been much too jet-lagged to really notice. There was a bit of sunshine yesterday, which I took full advantage of. I walked around the Fenerbahçe district (futball fans rejoice!), where I live, strolling past the marina behind my apartment complex and enjoying the cloudy view of the Sea of Marmara.

For those of you whom I haven't spoken to in recent months, I left my corporate job in New York City to move to Istanbul. I'll be teaching English here for the next six months, doing some volunteer work on the side and generally, living the life I love and loving the life I live.

My host family has been incredibly warm and inviting. Their young daughters are as cute as can be. Mina, my young English scholar, is a fun and inquisitive girl to work with. Melda, the younger one is still regarding me with a little suspicion but she's coming around. Last night, she waved goodnight before she headed off to bed.

My living quarters are quite spacious (even by my stunted New York City standards). I live in the second floor of my host family's apartment. I have two terraces, one overlooking the harbor and the other into my neighbors' apartment (not too unlike New York City after all), my own bathroom with a futuristic shower stall, a mini kitchen and a large living/playing space for me and the girls.

As I settle myself into my new surroundings, I've reached out to my Istanbuli and Turkish contacts. I'm slowly making plans to meet with some locals and have been in search of a new belly dance teacher. I'm spending at least an hour a day studying my Turkish as well.

Volunteering at the orphanage may not work out as planned as they were looking for people with bit more fluency in Turkish. Unfortunate but I'm not discouraged. If anyone knows of any other volunteer opportunities here in Istanbul, I would appreciate any help you can provide.

© Connie Hum 2009

Have You Seen These?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...