Monday, 26 May 2014

Ye Old Thatch - not just one of the 26

Beaufort West is the largest town in South Africa's Great Karoo and I am reliably told that it has 26 things to do.  One of these is a visit to Ye Old Thatch (on the main street), an amalgamation of Bed and Breakfast, Art/Antique Gallery and cosy, country pub.  The place has a reputation for Karoo lamb, and with the town being slap bang in the heart of SA sheep territory, I thought a visit was the right thing to do.

It's an interesting structure with homely nooks and crannies and welcoming owners.  There is an extensive menu that includes well done seafood (Edith, the owner, is from Veldrif on the West Coast) and a variety of meaty options.  My lamb platter was rustic and big on flavour with the crisp pan seared lamb liver being top of the pops, and even better than the chops

Edith gave me a few recipes but the one I found most interesting was Lamb chops in Amarula.

Lamb chops in Amarula

  1. a few lamb chops
  2. a little olive oil
  3. salt and pepper
  4. some finely chopped coriander
  5. a few glugs of Amarula (and some for the chops)
  • season the chops well
  • fry in a hot pan with a little oil
  • when crispy and almost done, pour a little (or a lot) of Amarula over each

My Bird of Prey route?

A recent road trip took us along South Africa's West Coast, through Saldahna, Paternoster and Lambert's Bay, then up the N7 stopping in Clanwilliam and Vanrhynsdorp before turning east through Calvinia, Williston, Carnarvon and then south through Loxton and down to Beaufort West.  We travelled deep into South Africa's heartland, the vast, arid and hauntingly beautiful expanses of the Great Karoo, an area of 400,000 square kilometres (which is larger than Germany). 

We visited the West Coast, Rocherpan and Karoo National Park's which are spectacular, but one of the highlights of the trip was the amazing bird of prey sightings en route.  These included jackal buzzard, forest buzzard, pale-chanting goshawk, black-shouldered kite, rock kestrel, greater kestrel and the black-breasted snake eagle, most chilling on telephone-poles, taking in the views.

The Karoo economy has a lot to do with sheep but in recent times game farming and tourism has increased rapidly.  The little towns, scattered infrequently across possibly one of the quietest areas on the planet, are full of character (and characters).  Coffee and roosterkoek (chunks of bread dough cooked over coals)  at 'Die Muishuis' in Vanrhynsdorp, lunch at 'The Williston Mall' or a walk around Calvinia, there's plenty to see and do and it won't take long to discover the spirit of the land and it's people.  Even if it's just sitting, sipping a sundowner, watching the blades of a windmill go round and round.
Die Muishuis

The Williston Mall

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The unforgettable flavours of Istanbul

Istanbul has, since it's very early days, had a strong food culture.  It's a metropolis that satisfies the palate in every possible way with savoury and sweet snacks, fresh fish, the simple simit, juicy meats, rich royal stews, strong coffee and a vast assortment of vegetarian delights, some straightforward, others very intricately crafted.

As a visitor you will inevitably be bombarded by swarms of waiters and restaurant owners, waving menus and promising the world on a plate.  These chaps have good hearts and are worth a chat but they should really take a more passive approach to promoting their businesses, letting their food do the talking and keeping their mouths shut.

Istanbul is vast in both land and population and there are thousands of places to find something to eat.  In fact, a very popular tourist advice website has almost 11,000 restaurants listed for this remarkable city.  As a first time visitor it's almost too much to take in and the chances of finding something worthwhile are a bit like winning the lottery.  Don't get me wrong, rambling the streets and searching for a bite to eat is very much a part of what it is to travel. 

If you feel like a day off; try one of my favourites below.  Also make sure you taste the beautiful creation that is Baklava.  It's not on my list because you can get hold of it all over the city.

The Boozy Prune's 'TOP 10 Flavours of Istanbul'

1) Tavanarasi - seek and you shall find 

Off Istiklal Caddesi, the road that takes you from Taksim Square down to the Galata Tower, is my favourite spot for a bit of peace and quiet in a never-ending city.  On the corner of Asmali Mescit and Sofyali Sokak look up at the building tops and find the row of flowers.  Enter the building (messy world map on your right), take the lift to the 6th floor, and get ready.  Great food, in a trendy but peaceful environment - don't miss the Köfte.  

2) The Set Ustu Tea Garden  

Below the madness of the Topkapi Palace, the colourful gardens of Gülhane Park offer a bit of calm for weary Istanbullus.  If you walk to the North-East corner you will find the Set Ustu Tea Garden, with it's wonderful views of city and water.

3) Kadi Nimet Balik - a little Asian fish? 

Most tourists base themselves in Sultanahmet, the old part of the city close to the Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque, in hotels with rooftop terraces overlooking the Sea of Marmara.  This is a pretty good idea on many levels, one being easy access to the city's ferries.  The trip to Kadi Nimet is an adventure in itself.  Hop on a ferry from Eminönü to Kadıköy (on the Asian side).  On arriving at the dock walk inland and follow your nose up to the fish market (ask if need be), where you'll find Kadi Nimet.  They are very popular but take a chance, and wait a little.  You will be rewarded with great fresh fish and seafood, as you'd expect.

4) Vefa Boza - an acquired taste    

Near the Süleymaniye Mosque, almost under the Byzantine Aqueduct, off Cemel Yener Tosyali on Vefa Caddesi, Vefa Boza produces a strange concoction called Boza.  A mix of fermented Bulgar wheat, water and sugar, this fizzy, custard-like drink (with a sprinkle of cinnamon) has been cherished by locals since 1876.

5) Ethem Tezçakar Coffee - for the good stuff 

The coffee here is out off this world and with it's setting on the busy Halicilar Caddesi, in the Grand Bazaar, a stop here is something very special.

6) Namli Gurme- the deli with the difference

This deli, in Karaköy, is on my list for it's food and not for it's service.  It's a lunch stop for business people and locals wanting a quick bite to eat.  Sauntering around, getting in the way, is not going to win you any friends here.  It's a help yourself sort of place where you ask for what you want up at the counter, take your number and find somewhere to sit.  If you're lucky enough to corner a friendly waiter (like Fevzi) the process will become a lot easier and your food options will become as clear as day.  Everything is fresh and fantastic but the köfte and kebabs are stupendous.   

7) Sip a beer on the Galata Bridge and watch the world go by

The Galata Bridge is the epicentre of Istanbul's energy.  Lined with a school of fish restaurants along it's lower level and overlooked by fisherman along the top, with gigantic trawlers dodging little fishing boats, the city smells, the call to prayer, the rush, all of your senses are stimulated.  What a perfect setting for that sundowner. 

8) Erzincanli Ali Baba - the bean King

Rushing into a restaurant, shouting Fasulye Pilau (beans, rice) is an everyday occurrence for Turks all over the country.  Erzincanli Ali Baba, situated on a courtyard that overlooks the Süleymaniye Mosque, makes the best Kuru Fasulye around.  A great value and wholesome lunch with a kick.  

9) Kybele Hotel       

Sultanahmet has more restaurants than carpet shops which is no mean feat, but a lot should sadly be avoided.  Tequilas, thumping tunes and toasted tuna mayo's, not really something worth supporting.  The Kybele Hotel is the areas shining light in more ways than one.  Each floor oozes tranquillity and if you're in need of a little serenity this is a good place to be.  They also have an extensive menu that covers all the bases with some good international comfort food and a lot of well done Turkish fare.

10) Çiya Sofrasi - worth the trip

Like Kadi Nimet (number 3 on my list) Çiya Sofrasi is in Kadıköy, on the Asian side.  This place has well and truly been discovered by the tourist brigade, which is not that surprising.  It's a fantastic eatery that serves up dishes from all over the country.   


Sunday, 4 May 2014

Ceylan Cafeterya - the Queen of Gözleme

The number of restaurants on the main street leading into Çirali is a little overwhelming.  The apparently essential indoor fireplaces of all of these establishments are very similar but the quality of food varies greatly. 

A Gözleme is a pastry (slightly pancake-like) dish that is filled with meat, cheese, spinach or potato.  They're a great, cheap snack, perfect for a lunchtime refuel.  You find them all over Turkey; tourist-friendly with a bit of added showmanship.  Normally made-to-order, with the dough being rolled out, filled and then cooked over a big, hot dome.  Ceylan's 'grandmother goose', for want of a better title, is ranked number 1 in the world (in my opinion).  Her Gözleme's are fantastic and she even does a few sweet options with chocolate, honey and banana or combinations thereof.  You can obviously also get the standard Turkish fare like kebabs or meatballs but for something different ask to see what home-cooked local dishes they have. 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Hotel Villa Monte

I've written before about Çıralı.  It's one of those places where if you stay long enough there's a good chance you'll never leave.  Luckily you won't find any big hotels or resorts here.  Even though there seems to be quite a bit of development on the go, it is all in line with the general ethos of the place - staying as natural as possible, not overpowering the environment.   

Hotel Villa Monte is incredibly popular and for good reason.  The owners and staff make you like part of the family.  They honestly would do anything for their guests and are very proud of everything they do and the amazing place they've created.  Özen, the head-chef, gardener and chief bag-carrier has a genuine talent in the kitchen and in front of the barbecue.  The amazing thing is that it not only is the number 1 place to stay in Çıralı, it's the number 1 place to eat as well.  Breakfasts here are an occasion and poles apart from anything else you're likely to encounter in Turkey.  The dinners though, are where Özen really expresses himself.  Mezes packed with flavour, soothing soups, rich stews, delicious barbecued meat and fish, some complex and interesting vegetarian dishes and desserts that seal the deal.


Bestami - Safranbolu's best

Safranbolu has a few places to eat that offer quality local food.  Zencafil and Hanim Sultan are 2 worth trying but the absolute must visit restaurant is Bestami, near the metal-workers street.  If you arrive and find it completely empty, walk around the corner and down the hill and pop your head into the kitchen where you'll probably find the husband and wife owners rolling out some Manti.  This Manti, or tiny ravioli that is filled with spiced meat and served with yoghurt, dried mint and chili, is absolutely delicious and done just right at Bestami.  Their gozleme (or turkish filled pancake) is also good.  In fact, everything they do, is without flaw.   


Safranbolu - a look at the Turkey of yesterday

In the Black Sea Region of Turkey, North of Ankara (the bustling capital), lies Safranbolu.  The world heritage town is famous for it's traditional Ottoman architecture, has some interesting local cuisine and somewhat magically takes you back in time, which is wonderfully refreshing in a country that is modernising at an alarming rate. 

A bit of Turkish language comprehension will come in handy and it's not the sort of place you'll find a happening bar with beers and cocktails.  Sitting on a corner with a cup of tea in hand, watching elderly men negotiate their age-old cobbled route down to the mosque, here you don't get pamphlets with tourist activities on offer.  It's all about getting lost on the streets, absorbing the atmosphere and embracing the way a place that initially feels so frighteningly foreign, can start to feel like home in no time at all.