An (Organic) American Girl in Istanbul

by guest blogger Holly Walck, Iyengar yoga  practitioner and teacher in Bethlehem, PA, and Istanbul, Turkey

What do you mean there’s no celery?

For several years now, I have had the good fortune to be Maria’s Yoga teacher.  Most Sundays we meet for two hours, with a few minutes spent to catch up on the week’s events before we begin.  That time helps me decide if we’re going to stick with the planned sequence or take a much-needed detour.  For example, if Maria tells me she has been traveling all week, I’ll teach her supported poses, which are deliciously refreshing, instead of practicing unsupported backbends, which require a lot of energy and can be dehydrating.

The key to good yoga teaching is adaptation: As teachers we have to see the students in front of us clearly and make adjustments based on observation skills cultivated over the years. I have recently had to call on the powers of adaptation that I developed from yoga teaching after I moved from Pennsylvania to Istanbul, Turkey, and learned to cook food for my family that is both (a) seasonal and (b) local.

I became a chef at 5 years old. I clearly remember rides on the back of my dad’s bike to the local 7-11 on a Saturday morning. After we’d make the trip home, I’d sit on the kitchen counter, watching him fry the eggs “dippy-style.” It was one of my first conscious culinary experiences to take the dry, white toast and soak it in the salt and pepper–infused runny yellow yolks. By 12 years old I was making my own variation on the theme des oeufs: scrambled and oozing with American cheese and crispy bacon bits on whole wheat toast for lunch at my Nana’s house (shout-out to the Food Network for all the free cooking lessons that inspired my initial jaunts into la cuisine).

In the (15!) ensuing years, I started practicing yoga, became a vegetarian, and, at Maria’s urging, began to buy only organic food (whenever possible) from my local grocery superstore.  I thought I was rocking the hip, organic-veg thing until this past spring, when I moved to Istanbul and couldn’t understand where all the celery and Swiss chard had gone. No longer was I climbing into my car and driving to that store where I could get (almost) whatever produce I wanted whenever I wanted. Asparagus quiche in August? Absolutely! Mango salsa in March? Most assuredly! I was now walking the (very hilly) streets of my neighborhood to the produce stand, where I had to practice what I had learned from yoga: the art of adaptation.

This lesson was learned when I went to buy the ingredients for our first dinner party in the new flat, when the homemade gnocchi with basil pesto sauce turned into a marinara with roasted eggplant and oil-cured olives. What I wanted (fresh basil), I couldn’t have (not in season), and it was oddly exhilarating to be told “no”! I had to learn to be absolutely present from a culinary perspective. What you see is what you get when your food source is what’s delivered from the local farms and bakeries. This means that as I hike the route that takes me to the bakery, then the cheese shop, and lastly, the produce stand, I let go of any thoughts regarding what I want to make for dinner and just buy what is fresh. I’ve stopped making a grocery list because it felt defeating when nine out of 10 items on it weren’t in season. I have learned to empty my mind and open my heart to what is, instead of hoping for what isn’t, and that has made all the difference in the world.


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8 Responses to An (Organic) American Girl in Istanbul

  1. Breeze August 2, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I live in the States but travel often to my hometown Istanbul. True many times you can’t find some ingredients if it’s not in season, however, if you go to the local weekly market (pazar), or an upper scale supermarket like Makro, you can find a lot of things. Also in Istanbul, there are several organic farmers markets where you can get fresh produce, even off season.

    Best 10 organic markets (in Turkish, but I guess you can figure it out)
    The one in Sisli (Sisli Organik Pazari) is a very good one.

  2. holly August 3, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    Breeze! I plan to go to the Sisli market this Saturday and ask the farmers some questions regarding their farming practices:-)
    Thanks for the links! Holly

  3. Nilgun Tuna August 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    To best use what is available in the markets, try cooking Turkish. The cuisine is very healthy and easy to make, with huge numbers of excellent vegetarian dishes, including the famous olive oil braised vegetable dishes, which are a course in themselves. Local ingredients give rise to local cuisines. Some really great Turkish cooking books are available both from American and British publishers.

  4. Shirin August 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    You are so lucky to have moved to my most favorite city in the world…I wonder if you’re finding any language barriers as when I dream of moving there, I always am faced with that fear. If I could eat Turkish food every day….I would..pesto be damned!! Congrats on learning to live the “turkish way”..a way in which we ought to all aspire (and why they have Starbucks on every corner now, is still a conundrum to me!).

  5. H T November 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    Ha ha, Turkey has preserved its roots. You cannot find a Starbuck’s on every corner. I have only seen two since moving here in September, and one was in the airport. 🙂
    I, too find it oddly refreshing to know that I can no longer get, say, fresh figs every day on my way home from work. I traveled outside of Istanbul where there were some fresh figs still being sold and it was as if I had found a rare gem. The new appreciation is very strengthening. 🙂

  6. Kristi June 4, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    Hi Holly,
    I stumbled across this guest post while searching for organic whole food stores in Istanbul . I am from Ohio ! Well have u had any luck finding organic stores there? I am in desperate need of chia seeds and raw organic coconut oil!!!! Thank u

  7. H T June 4, 2012 at 6:37 am #

    Hi Kristi. I, too, would love chia seeds! Let me know if you find some. I did find coconut oil, but it wasn’t raw. It was at Balya Organics (or something like that), about 14 oz. in a glass jar for 42 TL. I actually have a 16 oz jar from America and I’m leaving to go back home in a month. It has a few oz missing and was only opened last month. Let me know if you want it (I’d like some compensation, if you’re willing, because I’ll be re-buying some when I get home. I’m just too cheap to pay for the weight of American products in my check-in luggage.) Lol.

  8. eoneeone willy oscar August 8, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    I am a young Cameroonian in Cameroon I look for a farm in your country which can invite me for a training course
    I like the agriculture(farming) and the animals
    I can also cook, service(department), and the accommodation(hosting) I am available

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