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Guest blogger: Dolly Ahmad, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Food tourism is defined as “the exploration of food as the purpose of tourism.” It has recently started being considered an integral part of the tourism experience. What’s little known about it, though, is if you look the phrase up in the dictionary, you will find a picture of me. I’m holding some sort of Turkish food in my hand, face shining with a smile, somewhere in the streets of Istanbul. Yes, I am the long unknown mascot of food tourists across the globe and Istanbul is my kingdom.
All ridiculousness aside, there is something about food tourism that I find so thrilling. And it’s not that my whole life and reason for existence is about food when I am being a food tourist, or at least I hope. I like to think that it just means that when we food tourists embark on our adventures for the day, we like to designate a particular food as the end goal. At the end, however, the day was not about the goal; it was about the path taken to reach that goal. When I set out at 7am one morning in search for Kemalpaşa tatlısı, I ended up not liking the dessert. But that was not a failure of a day because the thing about food tourism is that it is not about the food under pursuit; that was just a fraction of the day’s adventure. It was about the friends I made by asking “want to wake up and get Kemalpaşa tatlısı with me?” It was about the shopkeepers and bus drivers to whom we talked in order to find a café that sold it. After finding the café, it was about the feel of the café’s quaint little street with the street cats playing and the elderly Turkish uncles having their tea. We food tourists are not just children chasing the ice cream truck just to eat the ice cream, but adults using ice cream as an excuse to run. Indeed, we are a tasteful and classy bunch of adventurers [gulps down an entire ice cream cone Homer Simpson style].
There is no place better for a food tourist than Istanbul with it’s, what I like to call, “cay [tea] culture.” Think about cay culture as the extreme opposite of fast food culture. It is about taking a break from your day and sitting down with friends instead of eating for convenience and speed. It is about dipping each piece of your morning toast into a different jam instead of slathering one type on the entire slice so it can be eaten on the go. It is about finishing off the meal with as many glasses of tea as it takes for the conversation to die down instead of pouring it in a to-go mug. (It is also about my professor coming in late to lecture so he could finish his tea). In short, cay culture is heaven for food tourist. While Turkey is not the country with an eminent cay culture, its one of the most unique. Its location across two continents lends a unique blend of European, Middle-Eastern, and Central Asian tastes to the cuisine.
With that, I begin my foray into the top 5 foods I have pursued in Turkey and the best locations to have them. Keep in mind as you read that this is not simply a list of foods, but a list of experiences.
1. Ortakoy Waffle by the Bosphorous
Here in the US, we traditionally have waffles for breakfast. In Turkey, you could have it for breakfast, but it’s a bit like having ice cream for breakfast. You would have a bellyache all day. This is not a limp, lifeless freezer waffle. This is a waffle topped with your favorite spreads, and you get to pick them. Think of your favorite ice cream flavors – now imagine them as Nutella spreads. Yup, it’s real. Now add your favorite fruits. You’re not done yet buddy; you still have to pick your favorite nuts and chocolate chips. Want share the bellyache with a friend? Have it served to you at a rooftop café in Ortakoy. Want to sit on the stair steps by the shore and eat it? Get it wrapped into a cone and grab it to go. That, my friends, is the Turkish waffle that calls to me in my dreams.
2. Ortakoy Kumpir
Now across from the waffles stands in Ortakoy are Kumpir stands. It’s traditional to get a Kumpir before and a waffle both when you visit the Bosphorous-side area, but hats off to you if you can stomach them both. What is a Kumpir you ask? Oh you know, you’re average baked potato. NOT. It’s anything but average; it’s a baked potato on crack. You know those award-winning potato and pasta salads that your aunt brings to family barbeques? Those are your options for the fillings. There are peas, corn, and other vegetable-y delights as well to balance out the fat if you dare. I was never a baked potato buff but my friends who were told me it is heaven. To be honest, I was usually too busy looking forward to the waffle when I was in Ortakoy to shower the potato with the love that it probably deserved.
3. Sahlep from in the Spice Bazaar
Honestly kids, forget about hot chocolate. Trust me and trade it in for an orchid-infused steamed milk drink with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. If it makes you feel better, think of it as white hot chocolate and chug it down. And thank me for introducing it into your life. This drink was my personal favorite and can be found year round in most cafés. I, however, far prefer to order it at on a cold day in the midst of a shopping expedition through the Grand Bazaar. Careful not to burn your tongue! It happened to my friend and she refused to drink it again. What a shame.
4. Eminonu Balikli Ekmek
Picture from baycc.org
Eating fish right after it is caught is only a dream for us chummy Midwesterners. Alas, we will always have to frozen fish imported from somewhere off of the East coast. In Istanbul, however, a town famous for its fishing, frozen fish is not an option. Especially when there are boats where you can buy freshly made fish sandwiches from. Even if you are not a fan of fish, which I am not, you have got to eat a balikli ekmek sandwich in Eminonu for the experience. Do it just because you will never get to eat fish so fresh. You might get to eat the eyeballs too if you’re lucky.
5. Maraş Dondurması by the Blue Mosque
I know you. You think that you’ve eaten ice cream. Listen buddy; you haven’t. You’ve only had the watered down, artificially flavored lifeless remains of what ice cream could be. You will only have experience ICE CREAM when you’ve had Maraş Dondurması. And you will only have experienced ice cream when you’ve had it on the courtyard of the Blue Mosque with the prayer call sounding and pigeons landing around you. Let me tell you what makes Maraş Dondurması special; it comes from a special region in central Turkey where the goats are sent from heaven (kidding about the last part) and is infused with mastic. Mastic is the same ingredient that gives chewing gum its chew, so as you can imagine, the Turkish ice cream has a very thick consistency. It stretches like melted mozzarella when you take a bite and, if you get it served on a plate, requires a fork and knife to eat. If you could only try one food in Turkey, his would have to be it. Try it as the traditional orchid or pistachio flavor, the better.
Guest Blogger: Lauren Andraski
I didn’t title my post with easily translatable Spanish, but with a few words in Basque, that translate to “Gracias, País Vasco” or “Thank you, Basque Country.” I could not have asked for a better place or better people to spend our first vacation with. Our original attempt to plan our trip for Semana Blanca was in vain, and kept changing from Barcelona to Florence to Nice to Bologna…until we finally asked our program director for advice, who suggested we go to Bilbao and San Sebastian. At that point, we were so frustrated with booking tickets that he could have suggested going to the US and we almost would have considered it.
Luckily, the US was not his suggestion and luckily we were willing to put up with an 11 hour bus ride to the northern-most part of Spain. We knew that we would spend the first part of the week in Bilbao, but feared going to San Sebastian because we heard news of intense waves and flooding on the news. When we would ask a Spaniard, they told us how terrifying the weather was only before proceeding to tell us that we have nothing to worry about. While in our hostel in Bilbao, the receptionist (probably the 9th person we had solicited advice from) reassured us that it was in fact very safe to travel there. Our minds were put at ease and we couldn’t be more excited to explore the basque country region!
Almost everyone says that the only reason to visit Bilbao is to see the Guggenheim Museum (pictured above). Despite only seeing it from the outside, we were perfectly content with the rest of our trip there. The first morning, I did my absolute favorite thing to do while traveling. I got ready early so that I could sneak away for my very necessary coffee (yes, I have an addiction. Let’s not talk about that). I like wandering around a new town and peering in coffee shops and wading through the ones that are too crowded and too barren until I find the one that is just right. There, I can strike up a conversation with the barista and ask for their suggestions of the best things to do in town.
San Sebastian has to be one of the best places I have ever visited. World famous for its cuisine and lovely beach, I would recommend a trip here to anyone. Though surely the beaches are nicer in the summer, they are also likely more crowded.
As promised, our friend from Bilbao invited us out with her friends for pintxos (pictured above) and drinks, where they introduced us to the term “bote,” which is where every person contributes a small amount of money in order to buy larger plates of food instead of individual servings. They also introduced us to the term “sobre la marcha,” which essentially translates to “play it by ear,” which was exactly what we did. We would wander around, see something pretty, sit and stare at it for half an hour, and do it again.
Everything in San Sebastian was wonderful. We stayed at a wonderful pension, Pension Goiko, where we met wonderful travelers, cooked wonderful food (eggplant and spinach pasta, to be exact), and spent time with wonderful people.
Guest Blogger: Alissa Dappas
After studying abroad or spending any time overseas, it’s safe to say that most travelers come back home itching topack up once again and head out for another adventure. I know this is certainly my situation. I have now been back in the United States for nearly a year, and I daydream constantly of the next places I want to visit and explore.
Although I (like most people) desire to travel again, it has become apparent that planning an overseas educational trip in an organized and well-budgeted way is easier said than done. With graduation approaching and no time left to study abroad for a second time, I thought my chances to travel in an educational type setting were long gone. Fortunately, I’ve recently learned about an opportunity for University of Illinois alumni that allows you to travel with fellow Illinois graduates, and like study abroad, learn something about the places you travel to. Through the University of Illinois Alumni Association Explorers Travel Program, you can relive aspects of your study abroad experience in new locations, or for those of you have not studied abroad before, now is your chance to take your Illini pride overseas!
As the graduation date approaches, I’m sure most seniors are constantly being asked, “So what’s next?” As terrifying as this question may be, there are different ways to go about giving an answer. Of course, the expected answers explain a summary of an upcoming job placement or potentially attending graduate school. As exciting as these things may be, don’t forget to talk about grander plans. What else will you do with your life post college years? Travel, perhaps? As an Illinois graduate, the Explorers alumni tour program is perfect for you! There is no certain age to participate, you can convince your friends to go with you while meeting fellow University of Illiniois alumni, the planning is done for you and prices are very reasonable. With diverse location options (Europe, Asia, Africa and more!), programs that offer educational components (recommended reading lists, guest lectures, professional tour guides, etc.), and comfortable stays in 4-5 star hotels, it will feel like an adult version of studying abroad. With 50-60 trips a year, there is something for everyone. Listed below are just a few examples of some upcoming travels! For more information, please visit http://www.uiaa.org/explorers/.
- Croatia’s Adriatic Coast
o Educational themes: Contemporary Croatia, Seafaring History, and Epicurean Croatia o Dates: June 2nd-14th o Cost: starting at $3,695
o Educational themes: Irish music and Dance, the history of Ireland and County Clare, Irish Seanchai, and Finding Your Irish Roots o Dates: June 22nd-July 2nd o Cost: starting at $3,295
- Paris Immersion Program
o Educational themes: Paris and its art, architecture, culture, cuisine, and history o Dates: August 20th-September 4th o Cost: starting at $3,995
- Undiscovered Apulia, Italy
o Educational themes: Italy’s Deep South, Lecce and Ostuni’s Architectural History, and Italy and Apulia today o Dates: September 23rd-October 1st o Cost: starting at $2,395
- Machu Picchu
Guest Blogger: Alissa Dappas
When it comes to learning a new language, there is only so much a student can get out of lectures and exams. To truly become proficient, conversation practice is essential. As a Spanish minor, I knew that my study abroad experience had to include as much language immersion as possible if I ever wanted to become a confident Spanish speaker. To achieve maximum language immersion, I decided to attend the study abroad program in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica because of its approved Illinois Spanish-credit classes and most importantly, because all students in the program had to live with a host family. Although I was extremely nervous about the concept of moving in with strangers for four months, I now consider my relationship with my host family to be the most rewarding aspect of my semester in Costa Rica.
Throughout my time spent abroad, my host family was my strongest and always-available support system. No matter what the situation or question, they were the people I turned to for help or guidance. I was lucky to live with a very caring host mom, Patricia, host dad, Ronald, and two younger host sisters, Diana and Priscila. Each member of my family took time to get to know me personally and as the semester went on, I began to realize that I really did consider them to be part of my own family. There was never one specific moment that made me come to this realization; I think it was simply a bunch of small things that built on top of each other. For instance, my host mom and I were normally the only ones around for breakfast, so every morning, I would begin my day by having a conversation with her while helping prepare the food, eating or cleaning the dishes. When my host sisters came back from school, we would play cards together or I would teach them how to do cartwheels in the backyard. We often bonded by talking about things we had in common (a mutual Harry Potter obsession was a hot topic) and laughing at my funny pronunciations of some words. After dinner, my host dad was my go-to person when I wanted to learn more about the Costa Rican government or general Latin American politics. He always seemed to know a bit about both sides of any story and usually knew more about the events or debates going on in the United States than I knew myself. So within this one family unit, I came to know each person as an individual and because of this, I learned more than I ever previously imagined I would. Besides being able to practice my Spanish with a group of people I was comfortable with, I was also able to create lifelong bonds and gain family members that belong to a culture different from my own.
Looking back, all four months with my Costa Rican family summed up to one huge lesson on the importance of time spent together as a family. Culturally, this is where I saw the greatest difference between the United States and Costa Rica. Although many people would argue that the idea of a strong family unit is still very important to most Americans, it would be hard to deny that the family dynamic in the United States is not influenced by parents’ work schedules, sports practices, tutoring, videogames, fast food dinners, etc. In Costa Rica, time spent together comes before most other obligations. And from what I’ve heard and read, it seems like this importance on family time is a central part of Latin American culture as a whole, and not just in Costa Rica. No matter my host parents’ schedules, they always made time each day to make a meal together and sit down as a family for dinner. Most days, the dinner was usually followed by a game played together or a conversation that carried over from the main meal to dessert or coffee. It was during these dinners and late-night conversations that we would discuss our days, hear about any problems my sisters were having at school or learn news about the extended family (who happened to live in all of the surrounding houses). During these moments, I learned more about life and the values of Costa Ricans and my family was able to learn about my life in the United States.
Slowly but surely, my new family impacted me in such a way that I now actively try to apply their family-centered, peaceful mentalities to my own life back in the United States. Not only did my Spanish conversation ability improve, but living with a host family also reopened my eyes to the more important things in life and that above all, the relationships that we have with our friends and family should come before everything else.