Kees Elfring

Smelling Spices

Last june/july I spent six weeks in the middle east. Istanbul-Amman. Curiosity about other cultures, an 'escape' from patterns in daily life and a lifelong interest in the local cuisines were the driving force to close my restaurant ( Marius) for the summer and just go. I didn't research everything, I didn't book anything. Just followed my nose.


Smelling Spices - Image by Redandre .

Istanbul was the first 'port' of call.

Several times on the wishlist for previous trips, now finally for the first time, and what a great city it is. Bustling, exotic at times, modern, dynamic and connected most often. The Grand Bazaar and later even more the souq's in Aleppo and Damascus made me realize that we have taken all the fun and emotion out of our shopping experience in the western shopping centers and malls. What a great experience! And why don't they exist elsewhere? I want more markets and small retailers!

Out of the many meals I had, the lunch on the Asian side in restaurant Ciya Sofrasi in Kadikoy was the best.

Situated in the middle of a market, it offered clean immaculately seasoned mezzes, some great Turkish pizzas and beautiful kebabs in 3 different outlets one street intersection. The expensive and fancy restaurant Mikla on the top floor of the Marmara Pera hotel was interesting but the dishes I tasted were too compromised towards globalized fancy restaurant-food.

After a detour via the Turkish coast I headed for Eastern Turkey.

I will never forget Erzurum, Kars and Gaziantep as city's and the Kackar mountains and Ani ruins as the main features I visited. I had two remarkable meals, one was at Hacibaba restaurant in Erzurum: the best doner and Imam Cagdas in Gaziantep for baklava and kebab.

An exciting bordercrossing into Syria and 3 wonderful days in Aleppo brought me to the great city of Damascus.

Here I met up with Abir Boukhari, initiator of All Art Now and Mediamatic Guide. Without imposing on each other it was a wonderful way to have a 'friend' in a very foreign city. Just showing me around to things she is involved in, and talking about how things work and not. She introduced me to some of her friends and by visiting the sculptor Mustafa Ali, I got myself the best sleeping pad possible: a simple room in a wonderful old house in the heart of the old city, surrounded by beautiful art. 300 Metres through the incredible maze of the old city from Ali's artcenter is the best restaurant of the middle east: Naranj. What a great and professional restaurant this is.
It is a large downstairs room in a courtyard of an old house with a sliding roof over top.
Left from where you enter there is more streetlevel seating. Total capacity inside probably over 200 people and on the roofterrace another 80 or so.
The interior is quite modern but with plenty of Middle Eastern details for the exotic atmosphere. Tables are set with linnen and comfortable chairs and there is a large open kitchen. Staff is beautifully dressed in white golden embroidered 'robes' with little hats and also kitchen and cleaning staff each have their own outfit. The menu is huge with a great choice in authentic dishes.
This is the kind of place where it really is nice to be with 6 or 8 people to share the food with. I was only by myself and tried to eat as much as i possibly could in 4 meals.