Selin loves to cook. She’s been doing it her whole life. She especially loves to cook for others, introduce them to the Turkish cuisine. The social side of it, the chatting and enjoying copious amounts of wine: this is Selin’s world. A world centred in Istanbul and her large kitchen on the Asian side of the Turkish metropolis.
Today, 50-year-old Selin is late. Once again, she was talking to her favourite baker for too long, missing her ferry to Europe. Her morning route to work (Selin doesn’t call it work) is beautiful, leading from Asia to Europe, across the Bosphorus. A symphony of seagulls and the smell of fresh tea greets her every day, when it goes from the district of Kadiköy directly into the centre of the lively spice bazaar on the European side.
Selin knows her way around the bazaar so well that she could probably draw them from memory. The bazaar knows Selin, too. Everybody greets her and offers her samples, she has a gossip here and there. Along colourful bazaar stalls and ever-spicier smells, Selin sneaks into her favourite shop, where her chefs-in-training are already waiting for her.
Nobody even notices that she’s late, since everyone is busy trying and smelling spices, washed down with hot apple tea. Outside the shop, it gets louder. The morning silence thins out slowly, making way for excited liveliness. Shouting, laughter. This is what brings Selin the feeling of home.
She takes the group off into a different home, after the last cinnamon has been sniffed. They go back to Asia by ferry, to Selin’s actual home.
She has been living here for years in one of the tallest residential buildings, with a good view of the neighbourhood in Asian Istanbul. Selin’s flat contains history.
It’s the type of flat that has to belong to a woman who has travelled a lot and has a lot of stories. The shelf is packed with hundreds of books: historical, modern, novels, travel guides and, obviously, cookbooks. There are also little treasures gazing outwards.
At home at Selin’s, in the heart of Turkey
“My parents always brought back new things from their travels,” Selin explains, almost as if embarrassed by it. She doesn’t have to be, though, as they fit the rest of the flat perfectly; the antique furniture, the Turkish accessories and the many books, which every visitor regards wide-eyed.
For 10 years – since 2006 – Selin has been trying to pass on the cuisine of her homeland and the local way of life. With her tours through Turkish cuisine and culture, she gives all visitors to Istanbul, tourists and Turks alike, a piece of local hospitality to take with them, be it a walk through the spice market, a ferry trip to Asia or a cookery course in her own kitchen. Selin loves turning strangers to friends, even if just for half a day.
The kitchen is big enough for everyone. Each person has a space, a board, a knife and an apron. Selin gives her first instructions. She could recite her set menus in her sleep and probably cook them, too. Whether its pilav, dolma, börek, kebab, tavuk or baklava. Whether its lamb, meat or simply yoghurt. She puts the recipes together herself, making sure they are very Turkish.
The Istanbul behind closed doors
The noise of the nine knives cutting the carrots, peppers and onions perfectly fits the Turkish music playing softly in the background, giving the lesson a special atmosphere. It feels very homely, like an evening of cooking with friends – which is exactly what Selin aims to evoke. She lifts the glass. “Serefe!” she calls – Cheers! – and the glasses of Turkish red wine clink over the numerous ingredients of the six-course menu that the lady of the house wishes to cook today.
Selin knows her patrons well. “They’re all the same,” she says, referring to the groups who come into her kitchen. There are the overzealous, who chop onions so quickly that they need a new task every five minutes. Then there are the schmoozers who need everything explained and show so much interest that Selin barely has time to cook herself. And then there are those who just want to meet her, learn about Turkish cuisine and sniff around in her cooking pots. This makes for a colourful group of people who don’t just want to cook, but also get to know the Istanbul behind closed doors.
Her favourite part of a day like this is when the vine leaves, stuffed aubergines, köfte meatballs and salad are finally on the table, and all the participants get together and toast to a very special day in Istanbul. A city where the calls of the muezzin and traffic noises go together so well that you could almost call it music. A city that is as unique as the characters that live here. Just like Selin, who’s taken it upon herself to show participants her daily life. At the end of the day, everyone gets a recipe book and a tote bag with Selin’s logo – Turkish Flavours.
A farewell glass of red wine
With one last swig of red wine, Selin brings the day to a close. Her group is already on their way back to Europe, sitting on the plastic stools of the ferry. Probably nursing glasses of warm apple tea, with a view of the vast Bosphorus. Just like tomorrow morning, when she goes to the bazaar to pick up more people eager to catch a glimpse into her life, with all the flavours that she – and Istanbul – have to offer.