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Aug 05
Monday
Features
Yedikule: An Istanbul Neighborhood’s Bitter Harvest

Sevki Kaplan in his vegetable garden, photo by Ansel Mullins
Foreigners living in Istanbul often say they love the place for its history, while some say it’s the people who make it special. We find life here mystifying for the unpredictable dialogue between the two, the way 15 million or so people reconcile their daily lives with this city’s rich past. To live inside this beautiful crash course is invigorating and, at the same time, a heartbreaking experience. Where else does the elegant silhouette of migratory storks cross a skyline of construction cranes busy laying a metro tube to connect two continents, a project whose progress was stalled by the unexpected discovery of one of the richest underwater archaeological finds ever, a lost port full of ancient boats filled with age-old cargo? Walking these streets, every day we see something so fabulous that it takes our breath away, just as we spot something around the corner threatening to smash it.

As we see it, no place showcases the beautiful impossibilities of Istanbul better than the vegetable gardens in Yedikule. Situated in the filled-in moats at the base of the 1,600-year-old Theodosian Walls along the southern flank of the Old City, these urban farms (known as bostans) form a green belt of neat gardens that are a touchstone in the local culinary world: Yedikule’s marul – romaine lettuce – is famous and even branded. So much about Istanbul can be told in a passing glance out of a cab window at shoddy apartment blocks, glitzy new gated communities, wide roads alongside crumbling Byzantine-era fortifications and then the sight of these mirage-like farms, fenced off with makeshift material running right up to the ancient walls. It’s a jarring introduction to this megalopolis but it has always kept us optimistic, hinting at what could be. For us, these gardens represent the wily, untamable spirit of the city itself.

The rest of this feature can be found on CulinaryBackstreets.com, here.

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