The weather had turned warm in Istanbul. It was spring, the season after the one that sends uninviting gusts of wind off all three bodies of water that grip the city like fingers. Spring, the season before the one where the weather turns so hot it prohibits activities that draw crowds, the air filling with an uninviting combination stench of human sweat and Turkish spices. A spring day, perfect for combining my two favorite Istanbul pastimes in my favorite locale: walking and eating along the Bosphorus shore.

Many people visit Istanbul without ever leaving Sultanahmet, the historic district that sits on a peninsula that juts between the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn. I remember spreading out a map before I arrived; studying the names of neighborhoods and streets in the city I was about to call home, but where I hadn’t yet been. I traced my finger up from Sultanahmet into Beyoğlu, past Taksim Square, and then along the European shoreline of the strait that divides the city in two. On and on, past what my New York-trained mind would classify as suburbs. I learned that it was all actually part of the city, as the urban sprawl had long ago crept north into what were historically small fishing villages, sweeping its border halfway to the Black Sea. I always enjoyed venturing far north, losing myself in places where few other expats or tourists think to go, exploring the Bosphorus villages, their distinct characters and culinary offerings.

The day was to start, as most days should, with breakfast, but not before an hour-long scenic bus ride up the coastline to Sariyer. Part of a larger district of the same name, Sariyer is a town that doesn’t appear on most tourist maps or garner a mention in typical guide books, but it is famous with Istanbullus for its börek. After maneuvering our way around the traffic circle in Taksim Square and down the hill toward Besiktas, we rolled down past the stadium that hosts games for the Beşiktaş futbol team, one of three that compete almost year-round to the joy of fanatical spectators. The first view of the Bosphorus strait came into view as we turned left onto the main thoroughfare that leads up the coast past the opulent DolmabahçePalace and the upscale hotels that line the shore, and into the sleepier villages northward. It’s easy to lose oneself staring out the window and across to the Asian side; soon we had arrived in Sariyer and I floated off the bus and made my way to the famous Tarihi Sarıyer Börekçisi, a casual place that — like many small restaurants in Turkey — had only one thing on the menu.

I’d been nervous to try börek when I first arrived in Istanbul, innocuous though it appeared in both its more popular variations — either watery-looking thick noodles or flaky brown, layered pastry — mostly because I’d been scared by descriptions of some other Turkish “delicacies,” like midye dolma (mussels stuffed with rice) or Kokoreç (lamb’s intestines).But then su börek (the watery kind), bland but warm and mixed with salty white peynir (cheese), had become my favorite breakfast dish; it became something to look forward to when waking early on cold winter mornings. If there were a similar phrase in Turkish to the one we use in English when we say something “sticks to the ribs,” I’m sure the Turks would use it to describe börek.

In the Sarıyer Börekçisi, I made small talk with the smiling counter boys and watched them use a tool much like a meat cleaver to quickly divide my portion of su börek into bite-sized pieces, before stuffing it in a plastic dish and wrapping it all up in brown paper like fish ‘n’ chips, darkened spots spreading as the paper made contact with the grease inside.

I walked through Sariyer, eating my su börek with a tiny plastic fork. Fluffy, salty, thick, it warmed me from the inside out as the morning chill came off the water, a wind just strong enough to rock the splintering boats in the harbor back and forth. In the tiny ships were tanned, leathery older men in dirty clothes, inspecting their masts and pulling metal boat innards out to clean. Many of these men live in their boats, making a modest living as fishermen but are unable to afford proper housing. After a loop through the marina, I made my way back to the center of town. In the main square, or meydan, which sits on the water and has a pink and white mosaic fountain at its center, there were tables set up with local people selling their homemade wares — knit children’s booties and sweaters, beaded bracelets, and ruffled white linens. I tried on jewelry and made small talk with the sellers, using as many Turkish words as I could muster, and compromising with gestures and laughter when my vocabulary didn’t suffice. A man behind a table of junky knick-knacks and old costume jewelry asked me where I was from, “Germany? No, no, Holland…maybe Ireland?” I always got the same questions and comments from venders in the Grand Bazaar or shops in my neighborhood, Cihangir, and was always impressed by a salesman’s uncanny ability to identify my ancestral heritage. I bought a pair of clip-on earrings for my mother and made my way around to each table before waving goodbye to Sariyer. Görüşürüzis the most common way to bid farewell in Turkey, its literal meaning being an open-ended “see you,” which is common for English-speaking expats to say to one another to accompany cheek kisses or when hanging up the telephone.

My lunch destination was Arnavutköy, a neighborhood part of Istanbul proper and one of the aforementioned former fishing villages whose name translates to “Albanian Village” because of the Albanians who settled there after Fatih Sultan Memet conquered Albania in the fifteenth century. I caught a dolmus — a minibus — on the main drag of Sariyer, near the ferry dock and the tiny children’s amusement park with its miniature Ferris wheel and spaceship ride. The dolmus sped along the Bosphorus, past the edge of the Belgrade forest and under the Fatih Sultan Memet Bridge, one of two in the city that allow vehicles to drive from Europe to Asia. We passed the castle-like Rumeli Hisari fortress and its cemetery, and then on through Bebek, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Istanbul (whose name is also the Turkish word for “baby”) with high-end shopping and cafes lining the main thoroughfare. Beyond the glitz of Bebek, the modern mansions on the hillside turned older and the shoreline calmed.

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