Disembarking in front of a sliver of land between the highway and the main street that holds some of the city’s most beautiful homes, painted pastel colors and hugging each other behind a dried up canal, I decided to take a walk uphill into the village to work up an appetite for lunch. The streets are steep behind the main part of the village, and quiet, with few human movements but plenty of stray cats. Up the hill, near trees and splintering wood houses, I felt for a moment that I had found an oasis away from the urbane. Not for long though, as both my stomach and my watch signaled lunch time.

I met a few other expat friends at Takanik Balik, a small fish restaurant that’s one of many along the same strip. I had been there before thanks to the expertise of those friends, who called it one of the best in the city, despite its simple appearance and streamlined menu. I was happy to allow them — with their superior Türkçe skills — to order: pureed eggplant salad with thick bread to start followed by what I called their “rainbow” salad — pickled beets, shredded carrots and cabbage, and corn on top of bright green lettuce — and a few types of freshly caught fish like cupra and monkfish. The fish came in its usual form for a balik restaurant — mostly intact and with little oil or flavoring; a little salt and lemon helped coax the flavor. A leisurely pace in both serving and eating the food at Takanik Balik aids digestion, and we left the restaurant satisfied. “I could eat that eggplant salad all day, every day,” said one friend, who has lived in Istanbul for four years. We all agreed, and promised to meet again for lunch at the same spot in the coming weeks.

“See you!” I waved goodbye to my friends and set off on foot alone, past the pink pastel “Barbie” house I named the first time I saw it, and crossed to the sidewalk that drops off abruptly into the waters of the strait. There is no railing, but every quarter mile or so, I would pass stone steps leading into the abyss. It was early spring, but some courageous young boys were dressed in their swim trunks, cautiously reaching their toes into the water. Many other people were out for a stroll, and men selling simit, a bagel-type bread snack usually covered in poppy seeds, carried piles of them on boards balanced on their shoulders and heads. Young couples sat on the concrete, hugging each other. Expensive yachts and dilapidated house boats rocked gently side by side, anchored close to the edge, and fishermen clustered in groups, often with their young sons at their sides. They pulled out tiny fish and added them to their bowls full of water and fish for sale along the walkway.

I wasn’t far from Ortaköy, another small but busy neighborhood on the strait, when I saw the clown fisherman. He was a burly man wearing billowing pants, one pant leg pink and the other lime green, that flapped back and forth in the wind coming off the water. He seemed less interested in fishing and more in people watching, just like me. He paced back and forth at the water’s edge, like a circus ringmaster awaiting his entrance, and once in a while drew back his line and cast it between the boats. He saw me looking at his peculiar outfit and actions; his wide handlebar mustache stretched with his smile, and I smiled back when I walked by.

Making my way into the center of Ortaköy, I got my bearings near the ferry dock that sits next to the Ortaköy Camii, a beautiful old mosque. A small outdoor market had been set up in the square next to the used book store that sells English books. I spent time weaving my way through the maze-like streets, perusing Ortaköy’s many outdoor jewelry stands in addition to its many shops that sell decorative tiles and glassware, including the popular souvenir called nazar, a blue and white circular piece of glass that Turks hang in their homes to ward off the evil eye. At one table I bought four of them, one large one for myself, and three smaller ones as gifts for my family in New York and California. You never know where the evil eye may lurk. I then stopped in another store and picked up ceramic bowls in various sizes, hand painted in teal and red, and made a mental note to return another day to buy a few. My eyes began to glaze. Eating and shopping, while recreational, can be exhausting, and I knew a waterside cup of çay, or tea, would rejuvenate my limbs after the long walk. A tiny glass, spoon and sugar cubes — the daintiness of Turkish tea made me feel ladylike. Hunger pangs taking hold, I dropped a few coins on the table and made my way to the potato stands. In an area near the road sit eight or ten stands selling the same thing, the food item that Ortaköy is famous for: the kumpir, otherwise known as a giant baked potato stuffed and topped with fantastic, surprising condiments.

Haggling for potatoes was not something I had practiced until my first time in Ortaköy. At least two people — man or woman — stood behind the counter at each potato stand, calling out and waving to anyone whose eyes linger for more than a moment.

“Best kumpir here?” “We give best deal now!” “Best Ortaköy kumpir here!” “Where are you from?”

Then began the price calls, “nine lira; eight lira now! OK seven!” and I’m sold.

They each offer the same toppings, and the same unbelievably huge potatoes. I walked to my seven lira seller, and he took a steaming potato almost the size of a football from an oven. After splitting it down the middle and roughly stirring up the insides with a knife, another potato was halved and half of its contents were piled on the other. He added the obligatory butter, cheese and salt, and then looked at me expectedly. I began to point: black olives, corn, onion, peas, shopped hot dogs, hot sauce, and yogurt. I only chose half the toppings on offer, some of which I couldn’t identify, like a purple whipped concoction they weren’t able to translate into English.

I paid, said thanks in Turkish — “Teşekkürler!” and made my way to the ferry dock. In Ortaköy, one can board a ferry that leaves every thirty minutes and takes a trip up and back down the Bosphorus. Carrying my potato, I settled into a seat on the top of the small ferrybot and paid my ten lira when the young boy in an apron came around to collect. I spooned small mountains of kumpir into my mouth, concentrating hard on the disparate flavors. Salty, tart, sweet, creamy, steamy — the kumpir is not for those with a sensitive palate.

Moving away slowly from the shore and turning in a circle, the ferry began its cruise northward. The sky had grown darker, the stars now visible and mingling with the lights strung from one side of the boat to the other. We passed the yachts and the wooden boats, the fish restaurants and the waterside mansions of Arnavutköy and chugged up the strait past Bebek, under the bridge and past the fortress, before turning around to head home. It all blurred together as the boat retraced my steps up the Bosphorus strait. The vantage point was different, and my belly was finally full.

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