From Istanbul Turkish Delights Mr. Hilat, Jewelry Chapter One


Jewelry takes people’s minds off your wrinkles. 
Sonja Henie

Adventure in the Grand Bazaar – oh, the danger we shall find! Magic silk carpets, copper teapots, exotic leathers and one of the very best of all, is the exquisite shop of Mr. Hilat, a rare artisan of gold and gems. Positioned upstairs in the maze of the Grand Bazaar, my guide can introduce you. 

Ring the bell and when approved, the unmarked door opens and you are ushered into a petite shop filled with exquisite jewelry designed and created by a master jeweler. Customary Turkish tea is served as we begin our conversation; again, as in my favorite hotel arrivals, the pleasantries are established, the prologue to the play.

Mr. Hilat, a distinguished and bohemian gentleman speaks only Turkish, your guide will translate; I spent an hour interviewing him and was granted a rare peek at jewels fit for an Empress. Despite the language barrier, he was charming and affable. His eyes sparkle as he describes his rise into his profession, his precious gems, what a charmer! I loved him after the first five minutes, a story teller, a man with history and passion. 

I encourage adventure, mystery and depth in travel, my visit with Mr. Hilat is a lovely example of adding layers to an escape. 

Mr. Hilat crafts gold in the designs of the ancient art of Anatolia, each piece is intricate and unique. He has lived in the area of the Grand Bazaar his entire life and at the young age of 12, was an apprentice to a master jeweler, in his own small workshop. He loves designing and the craftsmanship, he describes each piece as ‘his child’, always working in 22k gold, adding rubies, emeralds and sapphires to many pieces. He has opened his shop to the most discerning clientele since 1972. His necklaces, earrings and bracelets are based on classic historic Byzantine and Ottoman Empire designs – truly exceptional and exquisite.  On inquiring the price of a few select items, some were ‘not for sale’- he would know the right customer if they come in the door; other pieces were his children and ‘not for sale’, too precious. I can only imagine the price of the items I was not allowed to photograph, it seems, according to many Turks, that copying is a common problem.

The longer I lingered, the more treasures he shared; my guide whispered: he likes you! Young boys were instructed to fetch each piece from some hidden safe – I waited with anticipation and was rewarded every time with a more stunning piece of jewelry, works of art, really; all the while wearing a magnificent gold and diamond encrusted necklace and a 22k gold serpent bracelet. What a magical escapade with this genius of gems!  I succumbed to the charm of Mr. Hilat and the beauty of the gems, although the Empress gems remain in Istanbul in the hidden safe, I’m truly thrilled with my brilliant earrings of Byzantine design.

As a whimsical token of appreciation, Mr. Hilat pulled at a desk drawer and selected a bracelet composed of a leather strand and the infamous Turkish evil eye beads, he wrapped it around my wrist, tightened it and said never remove this bracelet, it will bring you great luck for the rest of your life…I would have also adored the gold serpent cuff on my left wrist, however, the adventure was a prezzie in itself! 

Thank you Mr. Hilat, you provided an endearing and lasting experience – a rare conversation with a modern day master artist. Linger, savor, meet the locals, learn, build deep layers into each and every journey!

From Istanbul Ottoman Cuisine Asitane Restaurant Chapter Two

Desire to dine like a Sultan?  

The city of Istanbul celebrates and preserves Palaces, gardens and mosques of the once reigning grand Sultans. Asitane Restaurant celebrates the cuisine of the Ottoman Empire. Located in the historic Edirnekapi district, sitting in the shadow of the Chora Church, famous for its mosaics and frescoes, the restaurant is famous for its classic recipes based on court cuisine. The Asitane terrace is summer dining heaven, the garden is perfect for lunch or dinner; the dining room looks like a cozy spot for winter, but the garden is the ideal spot for alfresco meals.

In the thirteen years that it has been open, Asitane Restaurant is now able to boast an impressive archive comprised of over 200 forgotten sweet and savory recipes, which are prepared in keeping with the cooking methods of 500 years ago.

Nearly one hundred recipes had to be discarded or modified in order to either suit today’s modern palate, or simply because the ingredients no longer exist in this day and age. The menu now features dishes originally prepared for the sumptuous celebration feast given for Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s two sons, Bayezid II and Þah Cihangir, at Edirne Palace in November 1539.

Extensive research was undertaken in the kitchen registries from the archives of Topkapý and Dolmabahçe Palaces were scoured for recipes, and relevant documentation was found in Istanbul’s Beyazýt and Millet libraries. Additional important sources of information for the duration of the preparation period were dug up using old Ottoman dictionaries, the written historic accounts of various statesmen, medical practitioners and soldiers.
The historic aspect is amazing, and the task of recreating these recipes seems insurmountable, but Asitane manages to make Imperial cuisine absolutely divine! Lucky diner me, a new friend in Istanbul took me to dinner here and the owner sat down for a glass of wine and ended up sitting for dinner…thus, I tasted a wonderful medley of delicious menu items- chef/owner tasting menu!  Almond soup, which sounds like an odd dish, was delicate and smooth as silk and a perfect starter. Little bites of chicken dishes, classic pilaf, red mullet fish stuffed and steamed en papiolette, saffron almond rice, shepherds salad…each dish was beautifully presented, staff is polite and fun, all enthusiastic about the uncommon idea of using recipes from ancient manuscripts.
In a funny the world is small moment, all the chefs came to our table to be introduced… SF A16 chef is now the head chef at Asitane, now how small world is that? Modern SF chef preparing Ottoman cuisine half way across the world!
Make a date in Istanbul to visit Asitane- every bite is excellent, each dish photo worthy and the wonderful wait staff will make you feel like royalty! Imperial Cuisine reigns in Istanbul, all is good in the empire of Asitane.