Thursday, February 23, 2012

Çiğdem, Istanbul to Agora in the District

Over the weekend I went to brunch at Agora, which specializes in Mediterranean cuisine. It's a pretty good brunch deal, all you can eat and drink for thirty bucks a head. Though, I must say, all you can eat only goes so far. I ordered two dishes and by the time I finished the first I was too full to eat the second! But what I did have room for was, of course, coffee.

Since Agora specializes in Mediterranean, I decided to order the Turkish coffee. I have only had two Turkish coffees before this, both of which were in Istanbul. Let's talk about those first.

The first was at a little pastry shop named Çiğdem right in the center of Istanbul. I love finding cut local joints to grab a cup of coffee at every morning while I'm traveling. It's a great way to witness cultural norms. Finding a good place on day one is key, because if you go back a few times during your visit, the shop owners will get to recognize your face and it often leads to great conversations with the locals.

Fitting in with the locals as best as I can is my delight while traveling. I don't need fancy accommodations and views, as long as I have conversations and can share some smiles. Wanting to be a local while being a tourist, however, does present some challenges, like which souvenirs to get. Obviously that's important. A while back I started collecting dishes instead of trinkets. When I would go to a restaurant I liked, especially when the name of the restaurant was printed on the dish, I would ask if I could take one home with me and usually they would dish one out. Ba-dump. So on my trip to Turkey I decided to continue this collection and I picked up a little coffee saucer from Çiğdem.

Çiğdem's coffee was to die for. If you're not familiar with Turkish coffee, they are the size of an espresso but are brewed with the grounds directly in the water, which are then poured into the tiny espresso cup. You have to let it sit for a minute or two, otherwise you will drink all grounds and no liquid, ick. Once they settle, you sip the tiny drink and the flavor is so rich and the coffee heavy, having higher than average levels of suspended material in the brew.

The second Turkish coffee I had was in a small, shack-like hotel lobby in Istanbul with a man who claimed to have studied with a witch for three years. I'm not making this up folks. When I finished my Turkish coffee he took the cup and flipped it over on the saucer. The water that is left soaked in the coffee grounds is supposed to drip out that way, leaving patterns that he could then read to predict my future. The problem was, I drank every last drip of my coffee because I loved it so much, so even after we left the cup sitting upside down for five minutes, no designs were made. Guess my future is just unpredictable.

Afterwards, I was beckoned over to a small table next to us by a man who clearly looked like he was a member of the mafia. I sat down. He taught me how to play a very difficult game called Dama using checker pieces, but it takes thought and concentration like chess. It was extremely difficult to learn, especially since we weren't really able to speak to each other. But I got the hang of it eventually.

And now, finally, my third Turkish coffee right here in D.C. It was brought on a golden tray to the table and it actually felt like I was back in Turkey for a minute. It even came with a Turkish delight on the side! Though I don't particularly care for the candy, it was a nice touch.

It really was delicious! Similar to an espresso, same potency, but the flavor is slightly spicier with a deep, sweet bite. I even made sure this time to leave enough liquid in my cup so that when I flipped it over there were plenty of designs to read. In them I saw an Easter bunny holding an egg and a Volcano; I 'm not sure what either of those mean. Maybe I should go and study with witches for a few years.

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