"If I have only one life to live, let me live it eating baklava at hacibaba"
SAVORING TURKISH DELIGHTS: How to Feel Like the Sultan’s Favorite By Antoinette May If I have only one life to live, let me live it eating baklava at Hacibaba.
Yes, it is that good, that wonderful. Hacibaba is the best restaurant in Istanbul. Surely their baklava with its rich double cream and marzipan flavoring must be the best in world.
Holding a tiny cup of
Turkish coffee in my hand, staring into
its rich depth, I
considered the sheer indulgence of
the meal I’d just consumed. It had been
barred dinner beginning with
mezes—small appetizers that included
stuffed grape leaves, marinated
mushrooms, stuffed mussels, and
slow roasted eggplant
topped with fried onions.
Istanbul—for a visitor,
anyway—is about indulgence.
Indulgence, pleasure, and
beauty. The sumptuous city is a feast
for the senses--all of them.
You know you’re in Turkey when you see the bath or hamam. This marble suite wasn’t built to impress anyone. The exquisite chamber of alabaster so intricately carved that it looks like lace was for the sultan’s own indulgence.
What is this Turkish bath thing? Though a little nervous at the prospect, I deter- mined to find out. Istanbul has hundreds of public baths, but I decided on the 300 year old Cemberlitas Bath frequented over the years by Florence Nightingale, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tony Curtis.
Following in Nightingale’s
footsteps to the female side, I was
greeted by a very
large woman in a tiny bikini. Her bra
was a “meet the public” concession.
The rest of
the staff wore only bottoms, the
patrons nothing at all.
The hostess handed me a
towel, clogs and a key, then gestured
a great leveler, I realized, dropping my
“Fatimah,” an attendant
announced, thumping her large
breasts by way of
introduction. She looked like a Sumo
wrestler. Fatimah’s hands were
strong, as she led me through great
arched doors into the domed bathing
Everywhere I looked I saw gleaming
white marble—floors walls, and
lining the walls where ornate
fountains spouted cool, refreshing
Seated on benches or lying on a round raised slabat the room’s center were perhaps a dozen women of every imaginable body type all totally naked.
Nudity is a great leveler, I realized, suddenly feeling overdressed.
Dropping my towel, I followed Fatimah to a marble basin where she proceeded To splash me down.
Now I know my car feels in the carwash. “Massage?” she asked, gesturing toward the wet slab. It was hot, but I obediently lay down. Above me, holes in the domed ceiling allowed sun beams to break the steamy veil.
As I lay on my stomach, Fatimah performed a series of high-pressure rubs and squeezes on my back, arms and legs. I felt like a trained seal as she pulled me about, flipping me over and sliding me across the soapy, slippery surface. It was unlike any massage I’ve ever had. Sometimes it hurt—like muscle being pulled loose from bone—but gradually I relaxed and my muscles loosened.
Finally Fatimah led the way to a low marble sink and plunked me down on a small bench. She dumped several bowls of warm water over my head and scrubbed my skin with a loofah-like thing as if trying to eradicate tattoos. She shampooed my head, soaped my body and rinsed me. At times the sight of those wildly swinging size 48 double D breasts of hers was disconcerting. I didn’t just close my eyes to avoid the soap.
Finally, she placed several bars of
soap that smelled of olive and laurel in
Adding water, she stirred and sloshed
and whipped the concoction into a
then lathered it over me. When this
final soap massage was over my
body felt like silk.
man’s world, the sultan who had as
many as 900
women from which to choose.
Unbelievably, one more pleasure waited. The Topkapi has a wonderful restaurant, second—in my opinion--only to Hacibaba. More than 100 years old, Konyah has a stunning View of the
Bosporus and an exciting menu—some of it based on original palace recipes.
Their piece de resistance is a lamb and eggplant puree topped with yogurt. The delicious dish is called hunkar begendi, meaning “the emperor liked it so much he fainted.” I believe it!
WHEN YOU GO To dial the phone numbers from the United States, precede them with 011-90-212
THE EMPRESS ZOE is named for the 11the Century empress who was one of the few women to rule Bysantium. The location is conveniently near the Sultanahne where you’ll want to spend most of your time anyway. Prices are reasonable, each of the 12 rooms is charming and the American owner, Ann Nevans, is one fantastic personal shopper Quite reasonable. Phone: 212/518-2504; faz: 212/518-5699
YESIL EV (or GREEEN HOUSE) is on the park between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. All 20 rooms are decorated in old fashioned Ottoman style. Excellent food is on the roof garden-- one of the best views in town Phone: 212/517-6785; fax: 212/517-5780.
PERA PALACE once the only place to stay for passengers arriving on the Orient Express. Mata Hari stayed there, not to mention the actress who portrayed her, Greta Garbo. Agatha Christie wrote “Murder on the Orient Express” there and you can still see her room. A little funky, but still an art nouveau treasure. A ride in the antique bird cage elevator is worth the price alone. Phone: 212/517-4560; fax: 212/517-4089.
THE ORIENT HOUSE
1) “Harem” clothes are still sold in the Grand Bazaar
2) The “washboard” at a Turkish bath
3) Marble looks like lace at the Dolmabahce Palace
4) A Topaki Tile
5) The sultan sat here—an intimate
nook in the Topkapi harem