Monday, May 28, 2012

The Path to Pondo's

One of the best things about being in Turkey is that we have found ourselves back amidst the backpackers. Don’t get me wrong on this. Nepal, India and Tanzania were all incredible.  Our fabulous experiences in those places couldn’t have happened without approaching them as we did.  But now we’re back to the part of our plan where we have no plans, and having no plans and being surrounded by loads of people with the same “non-plans” is rather fun indeed. 

The night we arrived in Turkey we were fresh off 24 hours of travel and had been awake for nearly 35.  We were not exactly fit -- in energy level, state of mind or appearance -- to be super social.  But when you’re back in “Backpacker Land,” well -- it’s it’s kind of hard not to be social.  We got to our hostel, Bahaus Hostel, in Sultanhamet late in the afternoon, and the guys there showed us our room, a six-bed dorm.  We hadn’t been in a dorm since Thailand.  Whoa!  This is going to be fun!  Based on the looks of things, it appeared we were sharing our room with two guys in a bunk bed to our right and two very clean people, presently absent and leaving no visible evidence of who they might be, in the bunk bed to our left.

We went out in search of a suitable nearby dinner with hopes to meet some of these people before returning and going to bed early.  After dinner we met guys to our right.  They are Aaron and Santiago, both from the USA.  Little did we know upon this initial meeting that within 24 hours these two would be on the short list of the best people we’ve met on this trip.  They were traveling in Istanbul having just finished up studying in Dubai.  They were taking the long way home.  They were to be traveling together until mid-June when Santiago will return to his hometown, Miami.  Aaron’s plan is to meet up with his sister and check out the UK and then go to Switzerland to follow through on some hiking and camping plans before going back to his hometown, Wichita.

We joined Aaron and Santiago on the rooftop terrace at our hostel for a bit of socializing before crashing for the next ten hours.  We’d been awake for almost 40 hours now, remember?  It was on the hostel roof that we met Tristan.  Tristan was departing in the morning, so we never really got to know him too well.  Nevertheless, Tristan is where the Path to Pondo’s begins… 

Tristan is a chef from Belgium. He was at the end of a five-day weekend in Istanbul seeking some restaurant-style “inspiration.”  As I recall, he found some.  During his stay, Tristan had taken Aaron and Santiago along to several of Istanbul’s restaurants he had wanted to find.  One place he did not take them but insisted they visit was Pondo’s.   Tristan described Pondo’s as the best cheesy breakfast one could ever experience.  Two mornings later, Aaron, Santiago, Michelle and I set out to find it. 

Aaron asked one of the guys who work at Bahaus for directions to the cheesy breakfast.  He happily wrote them out and explained how to get there.  The provided directions were of just the kind that make the whole backpacking lifestyle and something as simple as going out for breakfast such an adventure.  Where is Pondo’s?  Simple: You take the light rail toward Kabatas and go all the way to the end of the line.  Here get in a Taxi and ask to be taken to Baskiskh (and be sure to use the meter!)  When you get out of the taxi look for the eagle statue and walk down the street past the fish market.  Just beyond the fish market ask someone for directions.  It’s a small place but very well known.  Someone will know where it is.

We were VERY hungry by the time we finally set out to find this place, and we were pretty excited, too, after the way Tristan had described it.  We walked to the light rail station and, as usual in Istanbul, it took only about 30 seconds for a train to come by.  A smooth ride to the end of the line and, conveniently, there was a taxi queue there when we got off.  We hopped in a taxi, flipped on the meter and about seven minutes later were dropped off at a busy corner in Basitkas.

It was here that we got a little confused.  There was no obvious eagle statue but there were loads of locals around.  Aaron had picked up a bit of Turkish while he was here and was easily able to ask for directions.  He asked a merchant selling bread in the street if he knew the way to Pondo’s.  Of course he knew, and in about four seconds were back on track.  Then we noticed the eagle statue.  Perfect!  About 100 meters down the road we came upon another eagle statue.  Hmmmm… there had been no mention of multiple statues.  Now what?  We took a right as there appeared be several restaurants in that direction. Nope.  No Pondo’s.  Nuts!  That’s okay, Aaron just asked for more directions.  Back to second eagle statue and back to our first turn.  Ahhh, the fish market.  Yes! We’re getting closer!  What do you know…  there’s another eagle statue coming up. But alas!  Still, no Pondo’s.  Two more directions stops for a little fine tuning, and we were there! This place is as picture perfect as a “hole in the wall” gets.  Tucked in among several other attractive restaurant/cafés, this place was incredibly small and no noticeable sign outside.  In fact, we had already walked past it once on our search.

That's Pondo

The four of us sat down at one the four outside tables and soon there was Pondo himself, ready to take our order.  We actually have no idea if the name of the man running the place was Pondo or not.  For all we knew, Pondo is a style of Kaymak.  What I do know is that for the rest of my life I’ll never forget that morning in Istanbul when Pondo served us one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Mrs. Pondo adding honey to the kaymak

Kaymak and honey

colorful veggie tray

Don't those eggs look amazing

Pondo joined us for our picture

Aaron and Santiago getting excited over the cheesy goodness

Kaymak has a sort of cream cheese consistency, but it is softer and even creamier. It’s made from boiled buffalo milk.  Okay, so it’s kaymak with honey drizzled over it on one plate in front of me, a basket of bread off to the left.  In the middle of the table, a tray of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta cheese and next to that, a pan with buttery fried eggs still sizzling because the pan was so hot.  Mix it all together and you’ve got four happy people who in a very short time will no longer be hungry.  The entire breakfast was pretty much a delicious laughing fest while we tried different combinations of the all the fantastic food in front of us.  Who knew you could have such a good time eating cheese and vegetables?

So, do you want to join us next time at Pondo’s?!?  Here’s how you get there…

Lightrail to Kabatas (we came from Saltanahmet)

Taxi to Besiktas. When you get out look for this Eagle statue

 Turn left at the eagle and Walk to this eagle...

Keep walking...

Past the fish market, on your right...

Keep going past the next eagle statue (it looks like a seal from afar)

There's Pondo's on the left with baby blue door frame and red writing...

Look for the kaymak in the window...

During breakfast Aaron and Santiago described a few of the other food spots Tristan had told them about, including one with the an incredible lamb dish.  In fact, they decided for us that we would going there for dinner.   The path to this place is not documented in pictures but, unlike Pondo’s, it actually has a name and address. Siirt Seref - Buryan Kebap House - 4 Fatih, Istanbul.  We each savored an order of lamb and shared the rice and salad.  It was not quite the rollicking experience of Pondo’s, but it was a fun and memorable dinner with our new friends.

Perde Pilaf - Chicken, rice, and almonds in a pastry 

Turkish Salad

The lamb dish, buryan, cooked for several ours in an underground hole before we ordered it

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