Mr. Chairman Goes to Istanbul - Global Trade Magazine
  September 28th, 2012 | Written by

Mr. Chairman Goes to Istanbul

The man behind the Navy chair suggests what to eat and where to shop during your next trip to Istanbul

I traveled to Istanbul for the first time in April of this year, arriving in the evening at the House Hotel right on the Bosporus. The Bosporus is the Strait of Istanbul that runs between the European and Asian sides of the city, connecting the Aegean Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. The Hotel House is an historical mansion built in the 19th century and converted into an understated yet elegant small boutique hotel (thehousehotel.com).

This hotel is located in Ortakoy—a lively get-together area with small cobblestone streets, many cafes and traditional Turkish breakfast places. I took a stroll down the cobblestone street to check out the spectacular, brightly lit Bosporus Bridge, with  lights turning blue and yellow and red again.

I thought of Istanbul as a warm climate, so nothing could have surprised me more than a snowfall! Later that evening, I was more even amazed to be serenaded by a collision of pounding hip-hop from the streets and the call to Islamic prayer from the local mosque. At that moment, I truly felt like this was a foreign place, where east meets west and the past meets the future.

My favorite way to explore a city is by running, so the next morning I got up before dawn to get in a little adventure before my business day began. I inquired at the front desk for directions to a good place to go jogging and they looked at me like I had lost my mind. I headed out into the cold and started running along the bank of the Bosporus on the European side toward Rumeli Castle, passing through the town of Bebek. At first I ran by humble cafés and fishermen waiting for their daily catch and then the neighborhood quickly transitioned to beauty salons, gyms, bars, luxury car dealerships, private villas, yachts and, of course, Starbucks. It was as if I were running along the California coast through Newport Beach or Corona Del Mar. The run was farther than it looked on a map, and I ended up with a round trip distance of about 15K. I got back to my hotel exhausted and running late for the day ahead, but I had already seen so much!

How Bazaar Aggressive vendors and wide-eyed shoppers from around the world converge on Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

I try to live like a local when I travel to new countries, observing the old saying, “When in Rome, Do like the Romans,” especially when it comes to food. Turkish cuisine is delicious; fresh, flavorful, spicy and healthy. I was never disappointed with any of the Turkish restaurants. My Turkish distributor, Yaman of Mozaik, took me out for a business breakfast to a place in Bebek called Bebek Kahve. This is a hard-to-find classic place for the locals and a hang-out for many celebrities and artists. Bebek is a very hip, rich area of Istanbul on the Europe side.

We enjoyed a traditional Turkish breakfast with Menemen (an egg dish), Turkish bagels, honey and Kaymak (thick Turkish cream) and ridiculously good Turkish coffee. All of the people at breakfast had a good command of English, and our business breakfast ended up being not about business, but mostly an opportunity to become friends. I think the Turkish people prefer to do business with those they know and respect. Turks seem to be very nationalistic and my question, “Why isn’t Turkish yogurt sold in the US?” made them angry. They could not understand why Americans only get Greek yogurt instead of the authentic and superior Turkish yogurt. Also, I discovered that “business casual” dress in Turkey is not all that casual. I was underdressed again, as usual.

Galata Tower Building in Istanbul

One of my favorite restaurants was Borsa Restaurant in the Harbiye area (borsarestaurant.com). Every dish was unique to me and absolutely delicious. I was told it was traditional Ottoman home cooking cuisine. My favorite dinner was at a place Yaman’s business partner Susan took us to called Kosebasi where we had charcoal grilled Turkish kebab and mezes accompanied with Turkish drink Raki (kosebasi.com). I wouldn’t recommend this to my vegetarian friends.

One day when we had a little spare time, we visited the Grand Bazaar, located inside the walled city of Istanbul. The bazaar is a crazy maze of tiny streets and alleys, and you inevitably  get lost  exploring them. Prepare for hundreds of shopkeepers’ cries of discounts to lure you into their establishments. I found an ancient handcrafted carpet inscribed with the mystical letters “USC.” There’s no doubt that this is a tourist trap par excellence!

Istanbul has an intriguing image of the future precisely because it has so rich a sense of the past. It is Europe’s coolest city!

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