Life always seems to turn a bit upside down when the new school year starts. Summer vacation is always a whirlwind of going ‘home’ to the states and experiencing brief reverse culture shock, trying to see everyone, not being able to see everyone, and returning ‘home’ to Istanbul where you are suddenly thrown back into everything full force.
Things generally never get any easier once the school year begins either. I can say that now things are wonderful and going smoothly, but the first few weeks of school are always critical. You don’t know your students yet–likewise they don’t know you– and you have to tread lightly so that you can slowly start to build trust and ensure that things are going to be ‘ok’ for the rest of the year. Not easy.
Let’s add to this being in a foreign country… in a city with a population 2 times that of NYC… and oh yeah, let’s not forget the language barrier too….
By the end of October, I needed a ‘mini-vaca’…. somewhere green and quiet… I needed to get out of the city…and so…to Edirne I went!
Edirne is just 3 hours north of Istanbul by bus and sits so close to the Bulgarian border that my phone didn’t know where it was for the full 2 days. Its location is right at the intersection where the borders of Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria meet. Ten minutes on one side of Edirne you can pass over to Bulgaria, while ten minutes in the opposite direction leads you to Greece. In comparison to the sprawling urban tangle that is Istanbul, Edirne is utterly quaint. It gives the feeling of a small village. There are old wooden houses, green rolling hills, decorative fountains down the main street, and people selling homemade jam, pickles and vinegar. There were peppers strung up on thread and hanging out to dry like curtains in the sun, and peppers sun-bathing on the ground. There were even giant orange pumpkins! This is monumental as I’ve never seen orange pumpkins in Turkey–only the green-ish exterior ones pictured below. There were even a few (but just a handful) trees with leaves changing color. Finally, I could experience Fall!
Each day I woke up and started by treating myself to breakfast. In the fields along the river are outdoor cafes serving village breakfasts, ‘köy kahvaltı,’ where they fill your table with traditional Turkish breakfast, a spread of cheeses, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, olives, peppers, and various other things. It doesn’t matter which cafe you choose, they are all more or less the same, similarly priced, and all delicious.
This was only my 2nd trip to Edirne over 6 years living in Turkey, and I spent the time walking around, taking in the fresh air, and stuffing my face with fried liver. Yes. That’s right. Fried Liver. In Turkish, it’s called ‘Tava Ciğer’, and it alone is worth the 3 hour bus ride to Edirne. In fact, Edirne is really famous for 3 things: fried liver, oil wrestling (yup, exactly what you are imagining… but I missed the festival), and some of the most beautiful mosques by famed architect Mimar Sinan. Whenever you mention Edirne, the first thing out of people’s mouths is usually ‘Did you eat the ciğer?‘…. Oh yes I did!
Tava Ciğer, (pronounced jee-air), in my honest opinion, should really be considered a delicacy. In general, I have always liked liver and onions and am not squeamish in the least about it, but this style of liver is the best I’ve ever eaten in my life. After having this version of your old ‘liver and onions classic’, you won’t be able to eat it any other way. I think that the meat itself is one of the reasons why the liver is so flavorful. It’s made from lamb’s liver instead of beef, and it’s rich and strong and velvety. The liver is sliced paper-thin and then fried in oil. It’s served straight out of the pan and onto a plate of sliced onions and fiery dried hot red peppers. Sometimes another hot pepper sauce is served alongside hunks of crusty french bread as well. The meat tastes like butter…like you are eating salty, slightly crispy, velvety rich butter. It’s soft and tender, not tough at all… and it just melts in your mouth. The perfect bite is to take a slice of the liver, put a few onions on top, and slather it with a dab of the pepper sauce… finish by tearing off a chunk of bread to help with the heat of the peppers. With the added condiments, the taste is still like butter…but with more crunch and spice. There’s no extra seasoning; there are no fancy tricks being played. It’s just meat and onions…and it’s incredible.
Aside from the fried liver, there’s not much by way of famed cuisine in Edirne apart from a few sweets. These two desserts, while not my all time favorites, are definitely interesting and can only be found near and around Edirne. Those are the Peynir Helva and the Hayrabolu Peynir Tatlı. Peynir Helva is made from cow’s milk cheese (the texture is like mozzarella) where it is heated and boiled until it gets stringy…then flour and sugar are added and stirred to it. It’s a bit like a chewy sweet cheesy porridge.
The Hayrabolu Peynir Tatlı is also made with cheese. However, this one has cheese inside of semolina that is baked golden and then soaked in simple syrup. It’s served with tahini sauce drizzled over top and sprinkled with nuts. This one plays more with sweet and savory and with textures. It’s cake-y and bread-pudding-like, with its spongy cheesy center…and the tahini adds a nice bitterness. I couldn’t eat these every day (as with the ciğer you would have to fight me to keep me away) but they are satisfying in that it’s nice to have something sweet after all the saltiness of the liver.
After stuffing myself with fried liver all weekend, slowly savoring breakfast spreads that spilled off the tables, strolling through the little streets, and going in and out of every beautiful mosque and gazing at the tiles, Edirne revived me enough to head back to the hustle and bustle of city life. After all, it’s only 3 hours away…that’s nothing for a journey when there’s ciğer involved!