I took a ten-minute tram ride from Cihangir to Sultanahmet as dusk settled over the city on a day that had gone from cloudy to patchy to clear. By chance I had made my journey to Istanbul during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and heard the evening feast in Sultanahmet was quite a celebration. When I arrived at the open space known as the Hippodrome between the two grand monuments of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, I found more than a celebration; I found a carnival.
Floodlights lit up rows of food stalls selling the makings of a grazing feast: shish kebap, grilled corn on the cob, waffles with syrup and fruit, gozleme (hand-rolled pastry filled with cheese or potato or spinach and grilled like flat bread), gyros, dried fruit and nuts, grilled chestnuts, baklava and all manner of fried sweets, candied apples and multiflavored, multihued toffee twirled on a stick. Then of course there was Turkish coffee made in small long-handled metal pots laid right on the coals and a waterpipe smoke to finish you off.
Carnival rides and games such as air hockey anchored one end of the festivities. Tables and chairs filled the areas behind the stalls so diners could eat in comfort. The call to prayer or some other devotional chant drifted over the party like gossamer and I didn’t see an unhappy face in the throng. No one seemed to be left out. Women wore all manner of costume, from sexy Western dresses to jeans and t-shirts to headscarves and long wraps to full burkas (well, not a burka but a kara carsaf; see the comment by Anastasia for explanation).
With the Blue Mosque illuminated on one side and Hagia Sophia on the other, I could see that these nights were never-to-be-forgotten moments for the children scurrying to and fro or holding their parents’ hands. I must say I shared the same sentiments. If fasting all day means you get to have a party like this every night for a month I might start celebrating Ramadan every year. But the setting of the party was hard to beat. I guess that means I’d need to settle in Istanbul.
By the way, I love the way the stalls are made to look like shops on the street, with the false second story facade showing windows, siding, and other details that a real building would have. See the first photo in this post to see what I mean.