Commuting across the city is one of the common features of the urban experience all over the world. In many countries this means sitting for hours in traffic, with nothing more than a cup of coffee to keep them company. In other countries it means long-distance trains, or even walking through rain and snow. In Istanbul, however, the experience of a commuter is so pleasant that it doubles as a wonderful day out even for people just visiting the city!
Ferries leave and cross the Bosphorus all the time, and from sun up to sun down there are ferries going all over the city (and even some intercity ferries!). Most ferries last between 10 and 30 minutes, meaning that it’s too much time to just get up and go, but not enough time to really get crucial work done on the ride over. But it’s the PERFECT amount of time to sit back, admire the beautiful views you get as you cross the Bosphorus, drink a piping hot cup of freshly brewed Turkish Tea, and eat the world’s most delicious bread snack – Simit!
Tea is a big deal in Turkey, with over 200,000 tons produced every year and it has the highest per-capita tea consumption of anywhere in the world. But Turkish tea isn’t exactly the same as in the rest of the world.
First of all, it’s brewed differently. It’s brewed in something called a "çaydanlık," which is essentially two kettles stacked on top of one another. The bottom kettle is filled with water and brought to a boil. The steam from the boiled water rises up and heats the upper kettle. The top kettle is steeped in a very concentrated tea, which is then heated further by the steam rising up. The tea is then poured, first from the top kettle into the glass, making a highly concentrated tea. It’s then diluted with water from the lower kettle until it’s the color of "rabbit’s blood," is the traditional color for strong tea. But obviously some people have it weaker or stronger.
The glass it’s poured into is also a highlight as the fluted Turkish tea glasses are truly marvelous and a work of art in and of themselves. The open flute allows the aroma of the tea to waft up into the air, while the narrow base keeps the flavor in.
Simit is a circular bread covered with sesame seeds, similar to a bagel and a whole host of other types of breads found in the region. But simit really stands out as an exceptional snack.
Its exterior of sesame seeds provides much of the flavor, but it also provides a nice crunch before the chewy inside.
Simit has been around even longer than tea has in Turkey, with records dating back to the early 16th century. By the early 17th century, traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote that there were 70 simit bakeries in Istanbul. Now, you’ll see simit everywhere you go and it’s often sold freshly-baked on the streets in cute little street sellers. Obviously the drink it goes best with is Turkish tea, and it’s the perfect morning snack on the way across the Bosphorus.
Which of course brings us to the ferries, bringing the views, the simit and the Turkish tea all together. Ferries depart from all over the city, with almost every district along the Bosphorus with its own pier. Boat times are listed on the pier, but from major ports like Beşiktaş, Üsküdar, Kadıköy, Eminönü, and Karaköy they depart pretty much every 15 minutes or sometimes even more frequently. Simit is sold on just about every pier and the boats themselves all serve Turkish tea.
So pick up your simit, get on the ferry – whether you’re crossing from Europe to Asia or vice-versa, and enjoy what so many hundreds of other Istanbul residents enjoy every day in what has to be the most pleasant commute of anywhere in the world.