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The Turkish YouTube star bringing unseen Turkey to the world by revealing its diverse food and culture, and the kindness of its people

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“I thought it would be helpful to other Turkish people to find these recipes online,” Altan says.

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Having moved back to Istanbul in 2005, she continued documenting recipes on her blog until 2011, when she created a YouTube channel, also in Turkish, which quickly amassed a sizeable following.

In 2013, and by popular demand, Altan switched to making videos in English.

“In the beginning, I translated some traditional Turkish recipes into English, wrote them down and read them,” Altan says. “My English was not good but I was able to explain the recipe.”

All you need to connect with Turkish people is a smile … We are famous for our hospitality

Aysenur Altan

Those recipes encompass everything from simple breads to lavish Ramadan menus, breakfast spreads to soups and salads, and meat and vegetarian dishes to desserts and drinks. Altan’s video on how to make Turkish tea, posted four years ago, has garnered nearly 5 million views.

Some videos feature three generations of Turkish womanhood – Altan, her mother and her now 21-year-old daughter – which helps them appeal to different age groups.

“Some women have told me that they followed my blog when they were kids and now they make the same recipes for their children,” Altan says.

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As her following grew, Altan expanded her focus to include insights into Turkey itself. She began training her camera on home cooks in action, family-run food establishments, markets, bazaars and artisans, as well as into lesser-explored corners of Istanbul and offbeat locations across the nation of 85 million people.

“My family comes from different parts of the country, each with its own culture and food traditions,” she says. “Not only am I educating myself about these places, I’m also getting to share them with the world.”

On a visit to her mother’s village in Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey over which visitors like to drift in hot air balloons, Altan visited local cave homes.

A traditional wooden house in Istanbul that currently houses a cafe. As Altan’s YouTube following grew, she began to explore lesser-known areas and facets of the city. Photo: Anne Pinto-Rodrigues

A visit to her father’s hometown of Kastamonu, an important city during the days of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922), led to the creation of a whole series of videos, including one in which she helps forage for edible greens.

Altan has introduced her viewers to Afyonkarahisar- in the Phrygian Valley and where the fabled King Midas with the golden touch once lived – Bursa, Trabzon and Amasya, all which lay on the historical Silk Road.

In Istanbul, in addition to its colourful bazaars and iconic monuments, Altan has devoted videos to overlooked structures like the traditional wooden houses and 15th-century hans (merchant inns) that have been repurposed for modern usage, and low-key but welcoming neighbourhoods such as Cengelkoy, on the Asian side of the city.

The entrance of Buyuk Yeni Han, which is the second largest han (merchant inn) in Istanbul and was built in the 18th century. Photo: Anne Pinto-Rodrigues

“All you need to connect with Turkish people is a smile,” she advises would-be tourists. “We are famous for our hospitality. Even if someone doesn’t speak any English, they will welcome you with free tea.”

Such generosity is evident throughout her work.

In bakeries with a sign stating “askida ekmet” (“hanging bread”) or “askida pide” (“hanging flatbread”), she explains in one video, a customer can pay a little extra so that bread of that value can be hung outside, to be taken by a person who cannot afford it. This way, both the donor and the recipient remain anonymous, and the latter’s dignity is maintained.

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The kindness of the Turkish people is also seen in the vending machines that dispense dog and cat food. A person can insert a coin to pay for food that drops into a tray below and can easily be accessed by a hungry stray.

Thoughtfulness was also built into Ottoman constructions, says Altan; many mosques and buildings from those times have some form of bird shelter.

The pathways on the grounds of Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace are lined with low wooden troughs that gather rainwater for birds and stray animals.

A bird shelter on the wall of the 12th-century Zeyrek Mosque, in Istanbul. Photo: Anne Pinto-Rodrigues
A shelter for stray cats on an Istanbul street. Photo: Anne Pinto-Rodrigues

In the same spirit, Altan does not shy away from using her social media presence for the common good.

Altan says she would like to one day write a cookbook, take Turkish cuisine around the world via pop-up kitchens, and host a TV show. In the shorter term, she hopes to find a venue in which she can provide home-cooked Turkish meals to visitors rather than just directing them to restaurants.

For the moment, though, she is busy hosting food tours around Istanbul and small cooking workshops, which are available upon request, as well as her evermore popular YouTube channel.

Article was originally published from here

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