Monthly Archives: March 2011

Day 4: Kutahya – Ceramics and Chicken Soup!

Potter at Work

I travelled to Kutahya which is the centre of ceramic and porcelain production in Turkey. The town has a long history with the Ottomans taking control in 1428. Tile workers from Tabriz in Iran were resettled here and in Iznik in 1514 and it became the centre for the Ottoman ceramic industry.

While there are large factories producing porcelain (I was reliably informed that the industry is controlled by one family who are amongst the richest in Turkey), ceramic work is done in small unsigned studios. Each studio supplies its wares to specific customers and I got to see three different ones. There is production line precision to the entire process (with specialist potters, painters and kilns) but what remains is the freehand painting done by the artists. Magical to watch and stunning when completed! I particularly like the traditional iznik pattern tile panels (there is something about those tulips …

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Day 3: Istanbul Grand Bazaar in a Whirl

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The day passed in a whirl (although not of the dervish variety). Made two separate trips to the Grand Bazaar for multiple meetings and in the process manage to see quite a lot of the bazaar and its many interesting architectural features. When I was here last I remember being completely overwhelmed by it all. This time around, I have found it much easier. Everyone speaks some amount of English and are incredibly helpful, so if you ask for directions you get there faster than by looking at a map!

Met a vendor who makes gorgeous Ottoman lamps in every shape and colour. Watch this space.

And of course I managed a Gözleme (Turkish spinach pancake), Adana kebap, some Ayran (equivalent of the Indian buttermilk) and baklava meant for queens (and kings!) while weaving my way in and out of the many lanes of Sultanahmet!

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Day 2: Shopping in Istanbul

Tree of Life

I had arranged to meet someone who was to introduce me to several vendors and we started at 9:00am little realising we would be on our feet till 9:00pm! A long but very fruitful day.

We started by meeting a master craftsman who is famous for making Sikke hats and has made the ones for the tomb of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (‘c’ pronounced as ‘j’ in Turkey) in Konya. I discovered that feltmaking is actually quite difficult as it involves opening up the wool, laying it out with the end object in mind, applying just a touch of soapy water and then rolling it in reed mats. The end products are very impressive and I now have my eye on both Turkish and Kyrgyz felt for the Arastan collection.

We also met several carpet vendors. Turkey has always been a trading point between the East and the West and the …

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Back in Istanbul

Blue Mosque from Turkoman Hotel

If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital

Napoleon Bonaparte

It is great to be back in Istanbul. After dropping my bags off at the Turkoman Hotel (with a fabulous view of the Blue Mosque) I was off to get my cultural fix. While staying in Sultanahmet is expensive, I think the accessibility it gives to the sites is well worth it.

The thing I like most about Turkey is how open they are about their heritage, opening their mosques to non-muslims outside of prayer times. I was again struck by the sheer size of the splendid 17th century Sultan Ahmed Mosque (more popularly known as the Blue Mosque and with six, rather than the more common four, two or one, minarets). It is however not my favourite. That is, for me and many tourists and Turks alike, Rustem Pasha Mosque, which I …

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Bukhara Brass Platters

Bukhara Brass Platter

These superb brass platters were made by a master craftsman in Bukhara and are now available for sale by Arastan. They are carved multiple times to traditional patterns, with each platter being a one off piece created from the craftsman’s imagination and never repeated.

The heavier, more intricately patterned, platter weighs 1.046kg and is 2mm thick and the other is 0.916kg and 1.5mm thick. They are made of brass with a purity of approximately 80% copper and 20% zinc: the copper is mixed with zinc to become yellow copper, or brass.

How they are made (translated from description given by the craftsman himself):

There is no stencil used for the design: it is made manually using a hammer and chisel. The overall design is divided into eight parts in order to make the complete pattern as consistent as possible. At first the design is done on one of the eight parts and then …

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Winding Down from Uzbekistan

Arastan in Suls, Farsi, Riqo, Kufi scripts

My bags, cartons, odd parcels are all unpacked. The clothes have been laundered and put away. The stock is ready to be photographed to go on the web site.

I am back from a fantastic two weeks in Uzbekistan. Being back there, sharing it with a friend, meeting master craftsmen so talented and so humble, eating at family run restaurants that serve the most delicious food, talking to people about their hard but fulfilled lives, seeing the Shah-i-Zinda again has all been wonderful. Working out how one does business there has been well – interesting!

There were many moments that made this trip memorable:

Discovering that Orasta in Uzbek means exactly what Arastan does in Persian – it’s a special compliment used for a woman who has made herself look very attractive and it is used very sparingly. Finding a calligrapher who inscribed Arastan in the four key languages of …

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We Didn’t Just Shop, We Also Ate…

Non, Non, Non

The food in Uzbekistan is absolutely divine. Here are some of our favourites (with links to The Art of Uzbek Cuisine if you’d like to try some at home!):

Non: Every region had its own special bread – from the raised rim sesame seed topped version in Fergana to the layered pastry version of Samarkand Kefir: a thick drinking yogurt often served with breakfast which we happily dosed with stewed apricots or strawberry jam Suzma: The delicious yogurt dip with fresh herbs helped us polish off a lot of bread when we were too impatient to wait for our main course Samsa: Their samosas made with a variety of fillings. We’re still lusting after the pumpkin samsas at Fergana and promise to not be shy and eat the whole plate the next time we’re there. The mince lamb tandoor version in Bukhara was well worth second and third helpings! Chuchvara: …

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Day 11: A Royal Breakfast, Bukhara Artisans, Chatty Uzbek Dinner

Coin Necklace

After a rather cold and miserable day in Bukhara, we woke up feeling hungry and ready for a new day. Our lady at Amelia served us breakfast fit for queens. The table was loaded with pancakes, rice porridge, potato pies, sausages, cheese, non, yoghurt – a treat that was tucked in with great enthusiasm by both of us. With all that nutrition in our systems, we set off to explore the many domed (covered) bazaars of Bukhara famous in the good old days for trading gold, spices, prayer caps and more. The walk through the crossroads of these markets gave us leads to master artisans in the area.

We met the master of copper chasing (the art of decorating metal items in relief). His tiny workshop was lined wall-to-wall with his handiwork. Each piece had been meticulously etched three times – which gave every plate its depth and sturdy weight. …

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

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