Gardening at Istanbul’s Ancient Belgrade Gate

For this particular lengthy city walk, I was in Istanbul, Turkey, making my way from the tourist hotspot of Taksim, all the way to the unofficial Uyghur capital of Zeytinburnu. As is typical with my city walks, I rarely have a desired route in mind, instead letting the five senses take me down a given street. This constitutional took around 2.5 hours, with a couple of stops in between for dessert, and spinach.

Spinach?! Why???

istanbul belgrade gate gardening
Gardening at Belgrade Gate, Istanbul Ancient City Wall, Turkey

Named in honor of Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent’s conquest of Belgrade in 1521, the Belgrade Gate (in Turkish,  Belgradkapı) forms part of Istanbul’s ancient city wall. I only chanced upon it at random, yet it proved to be a unique spot, even in a city full of impressive locales.

In fact, I discovered some farmers who happened to be tending to crops right beside it.

Locavore produce mixed with local history?

This right here is why I travel.

By the way, I’ve never tasted spinach more delicious than that.

Maple Water (Latvia)

I do love the flavor of maple. Freshly poured as a syrup on pancakes or pain perdu, or as maple taffy, butter, or even maple sugar. The aroma of maple syrup is equally tantalizing, though I have been fooled once before. An Amman, Jordan bakery got the best of me when they used fenugreek in a dessert; apparently, when fenugreek is processed in large quantities, a compound called solotone is released, emitting a maple-like scent.

To make syrup and other byproducts of sap from the maple tree, it’s not only laborious, but it also happens for a short time during the year. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the best time to tap that sap — that sounds naughty — is when temperatures drop below freezing during the nighttime, and then rise to the 40s in the daytime. Even then, an average of 40-60 gallons of sap creates just one gallon of maple syrup! No wonder the price point for the real stuff is high.

However, if you’re in the camp that finds maple syrup too sweet, but still want the maple flavor, Latvia might have a solution: maple water. For a suggestion of where to get it, visit the Central Market of Riga, the capital of Latvia, and home to a rather anachronistic set of buildings:

riga latvia central market
The former German zeppelin hangars of the Riga Central Market, Latvia

Built in the 1920s, Riga Central Market’s giant structures first housed German zeppelins, or airships. By the 1930s, they had formed one of Europe’s busiest and largest retail markets, only briefly stopping to serve the public during Nazi occupation in World War II. Although the pandemic seemed to have quieted much of hubbub, fortunately, I was able to locate maple water (kļavu sula in Latvian) this time.

maple water bottle riga
A bottle of home-tapped maple water, Riga Central Market, Latvia

Per Sig, maple water is the maple tree sap in its rawest form, consisting of ~98% water; only after boiling it do you get the much more well-known maple syrup. Consequently, the vendor told me that it should be consumed within two days of opening, as it has a very short shelf life.

Health benefits of maple water include significant amounts of antioxidants, polyphenols, and electrolytes, but it’s also a diuretic, so you may not want to chug it before an operation, or at a sporting event.

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