Fare explores the food, community and history of Istanbul

by Grace Wang in June 2017
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Food & drink Travel

You can really tell when a magazine is made with acute devotion to the subject. Landed on our desks the other week was Fare, a new title examining cities through food, community, and history. The launch issue is on Istanbul, and the sensual, colourful writing and charming photography portray that universal sense of warmth available to those who open themselves up to new experiences in unfamiliar places.

Editor Benjamin Mervis has worked on TV series Chef’s Table and with René Redzepi at Noma, and his expertise, as well as passion for food really come through in his new print venture. Read on for our chat with him about Turkish delicacies, the ‘maintainers’ of the fast changing city, and coming up with the name of the magazine.


I love that the issue is filled with small details of life in Istanbul, like the tea delivery service in Grand Bazaar. How did you want to show the city?
I wanted to show the beautiful chaos of the city through the lives of ordinary people of different stations and backgrounds. Fare is more about ‘maintainers’ than ‘innovators’, and I wanted a publication that would appreciate small quirks, or interesting anecdotes about the city that you might otherwise look past. The tea maker in the Grand Bazaar was a great example of that — what he’s making isn’t innovative, mind-blowing tea, he’s not even using the traditional equipment, but still there’s something fascinating about his story. I wish we could have shown you the medieval courtyard that sits just next door to his console too. It’s fantastic.

I don’t want to show you Istanbul and tell you ‘everything is okay, everyone is happy, life is great’. Right now it’s very challenging for many people, and some lose hope entirely. But many persist, and I wanted to focus a lot on the stories of those individuals.

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‘Mahelle’ is defined in the glossary of the magazine as “a small neighbourhood with a community-oriented focus”. It informs a lot of the features.

Mahalle culture was a crucial part of the social makeup of Istanbul’s neighbourhoods and the ‘old Istanbul’ feel, so it was important to shine a light on this as a local tradition, and also highlight the neighbourhoods where it’s still a reality. I loved the concept, the intimacy and personability of these neighbourhoods, and what that represents on a social level.

The guide through Kadikoy Market not only makes offal sound appetising, but gives an intimate insight into the life of an artisan shopkeeper. What’s the thinking behind a feature like this?
Food culture is tradition, memory, skill, and centuries of technique. It’s important to show these elements, to pay respect to the way past generations have lived and worked, and it was important, for this Istanbul issue, to do so through the story of the local esnaf (tradesman). We actually had some fantastic but grisly photos of the roasted lamb heads, and other unlikely cuts of meat in the shop, but decided it might not be the most palatable for our readers in a launch issue.


Why did you want to make a magazine exploring a city through food, history and community?
It was a natural convergence of my personal and professional interests. I come from a background in academia (medieval history), but stumbled into a career in fine dining and food culture; I spent the last two years working with René Redzepi at restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. It is impossible not to be inspired by his work ethic, the way he lives his passions, and the depth of his creativity. He was a big influence on me in the making of this magazine.

Through him I also began to understand the serious interplay of food, culture and history, in literally every facet of society. The first seed of Fare was planted when René and I travelled to Istanbul together in 2015. It was a research trip on baklava that we completed for a TV show, CNN’s Culinary Journeys. I was so dumbfounded by the city, so totally in love with it. I returned to Istanbul on two research trips of my own in late 2016.


Lastly, how did you come up with the name?
I came up with the name of the magazine on the flight back from Istanbul. This isn’t the most reputable source, but look up ‘fare’ on dictionary.com and you’ll find 10 definitions, and our magazine tied into each of those definitions to greater or lesser extent. The big tie-ins were “to go; travel”, “to eat and drink”, “to experience good or bad fortune; get on”. That’s exactly what our magazine is about. Food, drink, society, and the passage of time. I really wanted that level of depth but also simplicity in the title.

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