Istanbul can catch even the most seasoned traveler by surprise. The enchanting views of Sultanahmet and Hagia Sophia are familiar to many, but a few expect to taste world-class dining and trendy boutiques line up the streets of Beyoğlu. It’s this perfect blend of old and new that makes Istanbul a city like no other.
While there’s plenty for a history aficionado to feast upon, our intentions to travel to this mystical place lay primarily in the literal sense of the term ‘feast’.
Istanbul is a food haven. The best way to experience the glorious fare here is to simply hit the bylanes. Trekking through the cobbled streets, sometimes at treacherous angles of acclivity, you may encounter the warm waft of freshly baked simit (Turkish Pretzel) or catch a local usta (cook) busy kneading his daily batch of Çiğ köfte (Raw meatballs mixed with bulgur and spices).
Bazaars (Markets) in Istanbul source a myriad of spices, cheese, nuts and a fresh catch of local seafood. It’s at Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar) that we met Jeniffer of Istanbul Eats (Culinary Backstreets of Istanbul).
She took us on a journey of history and food that lasted more than just the 3 hours of the crawl. We walked through the intricate, almost-hidden alleyways of Spice Bazaar where we sat behind a functioning coffee warehouse to sample a quintessential Turkish breakfast – littered with a delicious assortment of bread, cheese, stuffed olives, honey and cream.
Sprinkled for good measure through the walk were sobiyet (baklava w/pistachios and kaymak), pide (Turkish pizza), sebzeli doner (lamb doner kebab with vegetables) and boza (fermented millet drink).
Top: Making Boza; Bottom: The final product
Next stop was a 17th century Caravanserai courtyard where we sipped on a piping glass of Turkish tea along with sesame halva.
Top: Turkish Tea, Bottom: Men discussing headlines
Impossible as it may sound, lunch was next. We dined over a royal serving of buryan (pit-roasted lamb), perde pilav (rice cooked in a pastry shell) and a personal favorite – ezme- a fresh concoction of red pepper and tomatoes.
Top: Perde Pilav; Left: Usta at work; Bottom: Assortment of Baklavas
A walk with Istanbul Eats should be on your itinerary if you chose to visit this magnificent city. Trust us, you will not be disappointed.
Sometimes, when you are spoilt for choice, the one thing that stands out will be the one you least expect to. For us, it was lokum (Turkish delight). Simply put, its a gel of starch and sugar, flavored with chopped dates, pistachios, rose water, lemon, hazlenuts etc. But one gummy bite and you will see why it has been around for centuries.
If sitting down for dessert, try the Künefe. In Turkey, this rich syrupy goodness is made of semi-soft cheese called Hatay peyniri . Its soaked in syrup and served with a dollop of clotted cream and a healthy garnish of pistachios. It may ride your daily calorie intake through the roof, but its worth every.single.bite.
Istanbul is a city of diverse palettes, all sharing the same passion – great food. A week in this glorious city, but we barely scratched its gastronomic surface. We bid adieu to the city with a promise that we will be back soon.
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