Eating my way around IstanbulPosted: June 24, 2012
Well, after years of taking crazy amounts of pictures of food on holidays, food in restaurants and food that I’m cooking as well as generally liking to talk about food and recipes an awful lot, I finally listened to my friends and other half and decided to start a food blog. Maybe they think if I have an outlet I’ll stop bombarding them with so many food pictures and stories!
So, what better place to start than the trip to Istanbul I just got back from last week? I was pretty excited about Istanbul, I’d wanted to go for a long time and was very excited about the history, the architecture, the culture and, of course, the food! I sat in my dreary office in the days before leaving day-dreaming of endless mezze, fresh fish, kebabs and baklava.
The week of eating started well with a 3 course meal on the flight! Having rarely flown on a Proper Airline this was quite a novelty. This included potato salad with yoghurt, aubergine stuffed with chicken and bulgur wheat in a tomato sauce as well as some sort of cheesecake. After arriving in the city as dusk fell, we headed straight out in search of our first real Turkish kebab. We stumbled across a small kebab joint just round the corner with locals eating outside and took this to be a good sign. I can’t remember what my kebab was called, buy boy was it good. Firstly we were brought some cacik, a yoghurt and cucumber dip, sort of like a thinner tzatziki, with a delicious sesame covered naan-style bread.
This was quickly devoured and we were onto the main event. The kebab. Delicious chunks of juicy grilled chicken, perfectly chargrilled tomatoes, more naan-like bread, lovely thick natural yoghurt, bulgar wheat cooked with tomato and a big pile of lettuce, cucumber, tomato and peppers – who say’s kebabs aren’t healthy?!
We were to return to this particular neighbourhood kebab spot several times throughout the week! Other kebabs we enjoyed included cubes of lamb on a puréed aubergine and yoghurt base as well as chunks of lamb and aubergine grilled together all served with delicious tomatoey bulgur wheat. The best place I ate this aubergine and lamb kebab was infact in a small local lokanta, like a canteen, where you stood at the counter and pointed out which food you wanted. I had mine with an amazingly simple but flavoursome spinach, yoghurt and garlic dish.
In fact, as you might expect, aubergine featured heavily in our Istanbul diet, from fried aubergine with yoghurt (divine) to roasted aubergine stuffed with rice, meat and herbs or onion and tomato. One particularly delicious stuffed aubergine (or patlican dolmasi) was enjoyed in a pavement cafe serving up massive trays of mezze. It was served cold and the rich tomatoey, garlicy filling perfectly complemented the taste of the aubergine. We just don’t seem capable of getting flavours like that out of vegetables in this country?! I guess we don’t enjoy the same fresh produce a lot of the time. Other mezze dishes that evening included; slivers of spicy tomatoey, vaguely grainy, deliciousness which we smothered on bread – I’m yet to find out what they were called, a delicious octopus salad with pickled vegtables, crispy rings of calamari, and cheese boregi – a pastry stuffed with feta cheese. All washed down with the local pilsner, Efes!
Another delicious foodstuff in Istanbul is of course fish – so fresh! While we saw lots of street stalls selling mussels and oysters, I wasn’t quite brave enough to count on their fresh status, I did however head down to the docks on the Eminonu where I enjoyed a fresh fish sandwich straight off the fisherman’s boat! Freshly caught grilled mackerel shoved straight into half a loaf of bread with salad and slathered with lemon juice and salt, perfection! What better or fresher lunch could you ask for?! And for the equivalent of around £2!
Before heading out for our day of eating, ahem sightseeing, the lovely local lady in our hotel made sure we were set up for the day with a big Turkish breakfast enjoyed on our delightful roof terrace overlooking the Bosphorus on one side and Blue Mosque on the other! Perhaps the best spot I’ve ever been lucky enough to enjoy breakfast! This typically consisted of big piles of fresh fruit – oranges, apricots, watermelon; tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta cheese; hard boiled eggs, Turkish sausage, a delcious baked potato and creamy cheese dish, yoghurt with jam and a tantalising selection of homemade cakes. I must admit I got rather partial to eating a mountain of feta crumbled over watermelon every morning!
Now, following all the mouth-wateringly tasty savoury foods, of course, were the sweets, oh the sweets! The Turks really know what they’re doing here! Countless crumbly pastries with honey, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts… Before going to Istanbul, I had no idea there was any other kind of baklava than that stuffed with pisachio, but there are all sorts. Walnut was one of my other favourites, although I must admit I do love pistachio!
Baklava and the other similar desserts were a great afternoon pick-me up! Talk about a sugar hit! I’m not sure what these were called, but little bite-sized shredded filo pastry nests filled with a variety of nuts were also a big hit!
The spize bazaar was a great place to fill up on these moreish treats, as well as other delights such as apricots and dates stuffed with cashews or almonds.
Some of the delicacies had interesting promises to make!
The market was also full of delicious shiny globes of Turkish Delight. Little did I know that the soft squidgy Turkish delight dusted with copious amounts of icing sugar that you get are in fact made specifically for the tourists! Real Turkish delight is much firmer, often dusted in dessicated coconut as opposed to icing sugar, and packed full of, you guessed it, more nuts! I actually really liked both kinds!
The last exciting thing in the spice bazaar was loose tea and, of course, spices!!
Unfortunately, we were not to discover our all-time favourite Turkish dessert until our final night! And only because we pointed at what the couple at the table next to us had and asked for the same! Kunefe, a baked shredded pastry dish stuffed with mild soft white cheese and topped with grated pistachio! The bite of the crispy pastry giving into the soft melty inside of this dish was just to die for!
Istanbul really is a fantastic and fascinating city, I highly recommend a visit and not just for the food!