Places featured on this round-up:
- Karaköy Güllüoğlu [Istanbul Eats]
- Karaköy Lokantası
- Lades 2
- Vefa Bozacısı [Istanbul Eats]
- Doyuran Lokantası
- Balıkçı Sabahattin
- Şimşek Karadeniz Pide Salonu
- Mandabatmaz [Istanbul Eats]
- Canım Ciğerim
- A Day Trip around Istanbul
Istanbul is a terrific food city, second to none. While on my first day in Istanbul, I was browsing in the museum shop of the Topkapı Palace, when a book called Istanbul Eats caught my eye. It promised me local intelligence from similarly demanding individuals, and I spent the rest of my trip in Istanbul mining the guide for its suggestions, to my great pleasure. For any tourist, I would recommend at least getting a copy of the guide, but there are also walking tours organised by the writers of the guide, which I will definitely do the next time I’m in Istanbul.
The following is a round-up of major food in Istanbul I tried:
Istanbul from the Galata Kulesi
In Istanbul, Karaköy Güllüoğlu is one of our favorite places for that kind of pure baklava experience. Located a stone’s throw from the Bosphorus, this baklava emporium has been catering to Istanbul sweet tooths since 1949. Done up in borderline tacky décor that looks like it is meant to evoke late Ottoman splendor, the place serves more than a dozen different kinds of phyllo-based sweets, none of them resembling the cardboard-like, past-its-prime version of baklava that is often dished out outside the Middle East. Along with its excellent classic baklava, made with either pistachios or walnuts, we are also fans of Güllüoğlu’s şöbiyet, a gooey, triangular-shaped phyllo pastry filled with pistachios and cream, and of a specialty called sutlu Nuriye, made of flaky layers of pastry drenched in a sweet, milky sauce. After you pick out what you want from the display cases holding large trays of baklava, you can either eat your sweets standing up at one of several high tables inside, surrounded by an unmistakably buttery aroma, or sit down at a table outside and catch the Bosphorus breeze. – Istanbul Eats
The şöbiyet (4.75/5) and sutlu Nuriye were indeed very good, the sutlu Nuriye (4.5/5) being the bottom goo-ey baklava in the last picture. The sutlu Nuriye was incredibly sweet, a great sugar rush. This very popular baklava shop also apparently has an NYC branch!
(Lokantası means restaurant.)
Karaköy Lokantası is best known as a power lunch spot, with the midday star of the menu being hünkar beğendi. A leftover from the Ottoman imperial kitchen, this dish is one of the specialties on the menu that is not to be missed. It starts with eggplants charred whole on a charcoal grill, then peeled, mashed and thickened with milk and cheese. On this bed of rich creamy eggplant beğendi, tender morsels of slow-cooked beef are drizzled with the thin red gravy they were stewed in. The smoky taste from the grill lingers long after the immediate flavors from the stewpot have passed. Make no mistake, beautifully roasted meat is always welcome, but it’s the beğendi experience that keeps us coming back come for more. Unfortunately, this dish is only served at lunch, but the dinner menu has a few star attractions of its own. – IE
Creamy eggplant with well-roasted vegetables. This was a satisfying milky mash. Slightly let down by the toughness of the meat though, which was otherwise well-spiced.
İçli Köfte (3.5/5)
Very similar to Italian arancini I had in Palermo, Sicily. Comforting after a long day’s walk. Oily.
Of course, no visit to Lades 2 would be complete without a taste of their excellent “chicken” pudding, called tavuk göğsü (literally “chicken breast”). You won’t be biting into chunks of bird in your pudding. Rather, the meat is poached and then pounded until it is nothing but wispy fibers, adding texture and the subtlest flavoring to the white pudding, which is served with a dusting of cinnamon. Don’t be scared about ordering it. After all, you know what they do to chickens in Lades 2. – IE
tavuk göğsü (2.5/5)
I am known to have an adventurous palette, but I think the tavuk göğsü defeated me. It was quite weird to taste strands of chicken in a milk pudding.
Fermented cereal flour -generally millet- drinks have been produced by native Anatolians and Mesopotamians since the 9th or 8th millennia BC and Xenophon mentioned in the 4th century BC how the locals preserved and cooled the preparations in earthen pots that were buried. There are references mentioning boza-like “fermented (ground) millet drink” in Akkadian and Sumerian texts : the beverage is said to be respectively arsikku and ar-zig. It wasn’t until the 10th century that the drink was coined Boza and begun to be a common drink amongst Central Asian Turks . Later on, it spread to the Caucasus and the Balkans. It enjoyed its golden age under the Ottomans, and boza making became one of the principal trades in towns and cities from the early Ottoman period. Until the 16th century boza was drunk freely everywhere, but the custom of making the so-called Tartar boza laced with opium brought the wrath of the authorities down on the drink, and it was prohibited by Sultan Selim II (1566–1574). – Wikipedia
It’s a taste all its own, bearing the sour mark of fermented millet grain and the sweetness of the sugar added during the fermentation process. The consistency is that of a milkshake that can’t decide if it wants to be thick or thin, while the texture is all Gerber’s. It is served in a glass with a spoon, a layer of sprinkled cinnamon and roasted chickpeas floating at the top. The first few spoons are beguiling, the palate fooled by the cinnamon dusting and utterly sidetracked by the crunchy chickpeas. The contrast of the cinnamon makes the boza seem sour at first, while soon after a subtle sweetness emerges in the chilled unadulterated boza below. – Istanbul Eats
I loved this drink. I would return to have this in Istanbul. This was the culinary star of the trip.
Turkish cooked food. Good eggplant dish. (4.5/5)
A delightful array of mezes. Of especial note was the melon (one of the sweetest I have tasted). The olives, and the octopus were also good.
Şimşek Karadeniz Pide Salonu
Turkey’s take on the pizza comes in two distinct varieties. There’s the Arabesque lahmacun, a round, ultra thin-crusted snack topped with a shmear of finely ground meat and seasoning. Then there’s pide, a more substantial canoe-shaped creation that’s a specialty of Turkey’s Black Sea region. In Istanbul, pide joints are almost as common as blaring carhorns, but Şimşek Pide Salonu won our loyalty for its consistently outstanding made-to-order pide and convenient location. Passing the time at one of Şimşek’s outdoor tables on this quiet, sunny side street just off of Taksim Square is a pleasure in itself. Add to that a few pide and you’ve got a party. – IE
Very pizza-esque, except without cheese and tomato and greased with A LOT of butter.
Very thick Turkish coffee.
On a recent afternoon, Pilik was busy making cup after cup of his excellent brew, thick to the point of almost being chocolaty, each demitasse holding only a few sips worth of strong coffee before you hit a rich deposit of dark brown grounds. “Not everybody can do this,” Pilik says, as he holds a well-worn copper coffee pot to a blue gas flame that shoots out like a jet from a small, two-burner range. “It’s all in the hand,” he adds, making a twisting motion with his wrist. “The hand is very important.” – IE
a kind stranger’s recommendations: next time in Istanbul?
At Canım Ciğerim, the lively restaurant’s namesake dish (“canım ciğerim” is actually a Turkish expression that translates into “my liver, my dear,” and is used as a term of affection) is made from tiny cubes of tender lamb’s liver that are grilled over hardwood coals on long, thin skewers. The kebab is still unmistakably liver, but its taste and texture are much more delicate and simply less “liverish” than what you’ve probably had before. (If you want, ask your waiter for a “yarım porsiyon” – a half portion – of liver, just to give it a try.) Fortunately, for those not interested in taking the liver plunge, Canım Ciğerim’s “meat” (or et, in Turkish) option is an extremely fine one. In this case, small morsels of tender beef are skewered and grilled.
Either way, the real fun here is in what comes along with your kebabs. Before the skewers even arrive, your low table is piled high with plates of parsley, mint, arugula and slightly charred grilled onions and peppers dusted with red pepper. Along with those comes a serving of the restaurant’s superb ezme salad – a mix of extremely finely diced tomatoes, onion and parsley flavored with tart pomegranate molasses – which is made by a knife-wielding usta, or master, who lords over a well-worn cutting board near the grill. – IE
I generally am quite partial to well-prepared offal. And I had some great barbecued ones at Canim Cigerim.
This roasted tomato sauce was excellent.
Lovely liver. (4.75/5)
A Day Trip around Istanbul
A sublime lamb-intestine sandwich. All in the seasoning.
A savory crepe-like pastry (…)
Mussels with rice, and a wedge of lemon (3.5/5)
A sweet dessert, in the Nisantasi area.
To die for – kaymak (4.75/5)
Istanbul is blessed with amazing food. In the course of nearly a week there, I felt I had barely scratched the surface of what Turkish food had to offer, not even mentioning regional differences in food that can be found outside Istanbul.
Memory: Boza, kaymak, kokorec sandwiches, grilled liver and tomato sauce from canim cigerim, hunkar begendi, baklava, Turkish delight, Turkish kahve from Mandabatmaz, melon from Balikci, and most of all – the company, Z & E.