Istanbul Eats: A Day Of Food
Kebab anybody? I really thought that the idea of kebabs being all Turkey had to offer was a stereotype. Yes that is true Turkish cuisine is more than meat on a stick. Wow they are everywhere though. Some good, some poor and a few standouts. There are so many things to do in Istanbul, and trying all the different food is a must! But you don’t start the day with a kebab…
Breakfast To Start The Day
Turkish breakfast includes eggs, cheese, breads, olives, tomato, cucumber, sausage and probably our favorite fresh pastry called borek, which came both sweet with icing sugar and savory with cheese. Our favorite sweet borek was a little off the beaten track, yet still quite close to Taksim Square. Walking through the residential area near a mosque we saw some fresh pastries being placed in the display. How could you resist the smell at 6:30am? Man it was good. Light, fluffy, hot, buttery layers with the sweetness of the icing sugar. This with a couple of hot Cay (Turkish tea – pronounced Chai) which was also above standard. Yum Yum. Great start to the day.
We also had our ‘regular’ borek shop on the edge of Taksim Square (Cnr Talabasi Blv / Taksim Dolapdere Cd) which was also very good and popular with the locals.
Tip: Try both the sweet and the cheese borek here, they are available all over Istanbul and even though I would still recommend these two, others appeared to be equal standard. The sooner out of the oven the better so wherever you choose make sure its getting some foot traffic so you can assume that the pastry will be fresh and hot.
Simit: By far the most readily available and consistent Turkish snack. A hybrid between bread and bagel. They come in a few different varieties. Plain, Brioche bun like, a sesame seed and a sweeter simit that is short like short bread. Cost is almost always 1 TL or 2TL with Nutella or butter.
Roasted Chestnuts: 5-15 TL depending on quantity and where in Istanbul you buy them. They are lovely and sweet hot coal roasted chestnuts. Along Istiklal street they have equal positioning to the Simit and corn carts.
Roasted Corn: Make sure you get the roasted corn cobs, some are only boiled, still delicious but that charred element is what your after. 1-5 TL
Stuffed Mussels: Not something that we actually tried whilst in Istanbul. They were sold absolutely everywhere near Taksim as well as other areas. I read a few articles stating that it was not uncommon for food poisoning unless treated correctly. I live by the logic raised to me by Anthony Bourdain, If the locals are eating there it should be safe, as if a stall/restaurant made the locals sick they would not be popular with the locals. However I never noticed a ‘busy’ stall so I did not take the plunge and try the mussels. They did look tasty though.
Pork Rolls: Not as common as kebabs but if you keep your eyes and nose active you should be able to locate a roast pork station. Probably my favorite street food in Istanbul. Succulent pork with a spicy salsa like mixture and or roasted onions and peppers depending on the stall. The option with chili suited me perfectly. What a great Istanbul eat.
Kizilkayalfar Hamburger: Basically a sloppy spiced hamburger. It is a bun with spiced meat on the inside with the sauce coating the outside. Once you get over the fact it is sloppy, they were quite nice actually.
Tea or Cay in Turkish is an important aspect of life. It is impossible to walk for more than a few minutes without seeing a local with a cup. We love the cups here. They are almost warped in look without handles. They are glass so can be quite hot unless held by the rim. With one sugar cube…perfect! If you did want to buy the cups to take home, go to a supermarket, they will be 2 TL for a six, sometimes an 8 pack.
Fresh Juice: Just about available everywhere you go, from street corner to top restaurant. The fresh orange juice is simply fantastic. For between 1-3 TL you can get 1-3 full oranges juiced in front of you. Always busy and always delicious. If you want to mix it up try the pomegranate, its also glorious.
Baklava: Which type? So many options! Pistachio, almond, crispy, soft, sugar syrup or with honey. One tip though. There is one type that comes in a cone shaped tower. One restaurant in particular had the same tower in their window for 5 days. By day 5 the bottom half of the layers had fused to the next and to the base. Maybe avoid the tower if it’s halfway eaten. The regular baklavas are tastier anyway.
Turkish delight: What surprised us the most was the variety. Yes the regular coated rose flavour was always close but the variety available was insane. The most popular variations include pistachio, coconut and pomegranate.
“Ice Cream Yes Please!” “Ice Cream Time Yes Please” is bellowed all down Istiklal St and throughout Istanbul. Turkish ice cream is more stretchy than the ice cream in Australia. This allows the Ice Cream ‘showmen’ to put on quite the performance. Love the experience the first time. By the end of our Istanbul adventure and a few ice cream’s later, we just wanted the ice cream not the show. The Ice cream here is outright delicious. Try the cream or milk flavour. It compliments most other flavours and for us is not available at home.
Whatever you do, try and avoid getting a kebab on the corner of Istiklal/Taksim Square, there are about 10 shops all next to each other and between the family we tried 3 different places. All three were the worst of Istanbul. There are 2 places that deserve mention.
(Hüseyinağa Mh., 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul)
Try the adana kebab. A mixture of lamb and beef mince with herbs and spices. This is the house special and lives up to its label. The real winner that sets this place apart is the bread. Really soft and crispy and they pat the bread with the meat all through the cooking so the bread itself could be a delicious meal. If your only going to get one kebab in Istanbul the Durumzade Adana is the one.
2. Maranda Doner
(Hobyar Mh. Hamidiye Cd. No 2, Sirkeci – Faith, Istanbul)
Only its opening day when we tried their signature ‘wood fired’ meat. The coals instead of just the electric burners was a welcomed change. At the time they did not even have a menu. The only choice was wrap or plate. We had a plate. Nothing was ‘wow’ but definitely a step above a lot. Wood fired meat was the winner with chips, fresh pickle and a nice complimentary tomato and cucumber salad with a lovely dressing. Pickled chilli’s also. Worth a visit if you are in the area.
Lunch And Dinner
Lunch and dinner was very similar and majority of all menu’s also looked very similar.
Starters: don’t get me started! Be careful not to eat all the bread you get!
Mezze Plates: if you are only ordering one or two the spicy tomato, garlic yogurt and eggplant dips were consistently good all over Istanbul.
Bread: so much bread. Flat bread, hot bread, round bread, fresh bread, white bread, plank bread, goes on and on. All perfect for the soaking up Mezze juices and dips.
Soups were also on almost every menu from beyran (lamb broth based soup) through to humble lentil soup.
Lahmacun: Pizza like base with mince, tomato and spices, topped with parsley and a squeeze of lemon to make it pop! A must try as a snack for two or as a lunch or dinner.
Some common meals to get you excited:
Being six people we were able to order an absolute feast of a sample plate. It had everything you could imagine. On the corners it had lahmacun. Pizza like dough topped with mince meat, tomato and spices. Kebabs and meats of all shapes and sizes. Shaved off the stick chicken and beef, to shish kebabs and minced meat skewers. As well as cheeky meatballs, chicken wings and mini lamb steaks hiding in-between the juicy tomato, eggplant and green peppers. What a way to start the Istanbul food experience.
Fish and seafood always looked fresh and quite popular for dinner in particular. As always with ‘daily price’ seafood try to make sure the price is known before you confirm your order so you don’t get a rude shock when the bill arrives. Mind you though it appeared relatively well priced across the board. The fish was fried and grilled mainly. Fried for the smaller fish and grilled for the medium fish like a sea bass would be my pick. Cannot go too far wrong with fresh grilled fish with lemon wedges!
Restaurant: Dejavu (Cad Mehmet Murat Dk. 8/7 Sirkeci Hocpasa Mah Hudavendigar , 34112, Istanbul)
Dejavu was our last dinner in Istanbul. Casseroles were also quite common and all that we tried were pretty good, including here at DejaVu. This place is definitely not a hidden gem and was spread out up a street and on four opposing corners. Good location and atmosphere for dinner. They recommend a lamb stew in a clay pot that they burn, spin and crack open which is a good show. Just like most meals in Istanbul majority of meals come with rice and potato. The standout meal here was lamb with a smoky eggplant puree with tomato, peppers and potato.
Istanbul Eats: The wrap up!
Istanbul has so much food to devour. We enjoyed every bite of it. Only thing that we want to reiterate is to look for menu’s that go beyond the kebab. That being said, if you were a kebab you would want to live here, where all your friends are!
We couldn’t eat it all! What’s your favourite food in Istanbul?
Let us know in the comments in below…
Oh, and if you want to do other things beside eat…take a look at How to spend a Day in Istanbul.