At long last posting a report on our October week in Istanbul. The istanbullis are avid chowhounds and we only got a very small sampling of what is available and possible to enjoy there due to time and preference for moderate eating at this point. Sorry the delay has reduced my recollection of specifics!
Regional cooking – there is a huge movement to present the cooking of Turkey’s many regions in the capital city. This correlates in part to the very large internal migration of people from the regions who want to eat their own food but also with eagerness of the locals to eat good, interesting fare; many of these are in restaurants called lokantas, historically workingmens cafes with steam tables, but the term covers a wide range of type of places now.. I mapped a whole list before we went from available resources (more below) but were able to try precious few.
ANTIOCHIA – or Antiochia Concept. Just a few streets from our Beyoglu place this ambitious but modestly priced restaurant serves food from Antakya, in coastal Hatay province, near Syria. On arrival date, we shared a plate of excellent mixed mezze, and a juicy and flavorful kagit kebabi, oven roasted and highly seasoned beef patties, along with their very good flatbread. http://www.antiochiaconcept.com/
ŞEHZADE CAĞ KEBAP – we had a remarkably delicious simple lunch in this justifiably popular restaurant in Eminonou -their one main dish is skewers of lamb slices off of a huge, horizontally mounted gyro spit- we enjoyed ours enormously. With the kebab and accompanying vegetables and hot sauce we drank ayran (slightly salted yogurt whipped with water, very popular with istanbullis), refreshing and perfect with this dish. One of the best bites ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZMlR...
Ortaklar Kebab Lahmacun, Sultanahment– I list because there are SO MANY inexpensive places like this in Sultanamet with touts urging you to visit. We succumbed to this one,and it was actually quite good and very cheap (rice for example was memorable). This was one accurate google review but another high rating google score produced a mediocre lunch in this area. Be very skeptical of tourist reviews.
Turkish Breakfast – breakfast is special In turkey, and different from western Europe. The name for it for starters,kavahlti, before coffee. The emphasis on fresh cheeses and vegetables, and de-emphasis on sugary overly rich items. We found it really enjoyable and decided to explore specifically the offerings in our area.
KARAKOY OZSUT (Ozsut Muhallebicisi), on Istiklal Caddesi near Tunel. Famous for its amazing, rich kaymak (clotted cream) made with wild water buffalo milk. This is served with a drizzle of honey or their rose petal jam and perhaps, nuts along with bread. They also have a range of simple breakfast foods, like menamen (basically wet scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers, and the heavily spiced sujuk or bastirma if requested), and puddings and other products offered through the day. Istanbullis are wild for puddings as well as other sweets. Their kaymak was one of the best things I have ever tasted. Go!! We ate there several mornings and took home puddings as well For more information see this great article. https://culinarybackstreets.com/citie...
Van KAVAHLTI EVI – this famous breakfast place in Cihangir, Beyoglu, (other locations I think), offers a popular full Turkish breakfast which originated as a custom in eastern turkey – more than a dozen small plates are offered including multiple fresh cheese specialties (note specially the herbal cheese from van, delicious) , kaymak and honey, olives, vegetables and more, including a wonderful pepper paste “cemen” which is related to muhammara and ajuka, along with bread and seas of tea to drink. Get there early if you don’t want to stand in line.
LADES MENAMEN (also in Beyoglu) – this fits the model of a humble workmans café – and indeed serves a changing menu through the day. We ordered Turkish breakfast including menamen a cheese plate, vegetables, etc. It was fairly typical and inexpensive, but my menamen was scorched (this dish is served in the pan in which it is cooked) which gave it an off flavor. So I wasn’t so impressed.
Simit. Not a restaurant but a sesame coated bread,like a pretzel or bagel, sold widely across the city. These are best in the morning which is why I am counting this as breakfast but good for a snack or bread with meal all day long. . I actually found a simit bakery (where they were fresher and higher quality) in nearly Tomtom Mahallesi, great.
Balik Ekmek – I yearned for one of these grilled mackerel sandwiches, made by vendors under/on the Beyoglu side of the Galatas Bridge. Eckhardt has a great recipe for this in her book, but if you are going to Istanbul why not head for these vendors? Just west of the Bridge. Ermin Usta is one of these. Note, Tarahi Karakoy Balik Lokantasi a popular fish restaurant, is also down there.
Upscale – We had just a couple meals in this category, since we did most of our eating out a breakfast and lunchtime (ironically, since many of the “best” restaurants and mehanes were in our neighborhood.
Good fish is a luxury in Istanbul (as everywhere); there is a high standard. We had a delightful fish lunch in Sultanahment at BALIKCI SABAHATTIN, an elegant, comfortable and long established white tablecloth restaurant in a picturesque neighborhood behind the Sultanahment mosque. The fish was pristine, the vegetables and mezze excellent, as was the Turkish white wine, and the complimentary dessert offered, of caramelized and spiced figs served with the exotically spiced rubbery and non-melting Turkish ice cream, was a delightful and truly delicious treat.
Ottoman food remains a food category in Istanbul; the highly refined and complex court cuisine (see the exhibits at the Topkapi palace) contrasts substantially with the spicy, hearty and equally delicious “peasant” cuisine in the regional places. We had an excellent, relaxing lunch at ASITANE, the distinctive ottoman restaurant located behind the Chora Museum (Byzantine, amazing) in Balat. (note, Balat is definitely worth spending some time) This is a very ambitious restaurant presenting documented cuisine from the ottoman period and it delivers (mostly). The ambience is similar to elegant country restaurants in Italy and France, the waiters are charming and amusing, the seats comfortable and most important the foods and wines are excellent and on point. We enjoyed oil cooked “Bayildi” platter, eggplant and zucchini, stuffed with caramelized onions, a delightful dish of battered green beans, lightly scented with allspice and presented with a tarator (walnut based) dipping sauce to start, going to a deeply flavored and delicious lamb stew with apricots, raisins and nuts (documented from1539 and (my) roasted whole sea bass documented from the 15th century stuffed with walnuts and spices and with saffron and rosewater dressing. In the latter case, the dish was a mixed bag – the fish was impeccable, juicy and cooked perfectly, but the stuffing was dry and overwhelmingly tasted of dry herbs – the “dressing” on the outside was fairly indiscernible more like a rub of the rosewater and saffron with very little flavor, mostly the saffron which I don’t particularly love. Puzzling.. We finished with Turkish coffee and a 19th century bread pudding layered with syrupy poached peaches and served with Turkish icecream. We drank a Turkish red, Doluca DLC Okuzgozu, a varietal which was very enjoyable. Highly recommended restaurant, prices very modest for this quality. (entrees at the time of our visit in the $50-60 TL range)
There are a dizzying range of other formal and informal/regional restaurants from take out places to sit down, enough for many weeks of exploration. Sources for more information on these include https://katieparla.com/katie-parla-ci... (search Katie’s site as well for more instanbul info; it doesn’t seem like the app is currently available)
the extraordinary food writing on Culinary Backstreets https://culinarybackstreets.com/categ...
https://www.theguideistanbul.com/ one entry https://www.theguideistanbul.com/much...
cookbooks: Robyn Eckhardt’s Istanbul and Beyond; Anatolia, by Somer Sivrioglu
youtube: Mark Wien’s irritating but informative videotours https://migrationology.com/travel-gui...
Where we stayed: We stayed at an Airbnb in Beyoglu near Tunel and it was just about a perfect location, which lots of interest in the immediate vicinity (many, many regional restaurants as well as local trendy hipsterish scene but also embassies, historic churches and mosques, the Galata Mevlevihanesi , whirling dervish hall, in a real genuine neighborhood, spilling down the hill going down to the Bosporus from Istaklal Caddesi. We were close enough for a comfortable walk across the Galata Bridge to Sultanahmet but with easy transit links there and throughout the city. While we spent most of our time elsewhere in the city, there was plenty to do and eat right near our apartment. We did not like the more modern parts farther north, around Taksim Square nearly as well although there seem to be plenty of places to eat up there! We saw some charming parts in Sultanahmet, and they would have been somewhat more convenient to the biggest “attractions” but by in large we were happy with our lodging choice.
Marketing was a little problematic in our neighborhood, was no supermarket per se, so we had to go around from shop to small shop to collect milk bread fruit and other necessaries. We were able to do some shopping as we toured, but that required planning or luck. There are so many restaurants that it was easy to feel that none of the young people are cooking! Lots more markets in traditional areas like Fatih (outside the tourist area of Sultanahmet). We were very disappointed with the Spice Bazaar and also with the Grand Bazaar. The first seems purely touristic and the latter is going that way. I was looking forward to seeing piles of Turkish chile in the Spice Bazaar in different types and qualities and shops offering more regional products but that wasn’t the way it was…also without prices displayed you are thrust into a bargaining culture we are not prepared for. Ditto re prices and bargaining in Grand Bazaar. Its an interesting historic space but I didn’t want to shop there. There is some fascinating selling and eating going around around the margins and between the different building, cheap housewares, whole streets full of undies, fabric for the concealing islamic garment worn by many women, nautical supplies, caged birds (near the Galata Bridge) etc etc. Go hungry and you will find something good in the restaurants around the bazaar. In terms of traditional food markets, the produce I saw around the Spice Market and in Balat market looked like all the items came out of the same big farm – very uniform, the same cucumbers and tomatoes everywhere. I think going out to the big markets in Fatih, Kadikoy or other outlying neighborhoods where people are actually cooking and bargaining would be more interesting. https://theistanbulinsider.com/top-5-... Note, Culinary Backstreets and other operators offer tours which might be of interest (I've never yet gone on a food tour….)
The Bosporus and Golden Horn give a romantic exciting feel to the place. Even though the new bridges and subway connections have reduced their importance the ferries are still important and its fun to take a ride on them. We were sorry that the weather was rainy so we weren’t tempted to take a ride to Kadikoy note however that Katie has come down a on Musa Dağdeviren, the owner of Ciya Sofrasi and a couple other popular places in Kadikoy since she wrote this bit, but otherwise they seem to remain highly regarded. I would certainly have checked them out if the sea had not been rough and we had run out of time. But there is a lifetime of places to see and enjoy in this great city. I hope to be back!
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