Five Things I Ate in Istanbul

My biggest regret about my week in Istanbul is that I didn’t eat enough.

Seriously. I spent so much time running around trying to see things in Istanbul that I actually didn’t have time to eat all the Turkish food I wanted to try. This is almost unthinkable for a food-loving person like me. But there you have it.

I didn’t eat İskender kebap, which is my favorite dish at the Turkish restaurant back home in Melville. İskender, along with shawarma, is only served between 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. at most Istanbul restaurants, and we rarely found time for lunch until about 5:00. I never ate the famous Turkish dessert künefe, which my Instagram follower @sarahmariesny describes as “Christmas in your mouth”. I didn’t have Turkish ice cream (too cold), and I never tried those deep-fried sticks that look like churros, which were for sale on every corner. (I’m not sure why I never tried the churros.)

But despite all this complaining, I did eat a lot of wonderful food in Istanbul. Istanbul is like Paris; it’s a city that takes eating seriously and delicious food and drink is everywhere — from fancy restaurants to cafés and street-side carts.

Istanbul kebab restaurantSultanahmet Koftëcisi, one of the most famous köfte restaurants in Istanbul. More on köfte in a minute.

Rather than focus further on my culinary failures in Istanbul, I will tell you about my culinary success.

Five things I ate in Istanbul:

1) Köfte (Kebab)

Kebab is a wide-ranging term that encompasses a variety grilled meats and accompaniments. Every street in Istanbul has at least half a dozen kebab shops.

The most popular type of kebab is köfte, a cylinder-shaped meatball made of minced lamb or beef (or both). I love köfte and had it every time we ordered kebab.

First kebab IstanbulOur first dinner in Istanbul, at a tiny dive (can’t remember the name) near Galata Tower. No one spoke English so we gestured for the chef to give us the house specialty. The köfte were yummy and I loved the sticky rice and chili sauce that came on the side. The green chili pepper was only slightly hot.

Sultanahmet koftecisiKöfte, chicken kebab, fresh yogurt, and bean salad from Sultanahmet Koftëcisi, which is across the street from the Hagia Sophia. This was a great meal.

Hamid kebabKöfte and various side dishes from Hamdi Restaurant in Eminonou. Hamdi has an amazing view of the Golden Horn but I thought the food was a bit overpriced and the service was mediocre. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my food.

2) Pide

Pide is Turkish pizza. It’s similar to Western pizza, but with Mediterranean-style toppings and a boat-shaped crust.

PidePide from Nizam in the Şişli district of Istanbul. This particular pide was tasty, but very similar to an American pepperoni pizza. I think we should have gone for one of the more adventurous pides with a fried egg on top. Next time.

NizamKids photobomb my shot of Nizam while Meruschka (post-pide) looks confused. I love this picture.

3) Turkish breakfast

There are many variations, but every Turkish breakfast seems to include cheese, fresh veggies, and some kind of meat and bread.

One morning we took the advice of Kutlu, our Context Travel guide, and had breakfast at Numli Gurme in Karaköy. This restaurant is huge, with a complicated ordering system, but eventually we figured it out and had the best breakfast of our trip.

Istanbul breakfast1Breakfast platter for two: cheese, veggies, olives, and meat. The cheeses in Turkey, especially the variations of feta, are phenomenal. Not shown here: basket of bread and a small dish of fresh butter with candied figs. It was the best butter I’ve ever eaten.

4) Kumpir

Kumpir are stuffed baked potatoes on steroids. We had Kumpir at a fast-food restaurant called Patsosis off İstiklal Street. The customer goes to the counter, orders kumpir, and the guy behind the counter pulls an insanely huge potato from a piping-hot oven. He cuts open the potato and mixes the inside with several spoonfuls of butter. Then the customer surveys a spread of more than a dozen toppings and tells the guy what to pile onto the potato. Here’s a video demonstration.

KumpirMy kumpir.

The butter pirate was the best part of my Patsosis kumpir experience.

Butter pirateA pirate made of butter (and a bit of cheese and pepper) surrounded by kumpir ingredients. The kumpir man scooped butter from the backside of the pirate into the potatoes.

5) Fish sandwich

Fish sandwiches have a glorious history in Istanbul (read more here), and the best place to get them is on the fishing boats at Eminönü Pier. We visited that pier one evening and watched hundreds of people cram onto permanently docked boats to order cheap, delicious fish sandwiches. We’d just eaten so we weren’t among the throng.

Fortunately I found myself hungry one evening in Kadıköy, as we waited for a ferry back to the European side of town, and spotted a lone fish sandwich vendor outside the terminal. Meruschka and I each ordered one.

Istanbul fish sandwichGrilled fresh fish, lemon juice, lettuce/tomato/onion, and a light sauce.

Istanbul food-9507Here I am, taking a pretend bite of my fish sandwich for the camera. (Photo: Meruschka Govender)

I stuffed the sandwich in my face while we sat on the ferry. It was great. But beware of the raw onions.

Bonus #1: My Favorite Meal in Istanbul

The best meal I had was at Café Vodina in Balat, where I went during our tour with Fest Travel. Our appetizer was dolma, or stuffed grape leaves — a dish I had never been crazy about before this meal. The dolma were served warm, stuffed with a bulgar wheat mixture and smothered in thick yogurt.

Istanbul dolmasHeaven inside a grape leaf.

Our main course was manti, a Turkish ravioli/dumpling stuffed with meat and spices and also topped with yogurt.

Istanbul mantiThis bowl of manti was the single best thing I ate in Istanbul.

Bonus #2: My Favorite Drink in Istanbul

Istanbul has great coffee, tea, fruit juice, beer, and wine. But the best beverage discovery I made in Istanbul was salep, a hot, creamy drink made from the tubers of orchids that is served only in Turkey and a handful of middle eastern countries (and only in winter). Drinking salep is like drinking a warm version of the most delicious ice cream you can imagine.

SalepA cup of salep on our ferry ride down the Bosporus.

Istanbul foods and drinks that I enjoyed but didn’t have space to write about in this post: Turkish coffee and tea, apple tea, pomegranate juice, Turkish delight, baklava (yummmmmmm), other Turkish pastries, lentil soup, and roasted chestnuts…I’m sure there were more but these are the things I remember.

I’ll have more to say about Turkish food when I write about Cappadocia — coming up soon.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Jess February 24, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Everything looks amazing, and now I have one more country for my must visit list.

    • Reply 2summers February 24, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      Oh yes, you’d go crazy there will all the food 🙂

  • Reply Expatorama February 24, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    I’d never heard of salep before living in Istanbul, but apparently it was quite a popular drink in other parts of Europe before tea and coffee caught on. It was called saloop in 17th and 18th century England.

    • Reply 2summers February 24, 2016 at 4:03 pm

      Yes, I saw that too when I was researching it. Such an interesting substance! Apparently it’s illegal to export salep in many parts of the world now because the orchids are endangered 🙁

      • Reply Expatorama February 24, 2016 at 6:28 pm

        Understandable about the export ban, but it’s a shame, because it’s so yummy. The fact that it’s a contraband item just makes you want it more.

  • Reply Trish U February 24, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    I’m so envious. I’d kill to go back to Istanbul again. My most favourite thing was the kaymaklı lokum from Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir. Turkish delight filled with clotted cream.

    • Reply 2summers February 24, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      OMG, another thing I missed ?

  • Reply mzansigirl February 24, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Salivating reading this and thinking about all the amazing food we ate. I definitely put on a kilo or 2 after Turkey despite all our vigourous walking!

    • Reply 2summers February 24, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      I prefer to live in denial by never stepping onto a scale 🙂

  • Reply autumnashbough February 24, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Hungry again. Sometimes I wonder why I read your posts. Especially the ones on food. Everything looks so good. I’ve never heard of salep before. As always, a fascinating read.

  • Reply Louise Whitworth (@CosThisIsAfrica) February 24, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    This pide with the egg sounds like khachapuri adjharski which they eat in Georgia – it’s Delicious! Everything in here sounds so good though, Turkish breakfast is the best and that Kumpir potato, wow, I could eat those every day I reckon! Love the crazy butter pirate – how do they stop it from melting though? Here’s John and some khachapuris, they are definitely a lot thicker than pide, but idea is similar… http://louiseinyourpocket.blogspot.co.za/2012/11/6-reasons-to-visit-georgia.html

  • Reply Suvi February 24, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Omnom!! I’d forgotten all about salep, kumpir and Turkish breakfast. Ooooh.. I want to go back. I loved Pide. Lahmacun is also really good… Oh and lokum… The list is just endless with Turkish food isn’t it..

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun February 25, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    I loved the food in Turkey too, everything was so fresh and full of flavor, and lots of choices for vegetarians, especially for meze. Lovely photos!

    • Reply 2summers February 28, 2016 at 9:14 am

      Yes, it’s definitely a great place to visit for vegetarians. I’ll write more about mezze in my next Turkey post.

  • Reply all-TIM-ate February 28, 2016 at 7:12 am

    Didn’t eat enough??? I have no frame of reference for that concept 🙂
    After reading this, I feel i have to bump Turkey up my list of countries to visit.

    • Reply 2summers February 28, 2016 at 9:12 am

      Haha. Trust me, it felt like a foreign concept to me too.

  • Reply Rebecca March 5, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    You’re killing me here! I’ll have one of everything please.

    • Reply 2summers March 5, 2016 at 6:15 pm

      Hahaha. Me too 🙂

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