I had two wish-lists before I headed to Istanbul, a list of all the places that we wanted to visit and a much longer and comprehensive list of food that I wanted to try.
Istanbul’s geography stands across both Europe and Asia, and so does its culture. Any description of its beauty will fall short of the experience. I went there for a week with my girlfriend to celebrate New Year’s. While the weather was tough on us, it also added to the delight.
When thou hast brav’d stormy winds and cold rain, only then shall thou truly savour the hot soup.
We stayed near Deniz Musesi at the coast of Beşiktaş(pronounced Beshiktash) via Airbnb. It is a great location with tram and ferry stations at walking distance. When we arrived, I expressed my interest in the local food, and to my delight the host said that you have come to the breakfast capital of Istanbul. There are two main parallel streets from the museum into the neighbourhood. One has expensive cafes extending into the street that serve ‘Turkish breakfast’, we tried the Sütis cafe. The other street Ortabahçe Cad. has a huge variety of places to eat extending into a number of smaller streets. I will discuss the food items primarily and then dedicate a section to the lovely Balkan Lokantasi, which became a perfect place for us to have a full meal without having to empty our wallet.
Eat them you must
Döner also known as Kebab or Shawarma is the most common street food of Istanbul. It’s primary ingredient is strips of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It is served in many variations. A doner filled pide with a bottle of ayran makes a great meal for one person. The dürüm(wrap) version is easier to eat when walking.
Kumpir is a big baked potato, fluffy on the inside mixed with cheese and choices from a wide range of fillings. I had one with Mexican fillings, hot and yummy. This is the best vegetarian dish I encountered in Istanbul.
Tavuk göğsü with Turkish Coffee
Tavuk göğsü is a pudding made with chicken and milk. You might think chicken in a dessert sounds weird but trust me this is amazing stuff! Turkish coffee is fresh and strong, but not as strong as the espresso. Do try it at least once. It is always served with Lokum and water, just in case.
This was the happiest surprise ever. It was not a part of my list and we just randomly ordered from the menu since it was in turkish. This remains the best cookie I ever had. It has a chewy texture and is made with almonds.
Baklava and Borek
I had these amazing sweets from a small shop ‘Kafadaroğlu Börekçisi’ in Besiktas that specialises in these. While it’s hard to explain the difference between them from outside, lets stick to calling Baklava the thicker sweeter one with pistachios between layers of pastry and Borek a larger family of pastries with meat or vegetables as fillings.
Simit, Chestnuts and Pomegranate Juice
A stall in Sultanahmet selling chestnuts. Similar stalls around the area sell Simit. Simit is a large circular bread covered with sesame seeds. Buy the Nutella filled ones, they are cheap, tasty and filling. Roasted chestnuts are amazing to walk with. I had pomegranate juice in Asian side of Istanbul near the Kadikoy ferry station. Turkey loves pomegranate and hence this also is amazing. Even if you had it back home, try it here.
You can find them easily on street stalls. These are fried dough balls(or donuts) covered with sweet syrup. This is very sweet, so the ones with sensitive teeth must take care.
Pilav is a spiced rice with some vegetables or meat mixed. Indians might be disappointed by strength of the spices, but it has a nice subtle taste.
It’s a misnomer and a relatively simple dessert. Layers of biscuits with stretchy chocolate in between.
Ashure and Sütlaç
Ashure is also known as “Noah’s pudding” It is light, sweet and filled with real fruit pieces. Sütaç is a baked rice pudding that is plain and delicious.
Coming from Mumbai, this felt like an unusual concept where you just walked in, picked up stuff you wanted to eat, without knowing their price and at the end paid whatever cash the guy totalled in his mind. But when you get amazing authentic dishes, in good quantity and at extremely cheap prices, you really don’t care.
This was the one place we relied on whenever we were confused where we should eat or were disappointed by a few places or the weather was just too bad to go looking. This was that holy shrine.
By the end of our trip, we had finished all of their menu except for a couple main-course items maybe. A normal meal with one large bowl of soup, three main-course items and two desserts would cost around 20 TL(TRY / Turkish Lira) which translates to INR 520 or 8.5 $. It used to leave the two of us full, and trust me I have a large appetite. Meatballs, Kofte, salads, soup, chicken legs, lamb, fried liver, eggplant(I absolutely hate eggplants, but I loved their version.), everything here was appetising and tasted delicious.
As you would expect, this place always has a line of people walking in, and yet always has a place to sit. No frills, people come, grab food, eat it, enjoy it and leave.
Continuing on food items again -
Overrated they are
These are the ice-cream of Turkey. Feel free to try them but don’t expect an out of the world experience.
The pizza of Turkey. This is highly overrated, it is just a super thin crust pizza with average toppings.
Van’s breakfast / Turkish breakfast
Popularised for tourists, I didn’t see a point in attempting this expensive collection of the usual items against trying real turkish cuisine.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the best food in Istanbul, so don’t pick that beautiful cafe near a popular tourist place. You might find a better one inside a street near it. If you are smart with your choices, you should be fine with 60TL per day on food expenses. Do take a trip to the Asian side. I haven’t been to other cities in Turkey, but they are recommended for people to get even more authentic cuisine.
If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul. — Alphonse de Lamartine