For some, Istanbul conjures up images of mosques, minarets and boats making their way down the Bosphorus; for me it’s all about the food. Turkish cuisine is a wonderful fusion of traditions that hail from the Mediterranean, Balkans, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and the resulting flavours are pure magic! Today, I thought I’d share a little food guide to Istanbul for any foodies planning a visit to this city:
Go on a walking food tour
If you want to discover some of the best places to eat in Istanbul, but you’re not quite sure where to start, then a food tour is a great way to get acquainted with some of the local dishes. Sample kebabs, mezze, borek, baklava, coffee and more. You don’t have to feel guilty about overindulging in all these dishes because you’ll be walking it off.
Sample the street food
There may be days when you’re so full from the previous meal that you can’t handle another sit-down dinner. If that’s the case, then sample some of the street food.
One of my favourite meals-to-go in Istanbul is the kumpir, a baked potato that’s loaded with all kinds of fillings and condiments. The best kumpir is the one where the potato is scooped out and mixed with butter and cheese; the potato should be fresh out of the oven which will cause the butter and cheese to melt resulting in a really fluffy mashed potato that’s then stuffed back into the potato skin. Once this step is done, it’s your turn to choose what you want on your kumpir: olives, hot dog slices, pickles, corn, macaroni salad, shredded mozzarella, cabbage, peppers, peas, bulgur and more.
Other foods to try on the go include simit, a ring-shaped bread roll covered in sesame seeds; lahmacun, a thin Turkish-style pizza; and döner kebab, a meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie and then served in a flatbread.
Learn the recipes
If you can’t get enough of those Turkish flavours and you want to be able to take some of the culinary secrets home with you, then why not sign up for a cooking class? A few hours with an experienced chef should be enough to master a few recipes. The Sarnic Hotel offers a four-hour lesson where you prepare a five-course meal.
Savour the sweets
There is no better afternoon pick-me-up after a long day of sightseeing than a plateful of Turkish delight. Also known as lokum, this sweet confectionary is made from a starchy gel and it comes in many different flavours such as rose, cinnamon, mint, strawberry, pomegranate and kiwi. Turkish delight is generally sliced into small cubes, dusted in icing sugar, and served with a hot cup of apple tea. You can also find gourmet varieties that are filled with hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pomegranate seeds and then coated with shredded coconut.
If that doesn’t quite satisfy your sweet tooth, then you can also try baklava, a sweet phyllo pastry layered with finely chopped nuts and coated in honey. My personal favourite Turkish delight shop in Istanbul is Hafiz Mustafa, and it’s located in Eminönü right across from the train station.
Cool down with an ice cream cone
Turkish ice cream is quite special and it contains a few ingredients that you wouldn’t find in your average ice cream cone back at home. Turkish ice cream, better known as dondurma, contains salep, a type of flour used as a thickening agent, and mastic, a sticky resin that gives it that slightly chewy texture. The result is an ice cream that you have to bite into and it is a bit more resistant to melting. The ice cream’s consistency also means that the vendors can have a little bit of fun with their customers. Using long paddles, they craft the perfect cone and then flip it upside down as unsuspecting customers go to grab it. Quite the entertainers!
Do you enjoy Turkish food?
What’s your favourite dish?