Romantic, energetic, colourful and generous- there aren’t enough words to describe just how exhilarating Istanbul is. Once you hit the streets of this vibrant metropolis you’ll want to spend every waking moment exploring, eating and people watching. There is so much to discover- buildings that have stood since the Middle Ages, ferries which take you from Europe over to Asia in a scant 15 minutes and the cuisine, oh my god the cuisine. It will blow your mind. Here are our Top 3 Turkish food experiences you can’t miss!
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1. Turkish breakfast at Van Kahvaltı Evi
You’ll be gob-smacked by the fresh produce in Turkey- take a wander through a local market and you’ll leave laden with heavy plump figs, gleaming red tomatoes and bunches of fragrant herbs, all at a steal. It not only looks good but tastes phenomenal and you really don’t need to do much to it in order to create a mind-blowing meal. Enter the Turkish breakfast. Basically take all manner of delicious produce and artisanal products and pop it on a plate, provide copious amounts of cay (tea) and let ‘em at it.
Eat at Van Kahvaltı Evi- this Kurdish style breakfast salon knows how to put on a breakfast spread to remember. Plates (to name but a few) of fresh tomato and cucumber, piles of olives, four styles of local cheese, sour cherry jam, freshly baked bread, kavut- a wheat and walnut spread and of course bal kaymak- clotted cream and runny honey. The discovery of bal kaymak has ruined us for life- it doesn’t get much better than warm bread dolloped with rich cream and sweet honey fresh from the comb. It’s quite simply, magic.
Eat at: Van Kahvaltı Evi, Kılıçali Paşa Mahallesi, Defterdar Ykş. 52/A, 34425 Beyoğlu, İstanbul. Open daily 8:00am to 5:00pm.
2. Döner Kebab at Karadeniz Döner Asım Usta
Kebabs are king in Turkey- and there are an array of different types on which to gorge. Just quickly- a kebab is meat which is fashioned onto a skewer and then grilled- often over charcoal. When you’re in Istanbul, what’s most familiar to Kiwis is probably the dönerkebab- layer upon layer of marinated meat (lamb, beef, often both or chicken) that’s stacked onto a skewer and roasted on a vertical spit. Just a note- what Kiwis know as adönerkebab are nothing like thedönerkebab in Turkey. Forget the lashings of garlic yoghurt and sweet chilli sauce and there’s definitely no hummus nor salad- they keep it really simple here.
For an impressivedönerexperience head to Karadeniz Döner Asım Usta. There’s only one word to describe the spectacle that is the döner kebab here: behemoth. The stack of meat is quite frankly frightening in its size. But they sell out every day and one taste of this kebab and you’ll realise why. A house-made pide is stuffed with thin slices of juicy meat, a couple of slices of tomato, a gherkin and a chilli. No sauce you say? It doesn’t need it. The meat is flavoursome and moist, the tomato fresh and sweet and the bread pleasantly chewy. We guarantee you’ll make a return visit.
Eat at: Karadeniz Döner Asım Usta, Sinanpaşa Mahallesi, Mumcu Bakkal Sokak No:6, 34353 Beşiktaş, İstanbul. Open Monday to Saturday 10:30am to 5:00pm.
3. Balık ekmek at Emin Usta’s stall
Balık ekmek which literally translates to fish bread, is one of Istanbul’s iconic street foods. This fish sandwich can be found easily at any one of the boats moored by the Galata bridge. Don’t go there- you can do so much better. Instead, hunt down Emin Usta. He sets up in front of an empty, single car park down a narrow street lined with hardware stores. You’ll find him casually flipping thick filets of mackerel whilst stuffing wraps full of fresh lettuce, tomato and parsley. Once ready, in goes the fish, a couple of squirts of lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. He rolls up the parcel, showers an abundance of spice onto the wrap and swipes his secret sauce with a paintbrush over the top before one final press onto the grill.
We once waited an hour for this sandwich despite there being only a handful of hungry customers. Emin Usta takes his sweet time, confident that his sandwich is worth the wait. And god is it worth the wait- one bite of this beauty and you’ll be hooked. The vegetables and herbs burst with flavour, the fish is moist and meaty and the tangy sweetness of the pomegranate molasses brings it all together. Devour it down by the water as you watch the ferries come and go. It’ll be one of the best things you eat in Istanbul.
Eat at: Emin Usta, Arap Cami Mahallesi, Makaracılar Cd. No:17, 34421 Beyoğlu, İstanbul. Open daily midday to 11:00pm.
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