Istanbul is a city that allows you to slip into its daily rhythm with ease- ride the ferry across the sparkling blue Bosporus from Europe to Asia, meander through its bustling markets, perch on a stool for a cup of tea and watch the world go by. It’s a city where you can experience the famous Turkish hospitality. The locals are some of the friendliest you will encounter on your travels, generous of spirit and happiest when they see you embracing their culture- especially their food. You’ll fall very quickly for Istanbul’s food scene; here are some of the city’s best bites to get you started…
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1. Meze at Çukur Meyhane
Meze is one of Turkey’s most beguiling dining traditions- there’s no better way to spend an evening than whiling away the hours grazing on small plates and sipping on rakı, the national anise flavoured spirit. Çukur Meyhane is a local favourite set back from the relentless pedestrian traffic of İstiklal, Istanbul’s famous shopping street.
Start with some cold plates- beyaz peynir and kavun, a salty sheep’s milk cheese and slices of fresh melon, a plate of marinated mushrooms, a parsley salad studded with bulgur and gem-like pomegranate seeds. Swipe pieces of fresh bread through dips and then move onto the hot dishes. If it’s anchovy (hamsi) season, these are a must order- threaded onto skewers, grilled and finished with lemon.
Eat at: Çukur Meyhane, Kuloğlu, Turnacıbaşı Cd. & Kartal Sokak, Galatasaray 1/A, 34435 Beyoğlu, İstanbul. Open 7 days 5:00pm to 1:00am
2. Pide at Pak Pide Salonu
The spectacle of watching chefs at work is one of the reasons why mealtimes in Istanbul are so enjoyable. Pide, a pizza-esque dish is one you can watch being prepared, cooked and served within a matter of minutes.
Head to Pak Pide Salonu for a gawk and a taste of this perennial Turkish favourite. The restaurant is bare bones but it’s the open kitchen and the excellent pide you’re here for. Watch the pide master knead and shape the dough before scattering it with toppings, its edges brushed with butter before being slid into a ferocious wood fired oven. The pide emerges golden and crunchy, its cheese filling gooey and blistered. This is undoubtedly one of the best spots to eat pide in the city.
Eat at: Pak Pide Salonu, Mercan, Nasuhiye Sk. No:4, 34116 Fatih, İstanbul. Open Monday to Saturday 11:00am to 4:00pm.
3. Kelle Söğüş at Beyoğlu Kelle Söğüş
At first glance the ashen skull of a sheep doesn’t make for the most appealing mid-afternoon snack but trust us, order a portion of kelle söğüş and all doubts will vanish. There’s a reason why Muammer Usta’s cart hasn’t moved from the streets of the popular neighbourhood of Beyoğlu for the past 40 years.
Served cold, meat is torn from the skull and sliced before being served with handfuls of fresh parsley and onion on a sheet of paper. Pull up a stool, add a few shakes of dried chilli at the table and prepare to be amazed. Each mouthful is fresh- the snap of raw onion and the slight bitterness of the parsley cut through the richness of the meat. It’s like eating the best parts of last night’s lamb roast. This is Turkish street food at its finest.
Eat at: Beyoğlu Kelle Söğüş, Kamer Hatun, Hüseyinağa Mah Kamerhatun Cad, Balık Sk. No 2, 34435 Beyoğlu, İstanbul. Open Sunday to Thursday 10:00am to 8:00pm, Friday to Saturday 10:45am to 8:15pm.
4. Kebab at Abooov Adanali Durumcu
Kebabs are a mainstay of Turkish cuisine from döner kebab sliced from a vertical spit and eaten as a street snack to rich plates of lamb drenched in tomato sauce and lathered in browned butter- there are more than enough varieties to see you through your time in Istanbul.
To sample a range of kebab, head to Abooov’s where you can eat Adana kebab- marinated minced lamb, tavuk kanat (chicken wings) and çöp şiş (chunks of lamb) all fashioned onto skewers and cooked over charcoal. At Abooov’s the kebab are served with stacks of flatbread, salads laced with sumac and pomegranate molasses and pickles. Wash it all down with an ayran, a frothy, refreshing concoction made of yoghurt, water and salt.
Eat at: Abooov Adanali Durumcu, Acıbadem, Sarayardı Cd. No 78/2, 34718 Kadıköy, İstanbul. Open 7 days, 11:30am to 1:30am
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