The list that details how we will pack our tummies while adventuring away from home can be as essential as the one that reminds us to pack our toothbrush. Here are some post-mortem thoughts on our travels that may be useful to you one day.
If you’ve been keeping up this week with my posts on Turkish breakfasts and desserts, then you know how much of an awesome gastronomic adventure Turkey was. With something like 17 million people and spread out as far as your eye can see (on two continents, no less), Istanbul had all the spoils you could ever want. Given the age that we’re in, I relied more on the internet for ideas on where to eat in Istanbul than I did my travel guides. I’m never too sure who the audience is for each guide. So, for the few months preceding my trip, I cast my net as far as the ‘net would allow.
The biggest fish I caught by far was Istanbul Eats. It is an excellent English blog and guide that has reviews, travel pieces and lots of good, basic knowledge of what makes up Turkish cuisine and what of it you should be trying. From cozy little holes to hipster havens, Istanbul Eats gives you the goods on what is just plain good. It was an invaluable site. I pretty much took their word for almost every place I ate in Istanbul and was never disappointed. But I also found Parla Food and Cafe Fernando to be great resources for new info and cross-referencing. Tourism is big business in Turkey, so I never had any real language issues. If there’s not an English menu, someone usually speaks enough of it to help you out.
If you find yourself in Istanbul one day, I highly recommend you putting these places on your list. Just search Istanbul Eats if you need addresses and more info.
Halil Lahmacun — Touted as one of THE places to try lahmacun, the delicious paper-thin flatbread covered in minced beef and tomato that you roll up and eat like a wrap. I was greeted by a young server with an eager “I think she’s English” smile and then watched the world go by on a busy little street in Kadikoy while eating my one, then two lahmacun. Even for only a quick bite, it’s totally worth the ferry ride over to the Asian side. And remember to drink an Ayran with it (a salty yogurt drink)!
Ciya Sofrasi — The biggest reason to head over to the Asian side. A series of three restaurants (the one to go to is 43A) on that same little street Kadikoy, which served up the best meze, mains and desserts I tried my entire trip. Went twice. More than once I saw it written up as the best restaurant in Istanbul. Traditionally Turkish in that everything is already prepared, and you just point and choose what you want from the steam tables (the meze are serve yourself, pay by weight). Apparently the chef seeks out the old and forgotten of Turkish cuisine. From the meze, I never had enough of the muhammara, stuffed peppers or yogurt and barley salad. The stuffed eggplant main was a treasure trove of flavour, and it was great to have the lamb and sour plum stew after seeing vendors all over Istanbul selling the small green fruit. You stuff yourself and then get a bill for about $30.
Antiochia — Another place I went to twice. Eating alone can prove difficult in a culture that serves family-style a lot of the time. In addition to its decent wine list (that is, offering more than just red or white), modern decor and attractive staff, Antiochia hooked me because they have a few plates that allow you to get a main and some tastes of starters. My main of choice was a beef durum/wrap, which has a filling of chunks of beef, tomato and herbs. They also had a killer muhammara.
Furreya Galata Balikcisi — With all the people you see fishing in Istanbul, it didn’t seem right to only have the balik ekmek sandwiches you buy along the water. This little spot near the Galata Tower was just the place, especially if you want to try the local specialty, the anchovy-like hamsi.
Van Kahvalti Evi — Breakfast heaven. Delicious food, sweet staff and smack dab in the middle of Cihangir, the neighbourhood described as being the Paris/Rome/Brooklyn of Istanbul. Bohemiaville means you’re also surrounded by the cool and beautiful for ultimate people watching. Get: bal kaymak, menemen.
Karakoy Gulluoglu — A good place for baklava. Not in a glaringly obvious location, so you’re surrounded more by locals than tourists. A mixed plate of 4-5 pieces, which you can take outside to take in the dock of Karakoy, will set you back about $3.
Haci Bekir — A good place for lokum/Turkish delight. No other tourists were around on the occasions I went in (I will always take that as a good sign), and someone is always around to help you out. Buy the rose. Buy the mastic. Ask for samples of all that they’ll allow. The other good sign is that their lokum is not piled high out in the open getting dry and stale.
Simsek Pide Salonu — The oval-shaped pide is the closest thing to Turkish pizza, and Simsek is a great place to try it right near Taksim Square. I say you’ve got to get an egg on top and again, beverage needs to be Ayran.
Saray Muhallebicisi — The place to go for puddings. There are many dessert cafes in Istanbul, but this one had the most charm for feeling like it’s been around forever.
Mandabatmaz Cafe — A great place to go for a Turkish coffee. On a surprisingly quiet side street off the busy Istiklal Caddesi, Mandabatmaz is run by an older gentleman who puts forth some of the best black gold around. The perfect place to enjoy a quiet moment writing a postcard before you head out for an action-packed day in the big city.