Since the day Viraj and I decided to go to Turkey for a holiday, the only thing on my mind was the FOOD! Having been to Greece before, I knew that the food is going to be absolutely yums! Last year when we went to Paris and Spain, except for dinner one night, we didn’t eat out at all. It sort of worked for us during that trip, but this trip, I was ready to eat; and boy… did we EAT!
Turkey is a gastronomical mecca for those who love their meat. (My mouth is already watering FYI.. and I have barely begun my second paragraph!) In fact, my parents went a few years ago and they are vegetarians. They absolutely loved the food there as well. I guess I’ll have to retract my previous statement. Turkey is a gastronomical mecca for all those who love FOOD!
Viraj and I had decided that every meal in the country will be something different. There is so much to eat and covering as much as we possibly could was our plan. Every time we ordered something, I was ready with my camera to take the perfect picture. It wasn’t long before I kept forgetting to take the pictures because I just wanted to dive into the plate of food in front of me. The aroma and the gorgeous food on the plate really tested the patience of a perpetually hungry child.
Here is my account of our gastronomical journey in Istanbul. My post just skims through what we could manage in the three days that we were there. There is so much more out there. I’m sure a lifetime in the city wont be enough either!
This post is in two parts as I can’t get enough of talking about the lovely food and as a reader, I’m sure you would like a breather between the long list that I have here.
1. Doner Kebab
We had booked an AirBnB apartment in Istanbul. Our host had given us a landmark for us to meet him so that he could take us to the apartment. It was lunchtime and we were waiting near a bakery at the corner of a street, and what do we have on the other side… a doner kebab place. It was destiny! The first meal in the country.. we hadn’t even gone to our apartment.. and it was doner kabab time. Nothing could possibly make me happier or even Viraj for that matter, than the taste of a doner kabab. Meaty, spicy with lots of sauce.. you know that the trip is going to be a good one.
2. Wet Burger
Yes. I know.. the sound of ‘wet burger’ is quite strange. It was very weird to me as well when I read about it, but then I did remember seeing something like that on TV one day long before we had planned our trip. The host dunked a hamburger in a spicy tomato sauce and swore that it was the best thing she had tasted. Dunking a burger and making it soggy.. hmm.. little weird. Anyhow, I decided to trust her and with the faint image of that in my mind, our experimentation began.
Walking around Taksim square, we spotted our first wet burger joint at the beginning of Istiklal street. Little did we know that we had walked into the famous Kizilkayalar. At first sight the burger looks anything but appetizing – Soggy, wet, wrinkly and stacked one on top of the other… now that can’t be right. Bruce from Burgers and Bruce wrote this really funny statement about it.. ‘Turkey is famous for its hammams and the burgers were enjoying their own little hammam treatment.’
Here is where the self-doubt began. I had taken my dear husband to eat something that looks so questionable. Anyhow, since we were there, and hungry.. we were committed. 3 Lira for one burger… not bad.. so far so good. We got one soggy burger between the two of us… you know.. just in case.
As we had our first bites, we immediately understood why this burger is so famous. The bun had soaked up the tomato sauce and added to the flavour of the meat patty (which actually was quite small). You know how we don’t like having the actual bread when we eat burgers and try to put as much sauce as possible to be able to finish the bread, this bun is dunked in sauce. You don’t need anything to make it better. The wet texture didn’t bother us at all and we instantly fell in love with it. The burger was over in a split second and we were compelled to buy one more.
The burger became a part of our lives for those three days in Istanbul. Everytime we passed the shop, we stopped to buy one. We tried experimenting with other places, but none of them were as good as the burgers we got in Kizilkayalar. I have to add here that they tasted their best after a night of heavy drinking. Hot inexpensive burgers, how could you possibly go wrong with that? While I was doing some research for this post, I realized that Kizilkayalar is perhaps the best place for the wet burger in Istanbul. It is extremely popular even with the locals. I guess that’s why we kept going back to the joint. As a person who had no idea that the place was famous and kept going back, I guess that is a great testament to how incredible the burgers are at that place. If you do go to Istanbul, do not miss this wet wonder.
Baked potato + butter + mushrooms + sautéed onions +salami + corn + some amazing topping + another amazing topping + spicy yummy sauce + another yummy sauce + a few yum things I have forgotten because my mouth is watering = one yummalicious, super delicious, amazing beyond words… *drum roll* KUMPIR!!!
Potatoes and I, we are a match made in food heaven. My parents call me ‘Pooja Aaloo Deshpande’ (Aaloo is Potato in Hindi). I guess that pretty much sums up how much potato means to me… and Kumpir, I believe, was invented just for me.
When we went to get Kumpir, I assumed it would be very similar to the Jacket Potato I had had in London. I hadn’t quite liked that, but I was very eager to try Kumpir. Was I wrong or was I WRONG! Unlike Jacket Potato which has a maximum of three toppings, Kumpir is loaded with toppings, and the toppings, in turn, are loaded with flavour.
The potato is giant! It is perfectly mushy in the center and is first mixed thoroughly with butter and some salt. This forms the base for the heap of toppings yet to come. The server asked us.. what do you want on the Kumpir? We asked for two toppings, wondering how many toppings we were allowed. In very desi fashion, we didn’t want to pay for the extra toppings :P. Hesitantly, we asked him.. urrmm.. how many toppings can we have. ‘How many ever you want’ came a very confused answer from the server.
It was like the doors of heaven opened up. Gimme this.. and this.. and this.. and that… Before we knew it, our already giant potato got even more giant. It one Viraj and one Pooja to finish one Kumpir.
How happy was my tummy was at the end of that meal.
Our Baklava journey was quite interesting. I’d had Baklava when I was in London. I had a Jordanian friend who had gone home and got some back. I didn’t remember the taste much, but I do remember liking it although I found it a bit sweet. Viraj’s first experience of having a Baklava was in Sydney. He found it waaaay too sweet and didn’t like it much. I guess that’s why we weren’t so keen on having the sweet while we were there. Actually we hadn’t given it much of a thought either.
Our first evening in Istanbul, we were walking back home from the Galata bridge and decided to go via Karakoy. It would be a long walk home, but we were up for it. The walk along the bank looked pretty and promising, however, it ended in no time. The path took us to an interior road which was lined with a few cafes. Watching all the people eating, suddenly our tummies started rumbling too. It was time for yet another meal.
There were about three places to eat there. Not knowing where to go, we exercised our thumb rule – when in doubt, go to the place which looks the most popular.We walk in, find a place and head out to the counters to help ourselves. Guess what? The cafe has only Baklavas.. in all possible shapes and sizes and flavours. Hmm… not the cafe we thought we were going to. Nevertheless, let’s have some Baklavas.
We got two classic Baklavas, one chocolate and another sweet treat I don’t know the name of. We took our first bites of the classic Baklava and the world stopped around us. It was just us, and the ridiculously amazing, pistachio and sweet syruped stunning Baklava. It was only later that we realized that we had stumbled upon the famous Karakoy Gulluoglu, THE most famous place in Istanbul for Baklavas, which could be loosely translated to ‘THE most famous place in the world’ for Baklavas. Viraj and I went bonkers! With the right amount of sweet, the crunchy top and the base which had soaked up the sweet syrup, seconds were inevitable. Happy and satisfied with our discovery, we took a cab back home. No walking back that day.
The next evening, after exploring the Sultanahmet area, the grand bazaar and spice market, we found ourselves at Eminonu. That was enough to stir the Baklava cravings. I tried really hard to suppress the feeling, but it was proving very hard to do. I finally caved and told Viraj that I wanted to go have more of those gorgeous Baklavas. When they say marriages are made in heaven.. it is true. Turns out that Viraj was craving the same. I do love my husband!
Viraj suggested that we go to Koskeroglu, which is almost as good as Gulluoglu. The decision was made and there was no time to waste. The cravings needed to addressed at the earliest.
Koskeroglu is a smaller joint than Gulluoglu and I found it a lot cuter and quieter. I guess it was just what Viraj and I needed after a long day. The varieties of Baklava, unfortunately, weren’t as much. That, however, didn’t matter to us. We wanted our Baklavas STAT! Baklavas and hot Turkish Tea.. how can life get any better. The Koskeroglu Baklavas didn’t disappoint. They were fabulous. However, I liked the Gulluoglu Baklavas a tad bit more. Perhaps Gulluoglu had the advantage that we went there first. I guess I could go again and find out 😉
How do you know that you’re in Turkey? It’s when you see Simit carts EVERYWHERE! I had read about Simit in travel blogs and seen it in pictures that depict ‘Istanbul’ in it’s truest form. Seeing them everywhere, I honestly believed that the sesame seed covered bread would be the first thing I would’ve had. For some reason, however, I had Simit towards the end of the trip. Bread, in any form, I love! Guess that’s why I was so eager to have Simit, and I finally did – Simit with Nutella!
The build up of Simit, unfortunately, didn’t translate to a very exciting experience. Now, I am an Indian and my experience of having bread is largely restricted to soft crusted breads. Although I have had hard crusted breads many a times, they always have a very soft interior. I guess that’s why when I had Simit, I didn’t enjoy the hardness of it much. The Nutella helped a lot. Perhaps having it in the traditional manner, with a cup of Turkish Tea, would make a difference too.
How can you go to Turkey and not have Turkish Ice Cream or Dondurma by the theatrical vendors in Red and Gold. The first time I saw a Turkish Ice Cream vendor was in Singapore in Clarke Quay. I was so mesmerized by his tricks that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He would play with his customers with such ease… flipping the ice cream, giving an empty cone, leaving the tissue and keeping the cone and the ice cream for himself. So much theater and so much fun! I HAD to have that ice cream and be a part of that theater.
It is amazing how these guys do it and it is amazing how the ice cream allows these guys to play with it. You can often find them taking the ice cream out of their containers, stretching it, playing with it, but the ice cream never looses its shape. It does not melt and is crazy elastic. I later learnt that ‘salep’ which is a powder made from orchid tubers, is what makes the ice cream elastic.
After all that theatre, I didn’t expect the ice cream to be all that good. Who cares right.. after all you got your money’s worth with all that hoopla. Oh no! I was so wrong! The ice cream… yummmmmsss!!! I had a simple chocolate ice cream (like I would have anything else) was so thick, creamy and smooth… every ice cream lovers delight. Worth every penny you spend for it.
Oh my stomach is grumbling so loudly right now. It is such a test of my will power not to book that ticket back to Istanbul. I would love to know your experiences in Istanbul, especially with the food. This is just the beginning. I have so much more to add. You can check out the second part of the series here – The Turkish Foodie Part 2.