Welcome back to the second part of the The Turkish Foodie. It took me a while to get the drool off my keyboard and now it is ready for another batch of fresh drool as I take you through a few of the other dishes that Viraj and I tried on our trip to Istanbul. In case you missed the first part of this journey, you can catch it here.
Get ready for another drool fest!
1. Iskender Kebab
The super popular and the super tradional Iskender Kebab. Did you really think that we would go all the way to Turkey and not have some?
In theory, the Iskender Kebab is pretty straight forward.. Slices of beef with tomato sauce on it resting on a base of pita (which has soaked up that tomato sauce and makes it a pleasure to eat), with a dollop of yogurt on the side. The one that we had was a slightly not so traditional one as it had fries on top.. but hey! I ain’t complaining. Do you remember.. me and potatoes… and us being together forever and all. The fries soaked up the sauce too and they got even more delightful!
It gets even better when you have this classic dish in one of the small cafes in the narrow streets around the historical area of Sultanahmet. The meat perfectly succulent and sliced and the sauce perfectly spiced.
The Iskender Kebab originated in Bursa in the late 1800s. Some sources say that it was named after Alexander the Great, while some say that it was named after the creator, Iskender Efendi. Although it looks a lot like an open doner roll, the tomato sauce takes it to a whole new level. I like it way better than the doner kebab. The sauce infused potato fries and pita at the bottom made my heart sing. Fortnately I was not too hungry when Viraj and I went to have the kebab, else I would not have shared the kebab plate with him.. and the plate is pretty big FYI.
If you would like to know more about the delicious kebab, you can read about it here.
2. Icli Kofte
At the little traditional cafe that we had the Iskender Kebab, we ordered the Icli Kofte (pronounced as each-LEE) as an appetizer. We just assumed that it will be something like what we call Kofta which is a grilled meatball or a vegetable ball, usually served in a gravy. What we were served with, however, was something quite different.. and quite the yums! That’s what experimenting is about right? You never quite know when it would be a hit or a miss. Icli Kofte was a hit! hit! HIT!
Icli Kofte is a stuffed meatball. It is usually stuffed with lamb or beef and has some ground nut like walnuts or pine nuts which gives a wonderful crunch against the soft tender meat. The shell is made of bulgur which, I later learnt, is a form of wheat commonly used in Turkey. The Kofte is deep fried till it is golden brown. The crunchy exterior with the juicy, soft interior.. it is a party in your mouth!
The kebab came on a bed of fresh lettuce and tomatoes. Didn’t really feel so guilty about having the fried kebab after all 😉
3. Testi Kebab
As questionable as the name sounds, the literal translation of ‘Testi Kebab’ is slow cooked meat and veggies in a clay pot, so keep those pervi minds to rest peeps. Well, to be perfectly honest, I had one of those pervi minds as well. I mean.. come on.. it’s called ‘Testi’ kebab and who knows what the Turks find appetizing! I really questioned this dish as Viraj took me to a place which was supposed to be one of the best places to have the kebab. He was enjoying my agony as got all worked up about where he was taking me. Finally.. oh so finally he put me out of my misery when he told me what the Testi Kebab actually is. Phew!
We went to a restaurant near the Blue Mosque area. It was a little touristy, but a cute restaurant never the less. We settled in and ordered our respective beers. (There is nothing like chilled beer on a hot afternoon!) There was a group of American tourists sitting behind us and guess what, they too had ordered the kabas.
Who doesn’t love food preceded with theater? Out came two men with a trolley. On the trolley were two sealed clay pots resting on a base of fire. Whoaa!!! Then started the shenanigans with fire and the pots.
In perfect sync, the two men tapped the edges of the clay pots until the top part of the pot cracked. For the finale, with their knife/hammer, they tip the top half of the clay pot and it falls on the ground shattering in to little pieces! How much fun is that!
The curry with meat and veggies is poured into your plate and you have it with bread or rice. The kebab we had was so so yum. Packed with flavour. One kebab pot is enough for a meal for two. While having our meal we could hear a lot of clay pots shattering around us. Such a celebratory feeling!
4. Burek with Meat
Check out the image above. A man with a serious look on his face cutting freshly baked bread filled with meat. There’s not just one kind of bread, there are so many types of breads scattered around him. If you’ve read the post on My Comfort Foods, you would already know what bread does to me. Now imagine, you land in a new country and are told to wait for your host in front of a bakery. How can your mouth not water? Why do you think I ran and bought that doner kabab that day. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the doner kebab title of The Turkish Foodie Part 1)
We kept walking past this very bakery every time we went somewhere and it took me just a day to drag Viraj to this place for breakfast. Being a local place, the guy behind the counter didn’t know any English and was not able to understand me well. That’s where the universal language of food comes into play.. I just pointed at what I wanted, the man asked.. sweet, cheese or meat? One word reply.. ‘meat!’ and I got my very own plate of freshly baked Burek.
The super thin layers of pastry, flaky on top and getting softer as you start getting to the center of the burek, made the perfect breakfast meal for us. If you would like to know a little more about Burek, how to make it and some slurrrrpalicious pics.. click here.
5. Nohutlu Pilav (Chickpea rice with Chicken)
By now you would have realized what an impact Turkish food had on Viraj and me. We actually were hungry… ALL THE TIME; and the times we were not hungry, we would get hungry looking at the food on display. That was the story of the chickpea rice or Nohutlu pilav.
We were returning from a night out at Istiklal, and if I remember correctly, we had satiated our post drinking hunger with a wet burger. As we about to enter the street to our apartment, we saw a crowd gathered around a food cart. Viraj, being the curious cat that he is, went off to explore. Unlike him, the skeptical me stayed at a slight distance. A bunch of guys gathered in the middle of the night, in a foreign land, I didn’t want to take a chance.
What we realized is that everyone was gathered around a food cart selling rice and chicken.
‘Are you hungry’ Viraj asked me.
‘Not at all! We JUST ate! Let’s go home.’ came a slightly snappy reply from me.
‘Umm it looks interesting’
‘Yes. But we just ate!’
‘Hmmm.. ok let’s go.’ said a poor dejected Viraj.
As I took two steps, I realized that Viraj had succumbed to temptation and had gone back to get a bowl of the rice. I think it reminded him of the chicken rice he had had when he was in New York. He cannot stop talking about it.
I was very visibly annoyed because I was tired and the picture of hitting the sack was getting more and more tempting by the minute. He got the bowl and off we went.. finally! We got home and he made me take the pictures, which I did, rather reluctantly. As Viraj started eating it, there was a sudden silence. Not a word. His face serious and full of concentration. He looked up for a second and said.. ‘You HAVE to try this’. With that, the face dug deeper into that bowl.
Arrgh! Damn Turkish food! Why do you do this to me. I had to have some, and I did… I’m so glad I did. The pulav was so beautiful. Warm and mildly spiced. I thought it was going to be dry as there was no gravy in it, but it was anything other than dry. It was perfect! The chicken was tender and perfectly cooked. After all the skepticism, Viraj and I were fighting for the last little grains of rice left on the bowl.
Another fabulous dinner in Istanbul in the form of Beyeti kebab. The kebab is minced meat wrapped in bread.. like one of our rolls, but better! It is served with a dollop of yogurt and yellow pulses (not really sure what it was though. Perhaps you could help me out with that). The kebab was served so beautifully with grilled tomatoes and chili with a side of one of the freshest salads I’ve ever had. The salad was a bit sweet and did wonders for my dear Bengali husband’s palette.
It is amazing how they always get their meat right. I don’t think we had meat that was under spiced, over spiced, over or under cooked anywhere. The meat in the Beyeti kebab, too, perfect! When the plate came to our table, it looked huge, but Turkey turned us into massive over eaters. We polished off everything on the plate.
The trip… the food.. the place… Istanbul you are mesmerizing. Everything about you is sensational!
I always knew that the city is wonderful, but you never really know until you get there and see it (taste it) for yourself. Although I think we saw pretty much everything there is to see in Istanbul, but my tummy is anything but satiated. I know there is so much more for me to discover and learn. I still have to have the Turkish Pizza, the Moussaka, stuffed vegetables, .., …, the list goes on an on. I will be back soon Istanbul and Turkey, beware!