June 29, 2011

Istanbul - the food

I couldn't have told you a thing about döner kebaps last week (yes with a 'p'). But today, after a weekend of dizzyingly watching the juicy meat spin and wrapping my piggy little fingers around a warm dürüm döner kebap, I can tell you that they are delicious. We ate two kebaps in four days, which might not sound like a lot, but wait until you scroll through the rest of this post and realize how many other delicious goodies we ate: big ringed sesame bagels, flat breads, ooey gooey potato cheesy bread, mussels with rice, meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves covered in yogurt, and the list goes on. There was a lot of food and most of it was street food. We loved the street food, but you know what? I think we loved the people selling the street food almost as much, if not more, than the food itself. They might seem serious at first, but I can promise you that in most cases there will be a big smile lurking somewhere under that enormous, amazing, bristly, dark mustache.
We had our first kebap the second day after walking over the Galata Bridge on our way to the tower. There is something we refer to as the 'hungry monster' in our family. Our glucose begins to sink and there is no getting in the way of a Burns who needs to eat. If my brother, Pete, doesn't eat before a round of golf you can be sure that by the 11th hole he will be grumpy, bitter, throwing clubs and dying for a bite of a hamburger (love you Pete!) Well that is where I found myself at around 1pm on Friday, absolutely-starving-had-to-eat-couldn't-walk-another-step-give-me-a-kebap-NOW! Thankfully we didn't have to walk far until we saw this little spot, bordered by bridge bound traffic on one side and depressing stores on the other, but heck, they had meat and beer, a shady place to sit and a very friendly staff.
Tea time takes on an entirely new meaning in Istanbul. There is no time because people drink it all day long - mid morning, after lunch, with an afternoon sweet, before dinner, after dinner, just for the heck of it - really they drink it constantly, just adding a little square of sugar before drinking. It's a bit like chain tea drinking, now that I think about it. What was really great was the way that post people received their tea - from a man walking around with a pewter tea tray, complete with saucers and stirring spoons.
The cheesey-potato flat bread that we found just outside the Blue Mosque might have been the best thing we ate the entire trip. Layers and layers of hot bread, sandwiching hot cheese and buttery potato...mmm. It was heavenly, and so was the $2 price tag! We tried to go back for another one before we had to leave for the airport, but the man wasn't there or had relocated his cart. Quite an upsetting way to end the trip.
We had dinner our first night near the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque at a little fish restaurant just down the hill. It's in all of the guidebooks and was recommended to use by a few different friends, but none the less we found it to be filled with mostly locals and perhaps that is because everything we ate was amazingly fresh and flavorful. They brought over a tray of meze (cold appetizers) for us to chose from and then they took us over to the fish tray so that we could select which one we wanted to eat for dinner. We started with eggplant spread, hummus, roasted red peppers, mussels in rice, hot pepper spread and sea bass. If you know me you are thinking 'Talley doesn't eat mussels, nope not a chance,' but I gave the dish a shot and actually really liked it. Hmm perhaps I'll have to try moules frites soon, a dish that always looks so good, except for the eating mussels part of it. Anyway, enough about mussels, for dinner Zach had mackrel, head and all, and I had a nice flakey piece of sea bass.
Zach and must have walked back and forth through the market on the Asian side of the city at least four times. We were completely enamored with every vendor and every single little bit of everything they were selling. The colors were out of this world as were some of the smells!
Zach is an avid New Yorker reader. He gets stressed if a new one arrives before he has finished the last one. Nothing goes unread. Not the New York restaurant reviews or the letters to the editor, he reads every single word on every single page, except it seems for the fiction section, which often goes untouched. So as an thorough reader he was shocked to hear that he had missed the article in the April 19, 2010 issue about the restaurant Çiya Sofrasi in Istanbul. My wonderful friend Mary sent us a list of recommendations and pointed us in the direction of this restaurant, which her parents had visited after reading the article. It is a very simple restaurant, which pairs nicely with the out-of-this-FREAKING-world food. Every bite was full of unexpected flavors. We ordered, on the suggestion of the waiter, a sample of mezes and entrees and thought everything we ate was better than the last. It's interesting actually, they only have one rule, which is that you can't mix the dishes on your plate. You can only eat one at a time. This is perfect for Zach who doesn't know the meaning of meat and potatoes because he eats the meat then potatoes. We highly recommend it if you are in Istanbul, and heck it's a quick little jaunt to Asia for lunch!
Like I said, they can seem stern at first, but there is a smile hiding under there somewhere (especially if you just bought a sesame bagel from him in the hopes of getting a picture!)
Mmm. and then you eat the bagel and are just as happy as the man who sold it to you. We preferred them plain, finding the cheese to taste a bit like gorgonzola, which neither of us like.
Have you heard of the Sultan's revenge? That is the term for what happens to your digestion when you have eaten street food laden with bacteria. The major culprit of sultan's revenge are the mussels with rice. We didn't know this when we had one (upper left picture). Thankfully we each only had one. I was super hesitant on eating it after actually seeing the mussel, but before I really had a chance to second guess my consumption the man had shoved it in my mouth!
My stomach did feel a bit queasy after the sultan's mussel so we went to find some bread, which did the trick perfectly. Besides it was a great excuse to eat some beautiful, fluffy flat bread.
One thing we didn't do enough was sample the sweets. There were tons of desserts full of unfamiliar ingredients and curious flavors. We did try Turkish delights, which we both agreed were both savory and sweet and we tried a Baklava, which unfortunately we didn't really like - too nutty. This trip was meat and bread based so I guess the next trip will have to be sweet based. Anyone want to go on a sweet tour of Istanbul?

This next series of photos is of one of my favorite vendors in the city. We saw him two days and he just made me want to smile.
Isn't he great? He sold sesame bagels, similar to many of the vendors, but there is just something about his smile that makes you want to buy a gazillion bagels.

I hope you've enjoyed our little food tour of Istanbul and that you are inspired to book a trip and eat your way through the city. Next time we go I really think we'll skip the sites and just focus on the food and all the fun cafes.

Remember how I said it was 92 degrees yesterday - well today it's 70 and rainy. The weather really fluctuates in this city. It's too bad because I was on a two day swimming streak, Monday in the river and yesterday in the Lake, both of which were great, but the lake was a bit warmer. Okay off to get the cushions off the terrace and hunker down with my to-do list.


  1. Gorgeous photos, Talley. I particularly love the photos of the spices and the street vendors... they remind me of our trip to Morocco! I love that you got a smile out of the sesame bagel seller.

  2. haha I guilted him into it by buying one of his bagels. I made Zach buy a lot of unnecessary street food in the hopes of getting a photo - they were all just so photogenic. Morocco might have to be next! Come to Europe and we can plan a food tour, eating our way through one country at a time!