Eating my heart out: Istanbul, Turkey

Watching chefs through the window

Watching chefs through the window

 My tummy and my taste buds enjoy traveling just as much as my eyes enjoying seeing new sights. Traveling, for me, is getting to know a place through the food and by meeting the people who live there.  My visit to Turkey was no exception. Despite arriving in Istanbul blind (read: I didn’t do much research except for a quick Top 10 list from Lonely Planet and foods to try), I knew Turkey was famous for it’s Doner kebabs and I was set on finding the best Doner in town.

I quickly realized this may be a tough goal to have in a city filled with so many delicious dishes to try and the fact that Doner is a only one type of kebab- the way the meat is cooked. Doner kebab is a hunk of meat, usually beef, lamb or chicken, roasted on a rotating vertical spit and the meat is shaved when you order. You can choose- a Doner plate of meat with the typical fixings of tomatoes, marinated cabbage, lettuce and occasional onions and yogurt sauce or with all the fixings rolled within a flatbread, pide.

Doner Kebab and plate of Doner chicken in the foreground

Which would you prefer? Doner Kebab and plate of Doner chicken in the foreground

  A sampling of a lunch- garbanzo soup, white bean salad, beef meatballs

Lunch: Garbanzo soup, rice, meatballs and white bean salad

Lunch: Garbanzo soup, rice, meatballs and white bean salad

Dinner at a local Doner kebab shop of Falafal, hummus and doner kebab

Falafel, hummus, doner kebab and fries

Falafel, hummus, doner kebab and fries

When in Rome, so of course I sampled kahve, Turkish coffee but was surprised  by the strong bitter flavor and  despite adding 2 sugar cubes to my cup o’joe, it just didn’t satisfy. But what kept me from ordering more is the pasty texture of the coffee- coffee grounds are included. No thanks. I prefer a smooth café, please.

Turkish coffee and Baklava

Turkish coffee and Baklava

Baklava, a popular and well-known dessert of Turkey, is a pastry made with syrup or honey and filled with pistachios or walnuts. There are many variations of this delicious dessert including, Chocolate Baklava.

Chocolate Baklava

Chocolate Baklava

After spending the morning at Topaki Palace, I was hungry. The type of hungry where you can’t really think and a staring at a menu is overwhelming to choose, especially when waiters are offering their suggestions and bringing appetizers to choose from to the table (and of course, charging  you if you take them).

Lamb isn’t my favorite but in my overwhelmed state ordered Lamb kebabs when the menu said, Beef Kebabs. The food was impressive and tasty.

Lamb kebabs with roasted tomatoes

Lamb kebabs with roasted tomatoes

Kinda like a pizza

Kinda like a pizza

Lahmacun– Flatbread garnished with meat, tomatoes, parsley and onion and often folded in half. Commonly referred to as Turkish pizza.

Lahmacun- often called Turkish pizza

Lahmacun- often called Turkish pizza

On New Year’s Eve, thanks to a handy lonely planet guide, we came across a local restaurant known for their kebabs. Without a reservation we were lucky to get seats right away but instead of being seated at a table we had the “luxury” of sitting in front of the spit and watching the chefs grill each kebab to perfection. The food was delicious. Despite the cold outside, the hot coals of the spit made me feel like I was sitting next to a heater or a campfire.

Coming right off the grill!

Coming right off the grill!

We tried chicken kebab, beef and ribs and enjoyed three side dishes to accompany our meal- spinach and tomato salad, yogurt tiziati sauce and squash. Each dish bursted with flavor and I couldn’t resist, using my flatbread to wipe my plate clean.

I was so excited about tasting the delicious food, that I almost forgot to take a photo. Thanks to my travel pals, Victor knew I like photographing my food and reminded me!

Beef and ribs, coal warmed flatbread and onion and parsley

Beef and ribs, coal warmed flatbread and onion and parsley

Desserts

Thankfully I was in the company of people who like to eat and enjoy relaxing over a cup of tea and dessert. Almost every day, we made a pitstop to try a new dessert. Many desserts are made with pistachio. Before my visit, I wasn’t aware how common pistachios are in the desserts and in Turkish delight candy. This must mean they grow a lot of pistachios!

Pistachio paste flaky desert with sweet cream

Pistachio paste flaky desert with sweet cream

Pistachio and walnut with syrup filled rolls

Pistachio and walnut with syrup filled rolls

Turkish delight is abundant and everywhere from souvenir shops selling boxes of the sweets to high-end sweet shops selling delights by the grams!

Turkish delight

Turkish delight

Street Vendors

Simit– a tasty round sesame bread, kinda like a bagel, sold on the street by vendors with their red cart and in bakeries. A common breakfast food among Istanbulites, it’s also a great snack anytime of day as vendors sell from morning till night.

Enjoying Simit with Nutella

Enjoying Simit with Nutella

Some vendors offer Simit with nutella and is a big hit with to tourists, Who can resist sesame bread with the sweet creamy filling of hazelnut and chocolate?

 Aroma of roasted hazelnuts fill the streets with numerous vendors on almost every  street corner selling these tasty treats.  Carefully roasting them to perfection, vendors then weigh and stack them in neat piles to sell to passer byer’s.

Roasted Hazelnuts

Roasted Hazelnut

On New Year’s Eve, there were many vendors cooking up mussels and serving them until the wee-hours. Mussels aren’t my favorite and wouldn’t be my preference after dancing most of the night but hey, some say, they’re an aphrodisiac and maybe that just about explains everything!  

Mussels at 2am, anyone?

Mussels at 2am, anyone?

Though I didn’t get off the tourist trail and find local hole in the walls, I was happy with almost all the meals we had. We had a running joke amongst us as Pillar was constantly glued to her mini Istanbul Lonely Planet guide she affectionately calls Lola as she guided us to each restaurant. Almost all the restaurants we’re listed in the guide, which means all the tourists know about them but thankfully the recommendations still hold true and the food was still delicious.

I tend to be more adventurous when sampling new restaurants. 

Do you have a favorite Turkish dish? Do you like feasting on the local food when you travel?

Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Stay tuned for “Playing tourist in Istanbul” and “Roaming in the Grand Bazaar”

 

 

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13 thoughts on “Eating my heart out: Istanbul, Turkey

  1. Pingback: Browsing the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey | Roamingtheworld

  2. I just got back from Turkey! The food was soooo good, though I didn’t eat as many desserts as I would have liked. Even the food on the plane was delish (I took Turkish Airlines, and they had fancy Turkish food).

    The Turkish pizza might have been my favorite. It was so fresh.

  3. Dying! See, I am on a diet and that stuff looks amazing. I had some middle eastern food last night. But no baklava. Well heck yeah, half the fun of traveling is eating my way around! The walking generally burns it off and if not, if it’s advisable I go jogging to see the sights around town too.

    • I was just thinking about you the other day. Thanks for stopping by.
      Yes, I’m all about eating and not thinking about the calories because when ever I’m in a new city, I always walk a lot!

      • Youre walking it off for sure! Man, o man, the life you live!! But hey, enjoy it all and stay safe! I got my chance to travel and I don’t regret a single day of it. It’s great and will serve you well for the rest of your life. I am so glad you are doing this!! Smart girl!! Hugs. 🙂

    • HI Lauren,
      Thanks for commenting. Yes. It’s a photographic city and the food tasty and often simple. There is a food tour- Istanbul eats- that I wanted to go on but didn’t have the time. I’m sure you’d enjoy it!

  4. The food is one of the main reasons I want to go to Turkey. Mmmm, sooo good!!

    P.S. I love going blind traveling… it can sometimes turn out to be a very good way to travel!

  5. Amazing variety of unusual goods to try. That Turkish pizza and green dessert would be my first pick. The photos make everything seem appetizing. Did you try the chestnuts? You inspire me to go to Istanbul.

  6. Oh em gee. I’m starving now! We always have the kebabs, in whatever style they are served. The Turkish place up my street has actually tweaked all their dishes to cater for the more local spicy palate – so the food here isn’t as bland as it is at any other Turkish place.

    Awesome pics as always 🙂 Can’t wait to go myself!

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