literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

Istanbul food diary

When I think of Turkish food, I think of one thing: döner kebap. And yet, we didn't eat a single döner on our trip to Cappadocia and Istanbul. This is in part due to an unconfirmed rumor from my husband's study abroad days that some döner meat is actually cat.


Given the love and care given to Istanbul's stray animals, I'm pretty sure that can't be true. But I didn't want to risk it.

Despite the lack of döner we had plenty of great food in Istanbul. To be fair, a couple of our meals were relative duds, thanks either to hunger driven desperation (choosing the first place in sight) or overhyped reviews (trying too hard to be trendy). 

A major food highlight of our trip was the Culinary Backstreets tour we took at the suggestion of Katie and my colleague, Meg. You can read Meg's New York Times article about it here. We did the "Born on the Bosphorus" tour, which took half a day and spanned three neighborhoods, crossing the strait that separates the city's European and Asian sides. We thought it was definitely worth the money and only wish we'd done it earlier in our trip so we could've used tips and the book they gave us to pick better places to eat. That's how we ended up at Hayvore (where I forgot to take pictures. Oops). 

Anyway, here's most of what we ate in Istanbul. Commentary included.

Every day at the hotel's breakfast buffet, I loaded up on local cheese and olives to go with simit, a sesame-crusted, ring-shaped bread.

Istanbul food diary - Turkish breakfast

We staked out lunch places packed with locals for basics like grilled chicken and steamed vegetables.

Istanbul food diary - grilled chicken

Mado is a popular dessert chain where we had melt-in-your-mouth walnut baklava. 

Istanbul food diary - baklava at Mado

Kunefe (koo-neh-feh) is a popular Turkish dessert. Flaky pastry surrounds a stretchy cheese, and all of it is doused in syrup. I didn't love this one, at Mado, but scroll down to see one I went crazy for on our food tour.

Istanbul food diary - kunefe

I like to think of Mado as the Ghirardelli of Turkey. Behold, Turkish Delight!

Istanbul food diary - Turkish Delight

We found the House Cafe in this roundup and it was bumpin' but the food was disappointing. Womp. The best thing was the fresh orange juice.

Istanbul food diary - House Cafe

Meh kebaps over eggplant puree. 

Istanbul food diary - House Cafe

We stumbled across this roadside line of restaurants outside Suleymaniye Mosque and had one of the best 8 TL meals of our trip. I don't know what they put in the rice to make it so tasty, but I suspect it's butter.

Istanbul food diary - lunch near Sulemaniye Mosque

Dinner at Akin Balik. Try to get the çinekop (chin-eh-kop). Awesome atmosphere close to the water.

Istanbul food diary - Akin Balik

A sampling of baklava from the world-famous Gulluoglu (goo-loo-oh-loo). This place deserves the hype. Holy crap, you can get it in New York.

Istanbul food diary - Gulluoglu

Turkish ice cream on the Asian side, in Kadikoy.

Istanbul food diary - Turkish ice cream

Puffed pita bread topped with sesame seeds at Çiya Kebap (chee-ya). 

Istanbul food diary — sesame bread

Turkish pizza, also known as pide (pee-day). 

Istanbul food diary - Turkish pizza

Tender lamb kebaps with whole roasted garlic heads in a pomegranate sauce. Incredible.

Istanbul food diary - garlic kebap

The food tour begins! I counted 13 stops in all. Here are some highlights...

Turkish börek, mini squares of phyllo pastry layered with cheese and meats and eaten for breakfast.

Istanbul food diary - Turkish Börek
Istanbul food diary - börekçi

You wouldn't think something called water buffalo clotted cream could be delicious, but you would be WRONG. Especially when it's topped with honey.

Istanbul food diary - water buffalo clotted cream
Istanbul food diary - water buffalo clotted cream and honey

See those dark rolls in that case? They're actually puddings. Puddings thickened with chicken breast and called tavuk göğüsü (tah-vook go-oo-zoo).

Turkish puddings

Honey tasting!

Istanbul food diary - honey tasting
Istanbul food diary - honey tasting

Olives, olives everywhere.

Funny story: The Australians in our tour group had never seen white eggs before. They thought they were unique to Turkey, or some sort of specialty eggs. Hilarious!

Istanbul food guide - olives
Istanbul food diary - olives

Goat, sheep and cow cheese tasted alongside olives.

Istanbul food diary - cheeses

Warm sarmas (rice and meat rolled in vine leaves), cheese fondue called muhlama (mooh-la-ma) and a refreshing yogurt drink reminiscent of lassi called ayran (eye-rahn). 

Istanbul food diary - Black Sea cuisine

Tasting smoked spices.

Istanbul food diary - spices


Istanbul food diary - pickles

Herbivores, look away. (Roasted goat head.)

Istanbul food diary - offal

I thought it was melons and beets. It was actually sugared pumpkin and baby eggplant.

Istanbul food diary - candied vegetables

I tried so hard to like Turkish coffee but the cup-bottom sludge was a little too much for me.

Istanbul food diary - Turkish coffee

Here it is — the kunefe to end all kunefes. A fitting end to seven hours of eating and proof that there's always, always room for dessert.

Istanbul food diary - kunefe

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