Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Food: a first installment

Before we came here, everyone we spoke with who had traveled to Istanbul talked about the food, and what a fantastic, diverse cuisine it is. Since we arrived, we have been eating our way through the city, using the new book Istanbul Eats as our guide. Written by two American expats, and based on their website,, this little book is our food bible. It heavily explores and critiques our kind of fare: street food and cheap eats. 

One of the greatest things about the commonly available cuisine is that it is all real food. Even Turkish "fast food" like pide (Turkish pizza) is fresh, unprocessed food. It is possible to find a bag of chips, but more likely to see street vendors selling grilled corn on the cob, roasted chestnuts, salted cucumbers, small paper bags of hazelnuts, chickpea pilaf, and grilled fish sandwiches with onions and parsley. Carts all over the city make fresh squeezed juices to order using these large-levered, hand-operated juicers that can reduce four pomegranates into a cup right before your eyes. Vegetables are at every meal and, while it is hard to eat strictly vegetarian because of the use of meat to flavor many dishes, the portions of meat are usually smaller and tempered by fresh vegetables. Being by the sea, there is also lots of fresh, simply prepared and affordable seafood. We had a great seafood meal with shellfish meze (appetizers,) salads and grilled fresh fish for fifteen dollars per person. Boats docked by the Galata bridge sell grilled fish sandwiches for a mere three dollars. 

Below is just a taster. Some of our favorite foods will have their own entries - like kaymak for Shane (an unsweetened clotted cream-like substance made from domesticated water buffalo milk,) and midya dolma for Julia (sauteed mussels stuffed back into their shells with cinnamon spiced rice.) This first entry does touch on some of the classics: kabab, köfte (grilled meatballs,) eggplant in all its manifestations, yogurt, fish and pide.

Cağ Kebabi is spit roasted in the ubiquitous huge döner mass, but the meat is stabbed onto a skewer and cut off in chunks, rather than shaved like döner kabab.

The wood fire roasting the horizontal döner spit of lamb. 

Starting at the top clockwise: tomato, cucumber and parsley salad, homemade yogurt, red pepper meze, and lentil soup. 

Fresh grilled fish is available in the many Balikçisi (fish restaurant) 

Meze from top left: the last bits of a pickled seaweed salad,  purslane and yogurt,  green salad and hot cheese torpedoes.

Köfte, the grilled meatballs served everywhere here, along with eggplant and yogurt, and the most commonly available alcohol, Efes beer. 

Pide, the Turkish pizza made in wood fired ovens and served with lettuce and tomato.
The crust is finished with a rub of butter. $3. 

Iskender kebap: spit roasted lamb over bread cubes with tomato sauce which is then oven-fired and finished with browned butter and a side dollop of yogurt. Yum.

Shane with a fresh pomegranate juice. 

Our food bible, available at 


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