Istanbul it seems, is obsessed with food.

Posted by Jennie

Food carts, restaurants, street vendors, vendors on foot and bicycles all compete for your attention with their dizzying array of taste and smells. Here, eating is a non-stop activity, there is grilling, chopping, kneading, scooping, pouring, wrapping and money changing hands all happening at once.

Probably Istanbul’s most famous dessert is baklava which comes in many varieties and is piled in trays sky high in many shop windows. Baklava is a pastry made of layers and layers of paper thin filo dough filled with chopped nuts and honey, usually cut into diamond shapes. It’s worth it to seek out a reputable Baklava store because not all Baklava are created equal. Hafiz Mustafa is an establishment known for its quality and has been around since 1864.

Hafiz Mustafa Baklava
Hafiz Mustafa Baklava

Sold per piece at around P70, it can seem quite pricey, but when you bite into the richness of the flaky yet chewy dough, the sweet,thick honey and the generous amount of chopped pistachio, you’ll surely want another piece.

Just as you will also want another piece of Turkish Delight or lokum. This traditional confection is a soft candy made of a gel of starch and sugar and filled with pistachios, dates, walnuts and hazelnuts. Haci Bekir, a local confectioner is well known for making quality Turkish delights. Founded in 1777 and named after the founder of the business, Haci Bekir was once the confectioner to the emperor. Today, it is an Istanbul institution run by 5th generation family members. The original store can still be found in the Eminonu District. The consistency of the soft candy like a chewy gelatin may be strange upon first bite. But after popping one in your mouth, it’s like popcorn, you won’t be able to stop. The plain rose water variety with its subtle taste and delicate fragrance is still their best seller. While the pistachio and hazelnut varieties are just as addicting.

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Turkish Delights from Haci Bekir

From the sweet to the savory. The doner kebab or Turkish sandwich is a good introduction to Turkish cuisine. Vertical rotisseries that grill chicken, beef and lamb fill the air with the appetizing aroma of grilled meat. Skilled vendors cut thin slices of meat off the rotisserie with a special long knife called doner bicagi. The sliced meat is stuffed into a folded flat bread and is usually garnished with sumac onions and tomatoes. A good doner would have grilled meat that is juicy, tender and a little fatty. It may be messy to eat, but it’s worth the mess!

Doner Kebab

There are many recipes and variations of kebab and a week in Istanbul is not enough time to try them all. When pressed for time, a good choice would be the Adana kebab, named after one of Turkey’s most famous kebab cities, Adana. It is made with a mixture of ground beef and lamb that is kneaded together with onions, garlic and Turkish spices, including paprika and pepper flakes. It is packed by hand around flat metal skewers and then grilled to perfection. Adana kebab is served hot off the grill with pita bread or rice and a side salad. Our guide told us kebabs are so popular in Istanbul because they are easy to make and are affordable. All you need he said, is a grill – but what about an age old recipe handed down and perfected through generations?

Adana Kebabi

All across Galata Bridge, you will see locals fishing from the Bosphorus Sea. Istanbul straddles two continents, Asia and Europe which is separated by the Bosphorus. The catch is usually sold to seafood restaurants that line the sea front. Fish sandwiches or balik ekmek are also cooked inside boats on the Golden Horn. Whether you get your fish sandwich on or off shore, the balik ekmek will amaze you. The fillet, usually mackerel is grilled quickly, sprinkled with red pepper flakes then put inside a crusty baguette like bread together with a generous amount of salata or tomatoes, lettuce, onions and a squeeze of lemon. It’s love at first bite, tender and spicy mackerel, crusty bread, crunchy garnish and a price that can’t be beat, 4TL or about P60.

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Balik ekmek or grilled fish sandwich by the Bosphorus

Turkish stuffed pizza or pide is not your typical pizza. The Turkish version is a thin piece of dough flattened with a rolling pin and shaped into an oval. A variety of fillings like chicken, minced meat, pastrami, salami, sun dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, peppers and onions plus Turkish spices are placed on top of the oval shaped dough then the sides are folded to resemble a boat. Cheese is optional. It is then placed inside a coal fired oven.

One thing Turks know is how to control heat, whether on a rotisserie, on a grill or using an oven – without a thermostat. The pide comes out still bubbling, its edges brown and crisp.

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Boat shaped Pide or Turkisk Pizza

There’s just so much eating you can do in Istanbul, but apple tea you can drink and drink all day long. Piping hot apple tea is a Turkish staple. Locals have it with their meals, in between meals, on a boat or in a store. Shopkeepers will gladly offer you a free glass of  apple tea served in the traditional tulip shaped glass with a sugar cube. Accepting a glass of apple tea does not require you to buy whatever is on sale but the offer of tea plus the persuasiveness of the seller certainly puts you in the mood to part with your Turkish Lira.

Shopping in Istanbul, now that’s another story that deserves its own post!

Apple Tea
An Istanbul staple


Where we stayed

Sirkeci Mansion because of its fabulous reviews on Trip Advisor and also for its excellent location right in the middle of the Old Town. The Hague Sophia is a 5 minute walk away as is the Spice Bazaar. The tram line is meters from the hotel. We stayed in connecting rooms with unfortunately, no outstanding views.

Tip: Request for the rooms facing the gardens of the Topkapi Palace.

Service is first rate. Breakfast buffet mezze style is offered daily. Take advantage of their free walking tours and food tours. Members of the hotel staff take turns as guides and they are all wonderful. Do check out the roof deck, it has a view of the Bosphorus.

With all that’s happening now in Turkey and Istanbul, would I still go back? Yes, in a heartbeat. The people are lovely.

Istanbul locals always have a ready smile

On another note, what a wonderful surprise to bump into out next door neighbours in Istanbul of all places! Willy and Armi Benitez were staying at The Sirkeci Mansion as well.

What a coincidence!