Ask a dozen people who have recently been to Istanbul a list of their favourite eateries, and you’re bound to get an endless array of ‘hidden gems’, ‘brilliant finds’ and ‘best meals ever’. If you were hoping to have at least two places cross-match then you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Istanbul is a foodie’s Shangrila, almost custom-made to provide gastronomic indulgences ad infinitum; so while narrowing down your choices before you leave home may be a tad difficult, finding an exceptional gastronomic experience once you’re there will not. Or will it, we wonder…
When most tourists eat out in Istanbul, they usually try the same long, boring list of expectable grub: doner kebabs, good mix of mezes, juicy pide, honey-dripping baklava, crusty sesame-topped simit and so on and so on. If this is the kind of food you’re thinking of, then may we suggest you re-examine your choices, because if you want to experience the real Istanbul, or rather the real tastes of Istanbul, then brace your guts and follow our guide to the most authentic of all Turkish delights.
Istanbul Food – Çiğköfte
Not many people would be willing to try any kind of raw meat when travelling aboard, but here in Istanbul Çiğ köfte (pronounced chee kufta) is one of the most popular local foods, so finding a reputable restaurant to sample it will be easy. Said to date back to the time of Abraham, the distant cousin of the steak tartare is a delectable addition to any meze plate. In Turkey, raw minced beef or lamb is added to bulgur, chopped onions, peppers and about six different spices. The mix is literally massaged for an eternity to soften the fibres of the meat, and served raw on a tray alongside lettuce leaves and lemon wedges. To enjoy, take a lettuce leaf, spread some meat mixture on it, and squeeze lemon juice over it. Next simply roll, fold and gobble!
If you find eating raw meat a little bit off-putting, just consider the fact it could be worse…it could be raw lamb intestines!
And that’s when our next delicacy comes in. Cooked that is. Kokoreç is a mouth-watering pita bread filled with coal roasted lamb intestines, spiced to the nth degree and served with garlic sauce. Yum! If that’s not enough deliciousness for you, then you should know that the intestines are first filled with a concoction of mixed offal, and then roasted on a massively long skewer. We’re not quite sure if this dish also dates back to the time of some Prophet, but we are sure the chewy spiciness will do wonders for your taste buds.
Hamsi, or Black Sea anchovies, are not so much weird, as they are simply an acquired taste. Found in abundance in Istanbul towards the ends of October, the hamsi-anything is definitely worth a try. You’ll find the salty little suckers floured and fried, marinated and grilled, kneaded in bread and baked, or added to every kind of rice pilav imaginable.
This wonderful chicken pudding is one of the most delightful desserts you’ll taste in Istanbul. Yes, yes, you read that right: chicken pudding. Well, the Turks are certainly not the first people in the world to experiment with a sweet chicken dish; the Mexicans have been serving chicken with chocolate sauces for centuries, and no-one thinks they’re weird!
Anyway, Tavuk Göğsü is one of the country’s signature dishes, and even though it has been exported extensively it still remains of the utmost Turkish origin. Traditionally, the chicken is boiled into near-extinction, until each and every fibre is separated; it is then mixed with milk, rice, sugar and cinnamon and shaped into…well….a whiteish blob. Before you gag, let it be known that there isn’t a hint of chicken to be tasted and the dish is actually rather scrumptious. If it was good enough for the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire…it’s good enough for us!
John Picken via Flickr
Scott Dexter via Flickr
Maderibeisa via Wiki