Turkish cuisine is highly anticipated when you visit Istanbul. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to experience it’s diverse and rich flavors? There are more savory, sweet and unique dishes to explore other than the popular Turkish Delights and Doner kebabs.
Our experienced guide Eda of Istanbulite, a private travel specialist, walked us through the popular, narrow and unexplored streets of the city for our savory journey, following the footsteps of award-winning Australian chef Shane Delia’s food tour in Istanbul. Shane Delia owns a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia and was in Istanbul to shoot Spice Journey where he tasted Turkish food all over Turkey and Eda was his guide to Episode 10: Secret Flavors of Istanbul.
Looking back at this experience and while writing the story and reading it makes me hungry. We started in the late afternoon and shortly after walking passed by the famous Taksim square, we arrived at Zübeyir Ocakbaşı, our first stop. This place is popular for its delicious Sebzeli Kebap (kebab with vegetables) which we had for our main. It has a very friendly ambiance and the staff are very welcoming and attentive to your needs. You can see inside how the kebabs are being grilled and cooked to perfection. While waiting for our main dish, we had Acılı köz patlıcan as a starter. It’s a grilled eggplant served warm with awesome flavors to wake up your pallet. Perfect match for our yoghurt drink called Ayran (yoghurt mixed with water and added with salt). The mains and starters were served with different types of bread. The kebab is very tasty and exploding in flavors, it was a good introduction to Turkish cuisine.
After our delicious meal, we walked through Balık Pazarı, a Fish Market in Galatasaray to our next stop to beat the cold weather with a hot Turkish coffee. Thanks to Eda for being flexible towards us, we made a detour as we passed by some interesting street foods. We are feeling adventurous so we tried tried kokoreç, made from intestines of a lamb. It’s served with bread like a sandwich, very exotic and delicious. We also tried the fried mussels and midye dolma, mussels stuffed with rice and spices. It’s very aromatic and a squeeze of lemon makes a refreshing taste of it.
Satisfied our little cravings and within a short distance, we arrived at Mandabatmaz Cafe where we had our Turksish coffee. Manda means ‘buffalo’ in Turkish and Batmaz literally means ‘does not sink’. Interesting, the name of the place is coming from the saying, “the bubble of the Turkish coffee was so thick that even a buffalo would not sink on it”. This place is serving coffee since 1967. It’s a small shop with several tables and small stools outside along the alley, frequented by locals of different ages. We love how the coffee is being prepared traditionally using a small copper pot heated over a stove. The coffee is really good and we bought some packs to bring back home.
Our next stop is at Asri Turşucu, a pickle shop since 1938. The place is full of jars with different pickles, the dates were displayed and they have oldest pickles from the 1960’s that were just on display and cannot be consumed. Here, we had a turşu suyu, pickled juice made of cucumber and beetroot which has been pickled with vinegar. They said it’s good for digestion and hangovers. It has a strong sour taste and I felt a bit hungry again after finishing my glass.
The last stop of course is for dessert at Özkonak Muhallebicisi, this place started in the 1960’s as a dessert place for Muhallebi, a Turkish dessert. But since we can’t get enough of Turkish food we also had Turkish ravioli or locally known as Mantı in this place. It is small dumplings filled with groundbeef and is served with yoghurt and tomato sauce with some garlic. It’s delicious and heavy so we are just ready to try our dessert, Kazandibi, famous in this place. Kazan means ‘pot’ in Turkish and dibi means ‘the bottom of’. It literally means, “the bottom of the pot” where this dish is taken from for its caramelized texture. It is cooked with milk, rice pudding, sugar and tiny, thin pieces of boiled chicken more of like a floss. It’s creamy and sweet, a perfect ending to our Turkish culinary journey.
We had a fantastic time with Eda, though we did a shorter version of the tour, the experience is very unique and authentic. If you want to do this trip, you can checkout the full itinerary here.
About the Writer
Jaypee Licudan is a Filipino Expat based in Singapore. He’s a traveller and writer for Two Monkeys Travel Group – Community Travel Blog and has been to over 30 countries across 4 continents. He’s major long term goal is to go back to the Philippines for a long time travel to discover the hidden gems of his home country. Follow his personal blog: The Rustic Nomad