Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Istanbul Eats Culinary Walks: Part 1

Ahhh, where do I begin talking about our Istanbul Eats culinary walk?!  I could dutifully list each stop, exhaustively index every item we ate -- our two breakfasts, three lunches, and every stop in between.  But like so many of our experiences in Turkey, this excellent tour -- one of the very best days we spent in Istanbul -- packed in so many moments that they began to pile up, and was just as much about the food (and believe me, the food was exemplary), as it was about the people.
(But, we will itemize the food, fear not.  And there's so much that I'm splitting into two posts.  Seriously, it could be like eight.  Anyway.)

Ashley and I were wary of guided tours: we'd planned every leg of our trip ourselves, and did not want to experience Turkey with a bunch of foreigners through the windows of a giant bus.  Fortunately, this walk was entirely different.  Before we even met our guide, we knew this was going to be good.  We were to meet him in a part of the city called Cihangir, and we couldn't be happier to get lost in the stairways and hilly streets of this amazing neighborhood.  Cihangir is eminently hip:  stately art-deco apartment buildings (with amazing front doors), chic Euro cafes, tiny vintage stores, and funky record stores line the cobblestone streets, and awesome street art is everywhere.  A few minutes in, it became very clear:  if I were to ever live in Istanbul, Cihangir is where I would call home.
4 doors
Our team consisted of Ashley and me, Jason and Ned -- an affable couple from Washington DC, and our fearless leader Angelis.  For a full day, we were just five people exploring Istanbul in my favorite way: walking and eating.  And Angelis' ebullient personality set the tone for the day.  A skinny gay hipster expat from Greece, he was knowledgeable, hospitable, and hilarious.  True to the style of Istanbul Eats, he led us through cosmopolitan Istanbul as a local would see it -- winding our path through small shopping centers where teenagers might buy the latest disposable trends and making sure our tour included several examples of the esnaf lokantasi, highly local eateries serving a rotating menu of comforting, homey dishes to Turkey's working class.

For our first stop, Turkish breakfast, including beloved kaymak and sucuk, plus menemen, eggs scrambled with stewed peppers.  This meal was prepared expressly for us at Özkonak, a stalwart lokantasi that predates Cihangir's gentrification by decades and is known for an unusual specialty: a dessert pudding made with shredded chicken breast.  I love the stove-to-table pans; their handles make them look like a little boy who hasn't yet grown into his ears.

Breakfast number 2:  Borek! Filo pastry in various shaped filled with various delicious things.  Fresh and flaky, eaten on the sidewalk, with a cool and perfectly not-too-sweet citrus ade.  Good times.
borek mosaic

This unassuming shop might be the original home of the profiterole.  They were drenched in chocolate, with a sweet custard inside.  Way too rich to have more than a couple bites, but hey, we tasted history.

Our next stop was one of my favorites of the day:  fried sardines.  Perfectly fresh, lightly battered, deep fried, super crisp.  With ingredients that good, all you need is a little lemon.  I could have eaten these forever.

A restaurant whose specialty is tripe soup. (Not in the mood?  There's also brain salad.)  Not that awesome, and it was kind of a depressing place, but aren't those tile floors fabulous!?  (And that charcuterie shop behind Angelis sure looked enticing from our sidewalk vantage point as we ate stomach.)
tripe soup mosaic

Baklava!  A million variations, so much to taste, so delicious.  (Admitted baklava bias:  Persian baklava has saffron and rosewater, so any other doesn't come close as far as I'm concerned.  Nevertheless, trying to be balanced here.) We also tried a special Ramadan treat called güllaç, a comforting milky pudding with leaves of pastry soaked inside, decorated beautifully with pomegranate seeds and bright green ground pistachios.
baklava mosaic

Let's end Round 1 here, on a sweet note.  It looks like an exhausting amount of food, but it was really well-paced.  Go have some tea, and stay tuned for three lunches, Turkish coffee, controversial local politics, and more innards!


  1. Delicious post! Thanks for a perfect way to relive the amazingness.

  2. I'm drooling! And those Art Deco doors are amazing!

  3. thanks guys! just wait for part 2! there's even more! (though alas, no more art deco makes me really happy that those are being appreciated, theminx =)

  4. Seriously? Menomen? Amazing!

  5. i know tor, it's true. totally amazing.