Monday, August 6, 2012

ISTANBUL: A Food Lover's Delight


There are many reasons to go to Turkey, but one of them is the food. The shops and markets are full of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish caught in the Marmara Sea, spices, grains, olives, pastries, baklava, Turkish Delight, and more.  Carts in the street sell fresh bread, roasted chestnuts, corn, sweets and other snacks.  Fresh orange juice, squeezed as you watch at street-side stands, is sweet and refreshing.  In May, I spent five days in Istanbul with a group of writers. (See my post at for May 23 .) Every day during our stay we went to a different restaurant and sampled new and delicious foods.

Simitci cart on Itskial Street
Each morning, in the lounge/eating area of our hotel in Beyoglu, we had a simple breakfast-- pieces of what our host called Turkish pretzels (Simitci), bread stuffed with cheese, olives or salami, and served with coffee or tea.  For anyone who wanted more, the main shopping street, Itskial, at the top of the hill, had numerous restaurants, all with breakfast buffets of meat, cheese, tomatoes, olives, cucumber, hard boiled eggs, soup, bread and more (typically costing 10 Turkish lira, or about six U.S. dollars.)

On our first evening, after our visit to the Museum of Innocence (see my post of May 28), we ate at a  restaurant near Taksim Square called Kardesler, Kebap Salonu (Kebab Salon).  I was at a table next to the kitchen and watched them make the lahmacun (a pizza-like bread dough topped with meat, cheese or vegetables, and cooked on paddles in a hot brick oven.)  We drank ayran, a salty yoghurt drink, a bit of a strange taste at first, but refreshing with the rich food.  We also sampled an icli kofte, a stuffed meatball inside a coating of bulgur wheat.

Datli Maya restaurant
On the second morning of our stay, our group had breakfast at the coffee shop up the street, Alayli Cafe, crowding into the tiny space where we ate fresh bread with honey and jam, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, fruit and a thin omelet.
Lunch was at Datli Maya, a tiny health food restaurant in Cucurcuma featuring a large stone oven, where we filled the few tables in the upstairs room overlooking the street.  The meal began with nettle soup followed by various lahmacuns and a sweet Halvah dessert.

On our third day, we took the tram to Sultanahmet, in the old part of Istanbul, to see the Hagia Sophia and Underground Cistern, and ate lunch at one of the many cafeteria style restaurants designed for hungry tourists. (It’s easier to point at what you want than to pick from a menu. I got peppers stuffed with lamb, tomatoes and spices.)  Afterward, we went up the street a short ways to the Literary Café, “Edebiyatcilar Kiraathanesi” to meet Turkish writer Jale Sancak and sample an amazing variety of pastries and coffees.  I never realized how many kinds of baklava there could be! 

Lunch on our fourth day was on the Asian side of Istanbul.  We took the ferry to Kadikoy and, after wandering through the small market, filled with everything from fresh food to carpets, clothing, and household items, we met at Ciya Restaurant, famous for its Anatolian dishes.
Olive stall at Kadikoy Market
Our last day in Istanbul was a trip to the Grand Bazaar where, after shopping and getting lost in the maze of the huge complex, we met for lunch at Havuzlu Restaurant, which features Turkish dishes.  And finally, for our last meal together, that evening we went to Peymane, in the Tophane neighborhood, not far from our hotel.  Of all the restaurants during our stay, this was the most upscale and the perfect finale to the trip. Peymane – La Cucina brings together two seemingly disparate cuisines under one roof: the ocakbas tradition of Turkish cuisine (a meat restaurant with an open grill in the middle) by Peymane and Italian cuisine by La Cucina.  Housed in a 5-story historical building, the restaurant includes an indoor-seating area, a garden, and a bar. We had choice of lamb or salmon for the main course.  I had salmon and it was excellent.
There are many reasons to go to Turkey, but for a wonderful variety of new and delicious foods, it is definitely a food lovers delight.
Fish stall at Karakoy market
For a wonderful compilation of photos and writing about Istanbul and Turkey from 14 members of the Writing Istanbul workshop, go to the online magazine Writing Istanbul at

If you want to read more about food in Istanbul along with a list of restaurants, check out this article in the Sunday travel section (August 4, 2013) of the LA Times by food critic Irene Virbila.


Joanne Rocklin said...

Oh, what a delicious post! I'm salivating in Oakland...

Yesim said...

The writing is of course beautiful. You have captured so much...sounds, smells, sights ...İstanbul! Thank you for taking me back to those days again.

Bizim gizli mabedimiz.. said... every thing about Istanbul