Give me your hand. I will take you to Istanbul. I can not put into words how it is over there; I can not convey all my feelings about it. Give me your hand. Don’t be afraid. You have to see, hear, feel, smell and taste everything I am talking about. Give me your hand. We will start with the street food. Food is never just nutrition in Istanbul, food is life.
Look, this is Istanbul. See all the people? It is not a rally or something; this is just a regular Saturday afternoon in the city. And there are no tourists here, either. They are all busy visiting the two thousand year old buildings in the old town. They will not come out of the area on the south most European side of the town, squeezed between the Bosporus and the Golden Horn, they will grab a McDo lunch and in the evening they will eat grilled chicken in their hotel restaurant. We will stay on the Asian side and start exploring from there.
This (above) is a proper Turkish breakfast. If you don’t have time for this, you could just grab a simit (below) and drink your tea later on the ship, when we go to the other side.
When I was a student, I used to live on the Asian side but my university was on the other side, a.k.a. in Europe. It was one of my (and my best friend E.’s) rituals everyday: Get a dolmus to the harbor, cross the Bosporus with the ship, get a bus to the campus. Which took two hours. One way. Everyday. The part with the ship is the most relaxing part. You can drink tea, eat your simit (in winter there is also another typical Turkish hot drink: Sahlep), and read the newspaper. Of course, we never had time for that, I think the hours I spent talking with E. on the ship would sum up to a year. Every morning, it was either the ship or hitch-hiking*. But that is another story (and what stories we have to tell!).
After breakfast you might consider eating some corn on the cob. Hard to decide between these two guys. The cool one has the boiled version on offer, the shy one has grilled corn. As a kid, I loved the Sunday outings with my parents, it was the one opportunity to eat everything I saw on the streets, I would eat corn on the cob (both versions if I could getaway with it), later on some ice cream and top it all of with can erik, a green plum kind. No wonder these Sundays ended with belly-aches!
Oh, here is something you are familiar with. Hmmm, maybe not. Where is the beef? The pickle? Lettuce? Onion? Tomato? All these pre-made hamburgers are soaked in some kind of tomato sauce, which is so full of chemicals and flavorings that it just replaces all toppings. But, strangely, it does taste good when you come out of a disco or club at 4 in the morning and are starving. And it is fast.
Ok, let’s get a real lunch. This is as Turkish as it gets. Grilled köfte and green peppers (above), put between half or quarter loaf of bread on order, to eat on the go. You can have various toppings with it, usually onions and tomatoes. Köfte might be the number one food stuff in Turkey, the Turkish Wikipedia lists no less than 33 kinds and I could add three more myself. No Turkish picnic is complete without köfte. Or you could get a proper sulu yemek (below), but then we would have to sit down. “Sulu yemek”, literally “saucy food”, is the pillar of Turkish home style cooking. The omnipresent meze, which everyone first thinks about when Turkish food is mentioned, is for fun evenings, when you are going to eat for hours with friends and drink rakı (as you will see later). But after a long hard workday and the long commute home, all you want to eat is a nice plate of such a one-pot-dish which will be ready in no time. Almost always it starts with some chopped onions and tomato paste fried in oil, later vegetable of the season are added and just a little bit of stock or water. The resulting juicy dish is eaten with any or all of the following: rice, bread, potatoes, maccheroni.
Now is time for some afternoon tea or coffee. What better place to relax than a little café on the Bosporus shore, especially if there are two very interesting and yummy things to eat and such a view to enjoy? Let’s go to Kanlica, a part of town higher up the Bosporus, on the Asian side. There we can sit and relax, enjoy the breeze under the century old trees on a hot day and do some people watching.
The first specialty is yogurt. Yes, you have eaten yogurt before, I am sure. But this yogurt is different. It is made with a different bacterium than what is common in Europe and USA, which makes the yogurt more set, slightly sour and with a unique taste. Usually it is eaten with powdered sugar. To learn of how this yogurt tasted to a German palate, read Sebastian’s post (in German).
The second specialty is ice cream with kaǧıt helva. Basically, this is a triple-strength wafer, spread with delicious ice cream and then folded over. A nice change to the ever same ice cream cone!
Now is time for some pre-dinner nibbles. How about some midye dolma? These filled mussels are perfect any time from dusk till dawn, especially as a stomach liner for all the alcohol when you are out bar-hopping. The mussels are shelled, cooked with a lot of olive oil into a pilaw, and then refilled into the shells. The vendor will re-shell them for you and serve so that you can eat them without getting your fingers oily. At 10 pieces for around 1 Euro, these are the perfect snack.
Or we could eat some kokorec if you feel adventurous. Just some to taste. One way to cook it is on a horizontal skewer in whole, the alternative is chopped while it is being cooked on a griddle. Pure music!
So, now we are ready for some dinner. Up to now we only did some grazing, now we can talk about serious eating. In the next post, I will take you to a rakı and meze laden evening.
* Hitch-hiking is dangerous everywhere in the world. At that time, there were special, informal, pick-up spots in Istanbul, where we students used to gather and get a lift. Everyone (well, almost everyone) knew what it was about and there was no danger for us, we were never alone, we were on lively city streets at all times. That said, there are always sick people and you shouldn’t hitch-hike anywhere in the world. If you are a tourist, you shouldn’t even think about hitch-hiking.