Pomegrante juice vendor

12 October

We arrived in Istanbul late on a Tuesday night. We were forced to splurge on a decent hotel because the budget options were all booked up. The good news was that we emerged the next morning, well rested and refreshed by a wonderful hot shower, complete with a rain shower head. We were also able to save a bit of money by eating from the amazing complimentary Turkish breakfast buffet laid out by the hotel. Maybe there is more to life than budget travel…?

We headed out to explore the city and were thrilled to find ourselves back in a land of street food. We paced ourselves so we could try as many different things as possible. And I think we did pretty well for our first day…

Sweet corn vendor - we've eaten plenty of Midwestern sweet corn, so this one will have to wait for another day!

Roasted chestnuts - also going to have to wait, but a crooning Nat King Cole will now fill our heads for the rest of the day...

We finally decided to start grazing on gözleme, which could be described as similar to a quesadilla. The wrap itself, however is more like a cross between a crepe and a tortilla and the filling is usually cheese, but a crumblier type than that in a quesadilla. Off to a good start!

Cheese gozleme

Kebab shaver

After our appetizer/snack, we set back out on foot and Suhail came across a promising spot for his first Turkish kebab. The staff at Doner Bank kebab shop were friendly and efficient, and their kebab did not disappoint!

Kebab innards

Suhail checks out the offerings

Just moments after leaving Doner Bank, we spied a man pushing a cart of sticky sweet somethings down the street and thought to ourselves, “why not?” These amazing concoctions (apparently known as tulumba tatlisi) are churro-like in appearance, but not really in flavor. Where the churro is greasy and at times flavorless, tulumba tatlisi is crisp on the outside, but soft and almost creamy on the inside and absolutely dripping with a sugary syrup. We also tried a sponge cake that was also soaked in sugar syrup, but both preferred the texture and flavor of the tulumba. Yum!

Only 1 Turkish lira! (about 55 US cents)

Cake and tulumba tatlisi, glistening with sugar

The incredibly popular Inci

After our sugary snack, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around (from Sultanahmet to Taksim). Eventually, we’d worked up enough of an appetite to start our hunt for baklava. Little did we know, we’d get sidetracked before we ever chose a spot for our first bite of baklava in Turkey. We were on the main shopping drag when we came across Inci.

Perfect profiteroles

We didn’t know what they were peddling, but figured all the folks streaming in and out of their doors must be on to something. So, we decided to check it out for ourselves. The main attraction at Inci is profiteroles, perhaps not too Turkish, but mouthwatering, nonetheless!

Before we left, the main profiterole slinger stopped me for a photo - a man that's proud of his work, to be sure!

Dinner at Albura Kathsima

That night, we decided to check out the food at the former workplace of Mehmet, our good friend and Turkish transplant to Chicago . Albura Kathisma is one of the best (if not THE best) restaurants on one of the main tourist strips in Sultanahmet (Yeni Akbiyik Caddesi). We loved the food, but the servers were what really makes Albura a special spot. Sure, we had a bit of an in, but we saw them joking and smiling with every one of their guests, many of whom ate there every night of their visit to Istanbul!

On our first visit, we tried the kuzu firin (roast leg of lamb), which was moist and rich and Kuzu Sirti Entracot (spicy tender lamb with spinach) , which was a nice twist on one of the favorite meats in Turkey.

Roast lamb shinbone

After our mains, we finally had our first taste of baklava in Turkey – and it did not disappoint.

Baklava, finally!!!

13 Oct 2011

Turkish coffee

We started our day with some Turkish coffee. Like a shot of espresso, Turkish coffee is rich and full-bodied. Unlike a shot of espresso, the bottom of the cup is filled with coffee grounds. Drinking it requires a bit of patience (while you wait for the grounds to settle) and a bit of attention (so you don’t accidentally down the grounds with your last sip).

For lunch, we tried another Turkish specialty, the simit. A simit is much like a pretzel or thin bagel, but always coated with sesame seeds (one of my favorite things!). I had mine filled with cheese.

Simit - with plenty of sesame seeds - yum!

During the afternoon, we tried some different sweets. I am sure they all have different names, but I never got past learning ‘baklava.’ Luckily, I got by with pointing and the word “fistik,” which means pistachio. That is pretty much all I needed!

Pretty much every sweet we tried in Turkey was good, but my favorites tend to be those with pistachios.

Turkish delight is piled high in all the sweet shops in Istanbul

Istanbul is filled with sweets shops selling baklava and other related buttery syrupy treats, as well as Turkish delight, which is an incredibly popular souvenir, but apparently, also really enjoyed by Turkish people as well.

After lunch, we checked out the Spice Market or Egyptian Bazaar. It was a sensory overload, but fun to wander around without buying a thing. I am not sure how many people actually come here for spices, but we saw plenty of tourists haggling for scarves, t-shirts and, of course, Turkish delight!

Spice vendor in the market

More spices

After leaving the Spice Market, we stumbled upon one of the best places we’d eat during our entire visit to Turkey. On a little pedestrian side street, crowded with street seating, our first impression of this unassuming place way underestimated the amazing meal we were about to enjoy. I had a chicken kabob (so juicy and flavorful) and Suhail had the adana kabob, which was spicy and delicious as well.

My chicken shish kebab

Suhail's adana kebab, complete with delicious fresh bread

14 October

Reminiscent of Mel's Diner???

We struggled a bit to find cheap, tasty food that locals would eat in Sultanahmet (the neighborhood is convenient for seeing Istanbul’s sights, which means it’s loaded with tourists and tourist restaurants). Luckily, our searching paid off when we found Insan Aldanir Mide Asla. The chef, pictured over the dining room, was presiding over the kitchen that day (always a good sign).

In broken English (or maybe it was actually a combo of Turkish and miming), our server indicated that we should just disregard the menus and check out what was cooking (another good sign).

Amazingly flavorful bean soup (I followed the cue from nearly every other diner when I ordered this one)

We ended up with a rich and hearty bean soup (me), roast lamb (Suhail) and the best moussaka I have ever eaten (to share). This is the kind of meal worth traveling for!

Roast lamb, doesn't look like much, but it was succulent!

Addictive moussaka

15 October

Suhail and Emin use all their willpower to delay the beginning of the feast while they pose for a photo

During our entire visit to Istanbul, we were so lucky to be hosted by one of Mehmet’s great friends, Emin. He not only oriented us to Sultanahmet, he spent lots of his limited free time taking us to some of his favorite spots in the area. On his one day off for the week, he took us to lunch, which turned out to be a huge feast.

We started with soup (lentil for me and tripe for Emin and Suhail) and a variety of typical Turkish salads.

Lentil soup

Traditional tripe soup

Bread is a big staple in Turkey. Served with just about everything, it is generally delicious.

Salads (tomato and cucumber, cucumber and yogurt, eggplant and the mysterious "American")

We shared three different main dishes: grilled chicken, roast lamb with liver rice and the adana kebab. Great food and great company…we were all pretty happy after this meal.

Grilled chicken

Roast lamb

My plate - I love eating family style so I can try a little bit of everything!

16 October

Charred corn on the cob is always good

Our last day in Istanbul, I finally got my grilled ear of corn. It was good, but I can honestly tell you, Illinois is still tops in the corn game as far as I am concerned.

We also had amazing sweets at Said. Starting to feel like a trip to the dentist is in our future!

Delicious Turkish sweets

That night, we had a final meal at Albura – their fabulous mezze plate, which is a sampling of several dips/salads. This one included an eggplant salad, “American” salad, a tomato salad and a dolmeh (stuffed grape leaf).

Albura's mezze plate

18 October

Kebab master

From Istanbul, we headed to Bodrum. Most people visit for the beach, but we were just making our way to the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Of course, we needed to eat in the meantime!

We ate kebabs at the place that reportedly had the “best kebabs in town.” We didn’t sample any other spots, so I can’t report on that, but they were tasty. In Bodrum we noticed the kebabs were roasted on the spit along with carrots and potatoes, which was a nice touch we hadn’t seen any place else.

Closeup of the best kebab in town

19 October

Flavorful fruits and vegetables, delicious dairy (yogurt and cheese) and fresh bread make the Turkish breakfast so tasty!

We put together our own version of a Turkish breakfast to enjoy at our apartment: cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, olives and bread are standard. We also had fresh fruit (Turkey has incredible grapes and figs) and some of delicious Turkish yogurt.

Before leaving town, we visited a restaurant next door to our apartment. Since it was the end of the tourist season, we were amongst locals and we had a tasty home-style meal.

Chick pea stew

Yet another kebab for Suhail!

Lokmaci vendor

We got to the station with a bit of time to spare, so we had time to wander around a bit and try lokmaci, fried dough balls soaked in sugar syrup. These were still warm and sticky sweet – delicious!

Lokmaci - hot, sweet and deep fried!

21 October
From Bodrum, we headed to Ankara to visit our American friends, Donna and John. They have been living there for a few months, so we were able to enjoy some of their new favorite spots while in town. We started at a fancy cafe near their house that specializes in all types of dessert. We went for some Turkish tea and baklava. The presentation was lovely, with food to match.

Some of the best baklava of the trip!

24 October
Suhail had wanted to try the Iskender kebab for a while. It is similar to a traditional kebab, but the meat is smothered in a tomato sauce, and then smothered in bubbling hot melted butter that is served up tableside. It is as rich and decadent as it sounds – definitely not an everyday thing!

Iskender pre-butter bath

Here comes the butter

Iskender post-butter bath

At the iskender spot, we also tried these delicious pickled peppers. I haven’t looked for them in Chicago yet, but they were so good…spicy and sweet and I can imagine eating them with just about everything!

Little pickled peppers

25 October
Another typical Turkish food is the gozleme. The concept is sort of like a quesadilla, but the Turkish variety is made with lavash bread instead of a tortilla and filled with Turkish cheese and other items. We finally got around to trying one at the Passport Cafe in Goreme, where we based ourselves for our visit to Cappadocia.

Gozleme with cheese and spinach

Gozleme makers

Suhail had also tried a gozleme from a stand in a park in Ankara, which was served up by some very maternal looking ladies. It was really cool to watch them preparing the gozleme in the traditional way.

That night, we had mezze at another Goreme tourist spot, who’s name I no longer remember. This place was recommended by our hotel (Nirvana Cave Hotel) because they have a local woman who cooks for them. The food was great and the atmosphere was fun as well…if not a bit odd. We’d finished eating and were contemplating heading back to the hotel when the owner declared it was time for a game of Jenga. Everyone in the tiny cafe actually played along and neither Suhail or I knocked down the tower, so all in all, it was a good night!

Mezze platter

26 October
We’d visited Home Cafe in Goreme for baklava, but decided to go back for dinner because their teste kabob came highly recommended. Suhail had wanted to try this type of kabob because he was intrigued by its preparation. A small clay pot is filled with a stew of sorts and then cooked over a coal fire. When it’s time to eat, You crack the pot open and voila! Dinner is served.

Open fire for cooking the teste kebabs

Teste kabab is served!

We’d had a good experience when we stopped at Home for dessert (really fresh, delicious baklava), but it was brief. When we returned for dinner we got to chat a bit with the owner and he was so friendly and welcoming, we came to understand why this place is called “Home.” He made me crack the pot open, which was a little nerve-racking, but fun, and after dinner he kept pouring tea – I thought he’d never let us leave. He is a really sweet guy and, though the food is great, he makes the experience at the restaurant even better.