A Food Exploration of Istanbul, Turkey – Travel

You might want to get a cup of tea or something stronger to get through this post. There might be many many many food pictures in this post. For my wonderful sister in law’s and amazing friend’s 30th Birthday, we went for a group trip to Istanbul to celebrate their joint birthdays. I hadn’t been to Turkey for nearly 20 years so was looking forward to exploring a new city for the week.

My brother did an incredible job arranging the trip for 7 picky people and my small input to the trip was arranging for us all you head out on a food tour. I love a food tour. I’ve done them in Rome and Lisbon before and know that they are such a great way to discover a city through their food heritage and history. There are a few out there for you to choose from, but I went from Culinary Backstreets. We went for the Hidden Beyoğlu tour which was the actual district that we were staying in. Meeting our lovely guide Senem first thing we started out 5 1/2 hour tour exploring all the delights on offer.

There aren’t many blogs that would start a blog with a picture of cucumber and tomatoes but hey that’s the kind of girl I am! We started with a traditional Turkish breakfast including the aforementioned cucumber and tomatoes.

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This may of been one of my favourite plates of food we had the whole holiday. Kaymak, Turkish clotted cream from water buffaloes milk then honey poured over the top. I would say its lighter than English clotted cream but still a rich and decadent start to any morning spread over Simit ( Turkish bread which is the cross between a sesame seed bagel and pretzel and utterly delicious).

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From steaming copper pans next was Menemen.  Eggs cooked with fresh tomatoes, peppers, garlic and pepper. Delicious scoped up with more bread.

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Senem next got us to try a dessert and try to pick out what the hidden ingredient was… Tasted like a creamy rice pudding, what the secret ingredient in the pudding you ask…. chicken breast. Tavuk göğsü made from chicken breast and milk boiled down until the fibres come apart then sweetened with sugar and cinnamon…interesting.

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Next stop was for Borek pastries, one filled with potato and cheese and the other spiced minced meat. Warm and buttery with a crunchy that meant these were hoover right up!

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There was end a sweet version that had no filling but just delicious fresh pastry with plenty of butter and icing sugar, again so tasty!

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Some other treats the bakery made…

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We went pass this old Turkish Bath, which we returned to a few days later for an ‘unique’ experience that means I can now say I’m closer to my two friends than before this trip….

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We stopped off at a local lunch stop where we had some traditional lunch dishes. The butter beans are incredible, like the best baked beans you’ve ever had. I really want to hunt down a recipe for them.

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Pinenut and raisin rice topped with fresh anchovies.

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Dolmasi, stuffed cabbage leaves with rice and meat were brilliant as normally not a fan when they are made with vine leaves as find them too tough and bitter but these little beauties were great with the slightly salted yoghurt.

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Muhlama is not a low fat dish or one for the faint hearted. Corn meal cooked with a lot of butter then a lot more cheese until it’s a bubbling goodness. Spooned on to warm bread and scoffed down. You may need a little nap after this dish and one to share.

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We took a little stroll around the market to digest the treats and hunt down the next snack…

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And what we had been waiting for, Turkish Kebab (Durum)!! England like to slather our kebabs with lots of sauces to mask the quality of the meat. These bad boys are full of salad and crushed chilles. The smoke and charred meat is incredible. Durumzade has been voted the best kebab in Istanbul and quite rightly too. Tiny enough room for 9 people to squeeze in but so so so good. We also tried some Turkish drinks, Pickled Turnip Juice and Salted Yoghurt Drink. All interesting but not my thing to be honest!

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The next stall was an option stop and warning some of the next pictures might upset some people. Below is a butcher of lets say – interesting bits – yep that’s lungs and tongues hanging in the window. What were we going to try…roasted sheep head. The man below lovingly prepared the different parts for us to enjoy. How often do you get to try sheep head??

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Smile….

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I tried the cheek, tongue and brain after they had been sprinkled with dried oregano and chilli. All parts were tasty and just a strong lamb flavour. My brother also tried the membrane that held the eye in the socket which apparently tasted like fatty chicken skin.

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Sheep head pictures over and now back to other foodie pictures of green almonds and mulberries.

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For a sweet treat we stopped at one of the oldest family produced Turkish Delight in Istanbul. Soft cubes of pistachio flavoured delight throwing a cloud of icing sugar clouds.

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Keeping the sweet theme going we stopped off at a bakery for some Avya tatlısı, quinces cooked to a sticky caramelised sweetness and topped with more of the gorgeous clotted cream that cut through the richness of the quince.

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It wouldn’t be a food trip in Istanbul without some baklava. I LOVE baklava. So fresh and dripping with the syrupiness pastry shards. We may of ordered a couple more plates…

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My brother takes great flattering pictures of me!

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A less sweet treat next door, a pickles shop. Rows and rows of preserved fruits and vegetables in gleaming jars. We tried a mixture pickles and brine…

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Our last food stop was a family run restaurant that specialised in more eastern Turkish cuisine. This was a minced beef dish lightly spiced and with a tomato flatbread to sandwich the meat between. A delicious dish that was actually light to eat after everything we had.

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It was served with a tomato and oregano salad, of which there is 60 types of oregano, this one was slightly salty and oily.

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We worked our way around the corner to Mandabatmaz which is translated as “so thick even a water buffalo wouldn’t sink in it.” Turkish coffee shop, a tiny little space where coffee is made with such loving care for every cup by Cemil Pilik, brewmaster for the last 17 years. You order the level of sweetness before you received it as any sugar added after stirs up the coffee grounds, making a grit drink.  I went for no sugar as wanted to taste the true flavour of the coffee. It may be thicker than normal coffee but actually contains less caffeine than an Italian espresso. The first sip was the most punchy and then a deep rich coffee. Much needed after all the food we had.

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We had a lovely time on the tour with Senem, she was so lovely and knowable and didn’t mind our craziness as a group. I would highly recommend this tour as was a great way to explore and eat our way around the city.

We may have needed a nap after all this food and walking around. We headed out later for a light bite and potent Raki or Lions Blood. It wasn’t my favourite drink at 40% but got the party going!

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This was the end of our first day in Istanbul! And crammed in so much foodiness! Stay tuned for part 2 for more of the sightseeing pictures and treats on Monday!

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