Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The unforgettable flavours of Istanbul

Istanbul has, since it's very early days, had a strong food culture.  It's a metropolis that satisfies the palate in every possible way with savoury and sweet snacks, fresh fish, the simple simit, juicy meats, rich royal stews, strong coffee and a vast assortment of vegetarian delights, some straightforward, others very intricately crafted.

As a visitor you will inevitably be bombarded by swarms of waiters and restaurant owners, waving menus and promising the world on a plate.  These chaps have good hearts and are worth a chat but they should really take a more passive approach to promoting their businesses, letting their food do the talking and keeping their mouths shut.

Istanbul is vast in both land and population and there are thousands of places to find something to eat.  In fact, a very popular tourist advice website has almost 11,000 restaurants listed for this remarkable city.  As a first time visitor it's almost too much to take in and the chances of finding something worthwhile are a bit like winning the lottery.  Don't get me wrong, rambling the streets and searching for a bite to eat is very much a part of what it is to travel. 

If you feel like a day off; try one of my favourites below.  Also make sure you taste the beautiful creation that is Baklava.  It's not on my list because you can get hold of it all over the city.

The Boozy Prune's 'TOP 10 Flavours of Istanbul'

1) Tavanarasi - seek and you shall find 

Off Istiklal Caddesi, the road that takes you from Taksim Square down to the Galata Tower, is my favourite spot for a bit of peace and quiet in a never-ending city.  On the corner of Asmali Mescit and Sofyali Sokak look up at the building tops and find the row of flowers.  Enter the building (messy world map on your right), take the lift to the 6th floor, and get ready.  Great food, in a trendy but peaceful environment - don't miss the Köfte.  

2) The Set Ustu Tea Garden  

Below the madness of the Topkapi Palace, the colourful gardens of Gülhane Park offer a bit of calm for weary Istanbullus.  If you walk to the North-East corner you will find the Set Ustu Tea Garden, with it's wonderful views of city and water.

3) Kadi Nimet Balik - a little Asian fish? 

Most tourists base themselves in Sultanahmet, the old part of the city close to the Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque, in hotels with rooftop terraces overlooking the Sea of Marmara.  This is a pretty good idea on many levels, one being easy access to the city's ferries.  The trip to Kadi Nimet is an adventure in itself.  Hop on a ferry from Eminönü to Kadıköy (on the Asian side).  On arriving at the dock walk inland and follow your nose up to the fish market (ask if need be), where you'll find Kadi Nimet.  They are very popular but take a chance, and wait a little.  You will be rewarded with great fresh fish and seafood, as you'd expect.

4) Vefa Boza - an acquired taste    

Near the Süleymaniye Mosque, almost under the Byzantine Aqueduct, off Cemel Yener Tosyali on Vefa Caddesi, Vefa Boza produces a strange concoction called Boza.  A mix of fermented Bulgar wheat, water and sugar, this fizzy, custard-like drink (with a sprinkle of cinnamon) has been cherished by locals since 1876.

5) Ethem Tezçakar Coffee - for the good stuff 

The coffee here is out off this world and with it's setting on the busy Halicilar Caddesi, in the Grand Bazaar, a stop here is something very special.

6) Namli Gurme- the deli with the difference

This deli, in Karaköy, is on my list for it's food and not for it's service.  It's a lunch stop for business people and locals wanting a quick bite to eat.  Sauntering around, getting in the way, is not going to win you any friends here.  It's a help yourself sort of place where you ask for what you want up at the counter, take your number and find somewhere to sit.  If you're lucky enough to corner a friendly waiter (like Fevzi) the process will become a lot easier and your food options will become as clear as day.  Everything is fresh and fantastic but the köfte and kebabs are stupendous.   

7) Sip a beer on the Galata Bridge and watch the world go by

The Galata Bridge is the epicentre of Istanbul's energy.  Lined with a school of fish restaurants along it's lower level and overlooked by fisherman along the top, with gigantic trawlers dodging little fishing boats, the city smells, the call to prayer, the rush, all of your senses are stimulated.  What a perfect setting for that sundowner. 

8) Erzincanli Ali Baba - the bean King

Rushing into a restaurant, shouting Fasulye Pilau (beans, rice) is an everyday occurrence for Turks all over the country.  Erzincanli Ali Baba, situated on a courtyard that overlooks the Süleymaniye Mosque, makes the best Kuru Fasulye around.  A great value and wholesome lunch with a kick.  

9) Kybele Hotel       

Sultanahmet has more restaurants than carpet shops which is no mean feat, but a lot should sadly be avoided.  Tequilas, thumping tunes and toasted tuna mayo's, not really something worth supporting.  The Kybele Hotel is the areas shining light in more ways than one.  Each floor oozes tranquillity and if you're in need of a little serenity this is a good place to be.  They also have an extensive menu that covers all the bases with some good international comfort food and a lot of well done Turkish fare.

10) Çiya Sofrasi - worth the trip

Like Kadi Nimet (number 3 on my list) Çiya Sofrasi is in Kadıköy, on the Asian side.  This place has well and truly been discovered by the tourist brigade, which is not that surprising.  It's a fantastic eatery that serves up dishes from all over the country.   


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