Where to start? The delicious kebaps? The freshly squeezed pomegranate juice? Or the glorious baklava? Let’s have a look at the food in Istanbul.
The most traditional dish, which I think I ate every single day, is the kebap (spelled kebab or kabob in English speaking countries.) It consists of skewered chunks of lamb or chicken cooked on a grill and served with grilled tomato and green pepper, rice or bulgur wheat and chips.
There are many different types of kebap, like the donner (the meat is shaved and served on a piece of flatbread,) or the iskender, chunks of lamb served on top of pieces of bread with tomato sauce. The lamb can also be finely ground and made into meatballs (kofte.)
Among my favourite kebaps was the patlican kebap: grilled chunks of aubergine and lamb meatballs. One of favourite vegetables and deliciously seasond lamb with a wonderful smokey taste. What’s not to like!
There are fish restaurants on both sides of the lower level of the Galata Bridge. Their specialty is the fish sandwich. The grilled fish (the day’s catch) is served on a big bun with salad and onion. I don´t care for fish but my husband said it was very nice. I ordered a kofte sándwich -lamb meatballs with salad.
I was surprised to find so many familiar desserts in Istanbul. It was a sort of epiphany which really brought home the fact that most of the food we eat in Argentina was introduced by immigrants. The first day at breakfast I tried a little piece of a beige paste-like dessert. Its flavour brought me back to my childhood. I yelled “Mantecol!” As it turned out, it was halva, a traditional Turkish peanut dessert. Mantecol is a well-known brand of halva in Argentina.
Other desserts we eat back home and are actually traditional Turkish sweets are candied figs, candied pumpkin, candied quince or dried figs stuffed wuth walnuts. The difference is that Argentineans eat them with a slice of cheese and Turks eat them by themselves or with some yogurt. I felt at home when it came to desserts in Istanbul.
Ayran, slightly salty yogurt, is a traditional Turkish drink. I still can’t decide whether I liked it or not. At least I’m happy I tried it.
We finished every meal with a cup of coffee (kahvesi) or tea (chay.) The coffee is strong and dense and goes down a treat with baklava. The tea is served in small glasses and its flavour is also intense. Apple tea, served everywhere as well, is very refreshing and tastes like you’re biting into an apple.
I must confess I never consume food from street stalls, it seems unhygienic and teeming with bacteria. However, I dared try street food in Istanbul and discovered a new world, both delicious and affordable.
One of the things I tried and loved was sahlep, a warming drink made with orchid bulb starch, milk, sugar and cinnamon. It has a slightly floral aftertaste. Or maybe it was my imagination, I don’t know. Sahlep is like a fluid custard. It retains heat for a long time, so be careful! It’s perfect for cold weather.
Seeing the first freshly squeezed pomegranate juice vendor made me very happy. The pomegranates were as big as my hand, bright red and very tempting. Their juice has an intense flavour, somewhat astringent, not too sweet and very moreish.
Simit was another great discovery. A bagel-like ring of bread, chewy inside and crunchy outside, covered in sesame seeds. Quite cheap (TL 1, about US$ 0.50,) I found it to be a highly addictive snack.
There were roasted chestnuts (kestane) vendors everywhere. The smoky aroma permeated the city and was redolent of cold days spent curled up next to the fireplace.
There are many pastry shops, or rather, baklava shops, in Istambul where you can buy baklava and other sweets made with walnuts or pistacchios, syrup and angel hair of phyllo pastry. I t difficult to choose a favourite. They’re all suprisingly light and not too overwhelmingly sweet. Then there’s the famous Turkish delight –lokum-, a chewy, sticky, very sweet confection. I like the rosewater flavour the best but there are many different flavours to choose from. It was generally served with coffee.
The spice shops are a wonderful experience of colours, flavours and smells. They sell a wide variety of spices, teas, dried fruit, or nuts. They are worth a visit so you can take a pinch of Turkey home .