For starters, good food in Istanbul does not come cheap. In fact, it is just about as affordable as New York or Paris and only slightly more affordable than London, but hey, with the British pound the way it is, its not difficult being cheaper than London’s. But after the initial shock, Pak and I quickly settled down and started eating, and found that with its abundance of fresh produce and seafood, Istanbul is a great place to eat very very well. Here are a few favorites:

simit

Simits are the breakfast of choice in Turkey, where they are as ubiquitous as the pretzels one finds on New York sidewalks. Unlike the pretzels however, these are actually edible and purchased by locals as well as foreigners, and not just a tourist trap. Simits look like the thinner version of a sesame seed bagel, my bagel of choice, and taste like it too, which explains why I like it so much.

iman bayildi

Eggplant’s my favorite vegetable, and wow do the Turkish know how to cook eggplant! According to certain reports found on the internet, the Ottoman cooks knew how to make upwards of 200 different eggplant dishes. I had at least half a dozen, and the dishes I tried, from the smoky puree supporting a lamb stew at Rumeli, to the origami-like fried eggplant and pastry packet at Giritli were all very good. I had my favorite on the first day, where fresh of the plane, hungry and jet-lagged, Pak and I descended upon the plate of Iman Bayildi, a cold eggplant dish stuffed with onions, tomato and garlic, and then poached in olive oil. So smooth and tasty it made the Iman (and us) swoon.  

meze

We could’ve made meals out of the meze platters at the kebab specialist Hamdi, and almost did at the awesome seafood palace Giritli. There, we had, at one point 18 small plates of various cold appetizers, including beans, eggplant, pepper, cod roe, mushrooms, fish, yogurt crowding our table to the point that it was getting difficult to spot the tablecloth underneath those plates. If we hadn’t saved space for the next 3 courses that followed the mezes, we would have been in deep trouble.  Toasty and crusty baked bread accompanied the mezes, and we tore away happily, only to marginally regret our actions the day after.

kofte revelation

We had a revelation while eating meatballs at Tarihi Selim Usta Koftecisi on Divan Yolu. Meatballs do not need to be perfectly spherical and still taste incredible! The menu at the no-nonsense kofte house is pathetically narrow, with the signature meatballs and lamb shish as entrees, 2 types of salads for appetizers and 2 desserts. Practically everyone gets the meatballs, served straight off a charcoal grill and that is a good thing, for the lamb shish pales in comparison. The fingers of meat glisten from a little oil and burst into meaty juiciness when bitten. The meat is redolent of spices and a slight appealing gaminess. Subsequently we had kofte on the overnight Pammukale Ekspresi, and while not as good, was an admirable attempt from a train kitchen.

fish

Walking across Galata Bridge from Beyoglu to Eminonu, we saw dozens of enthusiastic anglers trying to catch fish. Instead of catching our own dinner, we opted on the last 2 nights to visit well known fish restaurants instead. We ate like royalty at Giritli, were 85 YTL gave us a 4 course dinner made up of 20+ distinct appetizers and very fresh fish cooked in the most unadorned manner. The fish at Boncuk on the following night was as simply cooked and just as fresh. Pakshun’s grilled bluefish had a very nice char, was shining with natural fish oil and had the most delicate flesh while my white fish filets tasted as sweet as fish can be.

Besides all these, we had our fill of dessert, from squares of baklava positively dripping with honey, the creamiest puddings and the stickiest icecream, and gawked at the abundance of fresh and dried fruits at markets. We downed cups of sweet strong tea and got our pension host at Pamukkale to buy a bag of aromatic apple tea that Pak fell in love with. We ate homecooked meals in the pensions, and shared a meal Orient Express style on the train’s dining car. We were overwhelmed by the variety of lokum, spices and candy at the Spice Market and of course had to buy some goodies back. By the end of the trip, we were heavier and our wallets were lighter, but the experiences and our education in Turkish cuisine more than made up for it!