When I visit a new city, I like to glom onto a good, local friend (like a human lamprey but without the jawless mouth hole full of pointy teeth and nightmares) who can take me around the city and show me the best places to eat, shop, and look at important historical stuff, all while filling me in on interesting facts and details about what we're eating and looking at, all while having fun, all while retaining positive feelings about me and the future of our friendship after the day is over even though I drained them of all their energy and they're sick of looking at my face.
On our second day in the city, Diana, Kåre, and I went on Istanbul Eats' "Two Markets, Two Continents" tour with guide Gökçen Ceylan. I couldn't think of a better way to start the trip; it was a combined six-hour crash course in Turkish Food 101/Getting Around Istanbul 101/Tidbits About Turkish Culture 101 with a friendly, seemingly all-knowing teacher. Gökçen has since left Istanbul Eats and started Gourmet Holidays, giving you two great food tour options (Gourmet Holidays' "Asian Side Walk" is similar).
The price is $125 per person (same with Gourmet Holidays), which includes food and travel to Kadıköy. That may seem like a lot, but considering how long the tour is and how much you eat, it's totally worth it. (Full disclosure: I got our tickets at a discount, but I would've still done it at full price.) Just make sure to plan ahead if you're on a tight schedule; groups are small and may fill up quickly. Our group had just five people (including a nice American couple) because someone didn't show up at the last minute.
Here's a rundown of what I ingested during the tour in case you need more convincing.
We started with breakfast in Karaköy at Mutfak Dili Ev Yemekleri. I don't consider myself an American breakfast person, but a Turkish breakfast person? Yes. Just look at this spread:
- Sampler of jams and sweet goos! Strawberry, quince, orange, rose, fig, sour cherry, and honey.
- Bread, a staple of Turkish breakfast. Standard bread as seen here is of the light, plushy, crackly thin-crusted sort. It's best topped with lots of...
- KAYMAK! ALL GLORY TO THE KAYMAK! Did you ever wish clotted cream were a part of your complete breakfast? In Turkey, it is. Take a slice of bread, grab a hefty gob of kaymak, and spread it on thickly, along with honey.
- Raw tomato slices and cucumber planks. They totally offset the kaymak maybe.
- I've never been a big fan of scrambled eggs, but I'm very much down with menemen. It's scrambled eggs + tomato + onion + pepper + more. Behind the menemen mound is a cheese-filled croissant-like pastry.
- Turkish tea (çay) in a tulip-shaped glass, something you'll drink over and over again in Turkey. I take mine with at least two cubes of sugar. ...Sometimes more.
Next we took the 20-minute ferry ride to Kadıköy (aka the Asian/Anatolian side), where the bulk of the tour took place.
- A simit to snack on during the ride. It's sort of like the spawn of a bagel and a pretzel: a golden-brown ring of crusty, chewy bread, coated in sesame seeds. You'll see simit stands by the ferries and elsewhere.
- One way to pass the time is to throw chunks of bread off the boat for birds to catch, like this dude is doing.
- Diana, too!
- The birds know. Oh, yes.
- "THIS CHUNK IS MINE EVERYONE ELSE GET THE FUCK AWAY" (is that how birds think I don't know).
We started at Adapazarı Islama Köftecisi, famous for their köfte (like meatballs or elongated meat patties) and beef broth-soaked slices of bread.
- Pile of brothed bread and meat nubs.
- Spread on some ezme, a spiced tomato and red pepper salsa-like condiment.
- Combine with pepper and onion salad.
- I probably didn't eat this right, but whatever. It tasted awesome, the way you'd except juicy meat + meat juiced-bread to taste.
- To end, a semolina dessert with chocolate sauce, pistachios, and ice cream.
- This restaurant gets a bit of fan mail.
Time for a break.
Şekerci Cafer Erol is the most charming old-timey sweets shop I've ever been to, stuffed with all things Turkish and sugary. You can't be unhappy in a place like this. Just look around:
- Neat piles of chocolates. Neat piles of cookies. Hard candies with flavors like violet, strawberry, bergamot, and lemon and mint.
- More hard candies.
- Fried dough soaked in syrup, candied fruit and nuts, and baklava.
- Fruit and vegetable-shaped marzipan.
This is a great place to get gifts, like pre-packed boxes of Turkish delight and hard candies. I bought some of those, along with a big bag of tiny Turkish delight cubes to snack on.
On to another Turkish favorite: pickled everything. Özcan Turşuları is nearby for all the pickle needs you didn't know you had.
- Pickles in bottles. Pickles in jars. Pickles in piles. Pickles in jugs. Pickles in everything.
- Is that you, Pickled Santa?
- Peppers and cukes and carrots and more.
- Scoop it. Scoop it into my mouth.
- Şalgam, a popular pickle juice drink. ...Do not scoop this into my mouth. I like pickles, but pickle juice, less so.
- It just keeps on going.
- Non-pickle offerings include olives, pomegranate syrup, herbs, and spices.
They've also got these huge dispensers full of tahini and pekmez (grape molasses). Mix 'em together for a popular breakfast spread.
Arifoğlu is a good spot to get spices, tea, and other dried stuff.
Some random snapshots from the many neighboring food shops and stalls:
- Eggs with yolks on display.
- Meat logs.
- So much meze. We sampled a few of these.
- Lemons and garlic, BFFs.
- SARDINES (hamsi), I LOVE YOU.
- Splayed-out octopus.
- That furry stump is filled with cheese, in case you're looking for cheese aged in goatskin.
Time for a Turkish coffee break at Fazıl Bey'in Türk Kahvesi. We headed up the wee staircase to the cozy room on the second floor.
I like black coffee about as much as I like poisonous dirt water—because to me it tastes like poisonous dirt water—but add lots of sugar and I'm ok with it. Thankfully, in Turkey you can choose from four levels of sweetness: none, a little, medium, and a lot. (Sugar is added to the ground coffee before it's brewed; the drinker doesn't add it after. Read more about how Turkish coffee is prepared at Wikipedia.) Ah, Turkey, you get me. I went with "a lot."
Each cup was served with a glass of water and a small cube of Turkish delight.
Not being anything of a coffee lover, I can't rate it in any meaningful way. I liked it all right, because sugar, but I can't beam with excitement about it, because bitter.
Salep, on the other hand, is a 500% excitement-worthy drink. At least if you're like me and love all things sweet and dairy. Salep is a hot, sweet, milk-based drink flavored with rosewater and cinnamon and mildly thickened by its namesake, salep, aka orchid tuber flour. It reminded me of non-alcoholic eggnog. Crème anglaise. Drinkable pudding. All good things. I don't have much to compare this version of salep to, but I'd say it's awesome. To make it at home, check out this recipe at Serious Eats.
After we were all done drinking our coffee, Gökçen showed us how to use the leftover grounds for fortune-telling. We turned the cups over on their saucers, let them sit for about ten minutes, then looked in our cups for any hint of imagery that could convey grand, general ideas about our futures. Mine looked like brown glurp. My future's lookin' real good!
Next up, sweets at baklava shop Gaziantepli Baklavacı Bilgeoğlu, where everything looked picture-perfect.
We sampled sweet pistachio paste nubbins and flaky pastries filled with crushed pistachio and kaymak. Crushed pistachios and kaymak in everything, please.
But I'll try anyway: it's a super juicy, snack-sized roll of lavash filled with beef, tomato, parsley, and pepper, finished off with a squeeze of lemon. It feels a bit like a taco-burrito hybrid, but not really. It ought to exist more in this world.
I also tried a frothy cup of ayran, a cold, salty yogurt drink considered Turkey's national drink (well, non-alcoholic drink, at least; the alcoholic throne belongs to rakı). I can see how this could be refreshing, but I just can't get into it without the aid of sugar. I'd say I have the taste buds of a five-year-old, but I'm guessing Turkish five-year-olds like ayran more than I do.
Not as delicious to me as tatuni but still worth eating is kokoretsi, a sandwich stuffed with chopped lamb intestine and other offal. We got ours from Kokoretto.
Big honkin' loaves of intestine-wrapped offal—like an organ meat mummy lump—get spit-roasted to a dark crisp before getting sliced and chopped into lil' bits for your sandwich.
The tour ended on a high note at Kimyon Dürüm thanks to dishes such as:
- Vegetarian çig köfte, wrapped in lettuce and squirted with lemon juice.
- Kelle paça, sheep's head and feet soup, one of my favorite foods of the whole trip. Creamy with super tender meat chunks. It comes with a bowl of garlic water for you to add to your liking.
- Lentil soup with pepper-infused olive oil.
- Pickle drink, I do not really love you.
- Künefe, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. Cheese topped and bottomed with a crisp crust of compressed thin noodle shards, soaked in syrup, topped with pillowy dollops kaymak, and sprinkled with crushed pistachio.
- The return of tea.
During the meal, Gökçen made a bakery run to Serger to make sure we could all try their katmer, possibly the best pastry I had during my trip. These triangles of phyllo dough are stuffed with pistachio paste and kaymak and topped with ground pistachio, similar to the pastry we had at the earlier bakery but less sweet. It's supposed to be eaten for breakfast. YET ANOTHER REASON WHY TURKISH BREAKFAST IS THE BEST. Diana, Kåre and I happened to walk by the bakery after the tour was over (hence the exterior shot above), but for some reason I didn't think to buy more katmer or anything else from the bakery. Perhaps I was blinded by fullness, but THAT IS NO EXCUSE AND I AM AN IDIOT I SHOULD KNOW BETTER BY NOW FULLNESS DOESN'T LAST FOREVER AND NOR DO PASTRIES. Anyway. [gently dusts off self]
After parting with Gökçen and our tour mates, I steered Diana and Kåre towards Ali Usta, a famous ice cream shop in a quieter part of the neighborhood. On the way we passed...
- One of many stray dogs.
- Tea dude! Must be a pro at keeping everything balanced.
- One of many stray cats. Seems like this one has its own makeshift water bowl and...meat nubs?
- A non-stray cat, perhaps?
- Another stray dog. :(
- PUFFY Center! I think they sold beds.
I don't remember much about Ali Usta, unfortunately. I failed to take any notes, and I don't even remember which flavors I got, besides that the pink one wasn't a straight-up fruit flavor. It certainly wasn't bad, but I guess it wasn't that memorable either. Maybe I had to be hungrier to appreciate it. If I could go back, I'd also want to try their salep.
Lastly, random night shots on the ferry ride and walk back to our apartment.
- View from the ferry.
- Cobblestone street.
- "Good at balancing stuff on his head" dude.
- A late night football game in the rain.
Adapazarı Islama Köftecisi
Osmanağa Mh., 34714 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey (map)
+90 216 338 7815
Gaziantepli Baklavacı Bilgeoğlu
Caferağa Mh., 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey (map)
+90 216 336 0049
Caferağa Mh., Güneşlibahçe Sok. No: 26, 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey (map)
+90 216 337 0123
Osmanağa Mh., 34714 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey (map)
Serasker Cd No:69, Osmanağa Mh., 34200 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey (map)
Kadife Sk 17/C, Caferağa/Istanbul, Turkey (map)
+90 216 330 4845
Moda Cad. No:100/ A, 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey (map)
Moda Cad. No: 176, 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey (map)