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Tasting Turkish cuisine on a food tour from Europe to Asia

I know it sounds unreal but yes, we did taste Turkish food across two continents, from European side Turkey, Karaköy, to Asian side Kadiköy – all in one day!

While walking over the Galata bridge in Istanbul early on a Saturday morning to meet with our foodie guide for a day long walking food tour, we saw fisherman around everywhere.  Some were fishing, others were selling fishing tackle, others were selling bait but all were interacting with one another, bragging about the catch of the day or lamenting about the one that got away.

We began our walking food tour in the back streets of Karaköy.  A truly international group set out on a much anticipated experience, there were, Americans, Filipinos, Germans, South Africans and Turks all eager to taste the food and walk the streets of Istanbul. We started off in the historic Perșembe Pazari.  My first impressions of the area were a bit doubtful. It looked like a hardware district with tools, appliances, ship anchors, paint supplies etc, not like the starting point of a food tour.

Met by our very friendly, enthusiastic and food loving guide, Esin, we were on our way.

We started by strolling through the fish market of Karaköy, where the fresh fish had just arrived and was being unpacked into very impressive displays.

The excitement and friendly attitude of the fish mongers gave us a feeling of belonging. 

They were washing fish, singing, haggling and proudly exhibiting their fish of the day.  One of the fish species that was being displayed had rose like flowers on the sides of their heads.  This turned out to be the gills that are turned out to show potential clients how fresh the fish is. If the gills are bright red the fish is fresh if not … Well you know!

 

  

 

 

 

On our way to the historic Perșembe Pazari of Karaköy, we had breakfast at the lovely little Esnaf Lokantasi and tea at an Ottoman-era caravanserai.

This caravanserai (which used to be an inn for travelers), known as Kurșunluhan, is probably the best hidden work by the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. It was built in 1544, and this beautiful piece of architecture is hidden behind an anonymous door in the un-touristy side of Karaköy.

We had our tea in an open sky courtyard. The courtyard has a beautiful grape vine that dates back to Ottoman times when the place was full of life and many caravaners passing through.

Our guide set the table with newspaper and out came the simit, (sesame-encrusted bread rings), Pastırma (a highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef), cheeses and olives and of course the traditional Turkish tea.  We had a feast and our Turkish foodie tour started with lots of laughter, history and the guides love for her country.

simit

Chai

Pastirma

olives

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next stop was Hasan fehmi özsüt, a restaurant that opened its doors in 1915 and is currently run by the 3rd and 4th generation of the original family.  We had water buffalo cream known in Turkey as Bahl Kaymak and honey with fresh bread at this family run business.  It was very busy and despite the fact that the guys were running around to serve everybody the smiles never left their faces and they greeted everyone coming into their restaurant.

The water buffalo cream and honey was to die for. 

Sweets…

…and preserve shops to die for!

 

After this indulging treat we hopped onto a ferry to Kadiköy on the Asian side.

During the ferry crossing Esin shared information about three Mosques and their history before we hit the streets of Kadikoy and ate our way through the neighborhood markets and food outlets.

This area has the highest number of food shops and eateries in the City so we were in for a real challenge.

 

 

Walking through the market in Kadiköy we saw dried eggplants; colorfully displayed at food stores and hanging in almost every stall.

What a lovely conversation piece.

Have you ever tried stuffed dried eggplants or peppers in Turkey? (kuru patlican ve biber dolmasi) 

 

 

This is a real treat if you can get hold of them. For a filled dried eggplant recipe please click here

Dried eggplants on display

Eggplant at Misir Carsi – Spice Bazaar

On through the market we went.  We stopped at a fruit vendor and Esin showed us Turkish figs.  Something we did not know, that is, if you rub two fig halves together you bring out the sugars and then you have a beautiful sweet fig.

    

We moved on to taste the Aegean-style meze with sardines. This was a personal favorite.   

I loved all the little mezes and then of course the deep fried sardines. Sardines are very popular in local Turkish cuisine, especially during the early autumn when they’re in high season.

 

Some of the best Turkish sardines are harvested near Gallipoli, where the Aegean and Marmara Seas meet.

 

 

 

And the tour continues, next up the famous Tantuni. 

Tantuni is a Turkish Style beef wrap which is actually a street food that originated on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.  It is extremely good with Turkish pickles and Ayran. (Ayran is mainly a mixture of yogurt, cold water and salt, but there are some variations.)  The white frothy drink was indeed a treat.

 

 

 

This was not the end yet!

We were heading for flatbread heaven, Lahmacun

(Turkish ‘Lahmacun‘ Authentic ‘lahmacun‘ is very thin and crispy bread dough with minced meat, its eaten piping hot with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprigs of Italian parsley.)

 

 

For those staying out partying and drinking there is a street food that does wanders for hangover blues.

It is called Ceyrek Kokorec (basically lamb intestines, wrapped around lamb sweetbreads and placed on skewers. These are then grilled horizontally over a charcoal fire and served diced on crispy bread.)

It’s tasty, crispy and the spices are incredible.  While they may not look great, they are a real awakening taste sensation on your tongue.

 

 

Walking on through the lesser-explored culinary hotspots, we passed a record store selling vinyl long playing records from days gone by. Queen’s ‘A Night at The Opera’ was prominently displayed near the door and caught my husband’s eye immediately.  The atmosphere of the neighborhood is vibrant with people enjoying life and having fun – eating and drinking and making memories similar to ours.

We then made our way to our last stop of the day to indulge in a sweet desert called Künefe

Künefe’ is a crispy, cheese-filled dessert made with ‘kadayıf’ (kah-dah-YUF a pre baked dough shredded’). It’s served hot out of the oven making the cheese soft and stringy.

‘Künefe’ is cooked and served in a very shallow, round metal pan that is specially designed for making this special dessert. It’s so delicious that Turkish people and tourists alike are hooked and will continue to enjoy this delectable dish.

Our wonderful two day trip to Istanbul came to an end on a high note with this fabulous food tour!  We were off to Hamburg the next day.  More about our Germany and Netherlands experiences next time.

If you would like to experience this culinary tour and explore the streets of Istanbul, contact Esin, click here.

Coffee, the Turkish way

On our recent trip to Europe, flying with Turkish Airlines, we decided to stop in Instanbul to experience coffee, the Turkish way with Turkish Delight.  We flew through the night and arrived in Istanbul at 6 am.  We went straight to the hotel, hopeful that they would have a room ready for us.  We were in luck!  The hotel could accommodate our very early check in.  And so our coffee expedition started.

What a view, no coffee yet

When I opened the curtains in the room, we received a wonderful surprise; we were directly below the famed Blue Mosque! What a sighton an amazingly overcast autumn morning.  Awesome does not even begin to describe it.

The grey of the sky and the blues of the mosque were such a magnificent match.

After a quick shower and a change of clothes, we hit the streets of the Sultanahmet area. The streets were covered in autumn leaves. What a blessing for us who have not experienced an autumn in approximately 12 to 13 years of living in the GCC.

blue mosque

For the love of shopping…just before coffee, the Turkish way

We walked through the Arasta Bazaar which was built in the 17th Century under the Ottoman dynasty. The wooden façade shops were filled with carpets, jewelry and souvenirs.  From here we made our way through the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. 

We were headed for the two things you absolutely have to experience when visiting Istanbul.  Turkish coffee and Turkish Delight!

At last, coffee –  the Turkish way

We found the “PASHAZADE Türk Kahvesi” coffee shop close to the entrance of the Grand Bazaar and decided that this was the ideal place to get started.  We learnt that the English word coffee first came into use in the 1600’s.  The word coffee comes from Ottoman Turkish word “Kahveh”.  It is hard to believe but Kahves was banned in Ottoman Turkey during the 17th century for political reasons. Luckily, this changed and we can enjoy the taste of this beautiful Kahvesi.

The method that is used at “Pashazade” was new to us, but is well known to the Turkish people.

Turkish Sand coffee consists of pure water, finely ground high quality coffee beans, sugar according to taste and spices to create the foam. After a specific quantity of water is poured into a small coffee brewing pot, which has a wide base, narrow mouth, long handle and a spout for pouring, the right amount of coffee and spices are added to the water and the pot is placed onto hot sand.  As the water heats the brew is gently stirred using a metal spoon so that the coffee and spices are evenly distributed through the brew.

   

Wait for it!  The coffee is done; a sprinkle of spice is dusted on top of the coffee for an extra spicy flavor.  The coffee is now served in the most beautiful cups with, of course, the famous Turkish Delight (Lokum).

turkish delight

After taking a sip of the smooth coffee and tasting the spices, I knew I was in the heart of Istanbul.

A sweet delight with coffee, the Turkish way

Well there are a few stories surrounding Turkish delight.  I like to share this one. Turkish Delight was the handiwork of a confectioner called Bekir Effendi.  He came to Istanbul in 1776 to set up a sweet shop. He was an artist in confectionary.

The kitchen was his canvas where he could let his imagination run wild.  Bekir became the love of the Turkish people because of his art and their sweet tooth. Turkish Delight was originally wrapped in lace handkerchiefs and was a chic gift shared amongst the socialites, it was even very popular with the Royal Courtesans.  Bekir’s shop still exists today, on Hamidiye Caddesi at the corner of Seyhülislam Hayri Effendi Caddesi, two blocks east of the Yeni Cami (New Mosque).

This 250-year old confectionary is a Turkish institution, which still dishes out the most sumptuous and choicest Turkish Delights in the whole of Turkey.

Oh the Turkish Delight is to die for and pairs perfectly with the slow sand brewed coffee.  Just writing this makes me taste every bit of it all over again.

Next on the list…after coffee

Our next stop was the Grand Bazaar and Spice bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı).  ‘Well, what does one say about it?’  I simply loved the atmosphere, the smells, the price haggling, the happiness of the Turks drinking tea and interacting with their clients and the tourists walking through the bazaar, but that is a story for another day…

for now I just savour the taste of coffee and Turkish Delight in my mind’s eye.

a bit more than coffee, coming soon!

 

the colour purple

I love walking through the market and seeing the variety of beautiful, purple coloured aubergines? (French for eggplant.)

I can always imagine the smell of it, when it gets roasted over an open flame and just about taste the smokiness of the eggplant.  Aubergines, apparently, originated from India and plays a leading role in the culinary world of the Middle East.

I would have thought that Aubergines were always part of the food scene, but in fact, it was only introduced in the seventh and eighth centuries.  The Arabs fell in love with

Aubergines when they conquered Iran in the seventh century. Therefore, the adopted Old Persian name, al badin-gan, pronounced al-badinjan.

Aubergines spread through the Middle East and North Africa and became a staple food, commonly referred to as the “poor man’s meat”.  In Iran it is called “poor man’s caviar”.

In Turkey, where it is considered to be the king of vegetables, it is called “patlican”.  Turkish cuisine has 200 different dishes containing aubergines.

 

 

 

I would like to share a recipe that I developed and fell in love with –

Aubergines cooked whole over an open flame! It has a sharp, smoky flavour that blends amazingly well with yogurt and olive oil.

My take on this Middle Eastern Aubergine dish…

 

 

 

 

Put the aubergine directly on the gas flame of your stove. Using tongs, turn it over until it is cooked on all sides.

When the aubergine is ready it will appear as in the picture.

Once you have taken the cooked aubergine from the stove, cut it open and remove the flesh.

You can leave a little bit of the burnt skin with the flesh. It gives the flesh a more smoky taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make the dish, mix the following ingredients together in a bowl:

1 large chopped smoked aubergine

3 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt

½ teaspoon flaky smoked salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 glove finely chopped garlic

¼ teaspoon sumac – optional

Sumac is the dark red berry of the shrub “Rhus coriaria” which is dried and then called sumac. The dried berries are brick-red, tinged with purple with a lemony, woody taste. Sumac was used long before lemons arrived in the Middle East and this was used as the souring agent in their food. 

 

Serve your burnt aubergine with a combination of the seeds of half a pomegranate and thinly sliced fresh basil leaves (use extra basil leaves as garnish).

Enjoy with flatbread.

I really do believe that you will love this quick and easy dish, just as much as I do. 

 

 

 

Chef’s tip:  If you had a barbeque, and you have some aubergines, put them on the dying embers of the charcoal fire and leave to smoke overnight.  Ready to be used the next morning.