Sunday 2 June 2013

Lokum, Kebap and Ottoman Edibles; Food in Istanbul

The beginning of May saw Shannon and I bolting from the UK having much enjoyed the weather and architecture but looking forward to somewhat less lubricated food sources. A brief flight aboard fantastic Turkish Airlines (real utensils, smoked salmon, Turkish delight and alcohol à volonté anyone?) we landed in lovely Istanbul. Lodged halfway between Asia and Europe and home to over fifteen million souls, we didn't quite know yet that we were in for a real treat. 

Cherries...because they're pretty and sold on the street.

Making our way out of the airport we eventually found the apartment we were renting, thanks to some "Turkish Gentlemen" (but that's a whole other story) and settled in. This leg of the trip was certainly interesting because we met up with my two siblings, Joe, who would stay with us for our time in Istanbul and Matt, who joined us for the remainder of our trip. 

That night we dined on some greasy Turkish food a continuation of what we'd reluctantly grown accustomed to in Scotland but tastier (and with vegetables *gasp!*).The meal was certainly exotic and while being greasy it had the surprising property of being rich in vegetables featuring, as a main focus, stuffed peppers. We awoke the next morning to experience a breakfast of French toast and fruit which we whipped up in a jiffy, using fresh bread that is conveniently available everywhere at the same price in Istanbul and some fruits from a nearby stand. While we did of course have to watch out for rotting or moldy fruit, a hazard in non-supermarket circumstances, the rest of our foraging went well except for the unfortunate mistake of purchasing Ayran instead of milk.

 What is Ayran you might wonder? Ayran is a yogurt beverage, that doesn't sound so bad right? Wrong. Minor detail: it's salty. You can guess that we were not exactly ecstatic when we decided we'd see if Turkish tea was good with milk and were instead surprised with a salty yogurt that coagulated upon touching our tea. This unfortunate experience succeeded in teaching us three things 1) don't put dairy in Turkish tea (consider this incidence culinary karma) and 2) In foreign countries don't trust things that look like milk to actually be milk 3)google is your friend.

Our adventures out that day led us to visit some lovely mosques, great markets and eat too much food, something which became something of a pattern for the duration of our trip.

Every day we'd start out with a glass (or two or three) of fresh-pressed orange juice

We'd then have a kebap for lunch (without fries if possible because they were usually soggy)

Sometimes we'd have some fancier traditional food

Beautiful copper dishware too!

Like Scotland, much Turkish food was mushy, unlike Scotland, it was actually good!

Stew is better when lit on fire

Sorry it was attacked before I snapped a pic...

Turkish cuisine features some fantastic spice mixtures, lovely garlic, copious amounts of lamb and eggplant and more, so in essence, what's not to like!?
 Speaking of spices...

These are all from the same store by the way... one of hundreds like it

Turkish marketing strategy #63 market everything as an aphrodisiac (EVERYTHING)

Yup...that's all honey, in a comb, in a log, delightful, delightful honey.

Any meal at any place of repute (ie not a kebap shop) would serve you a complimentary cup of strong locally grown black tea with sugar to finish off your meal or if you were lucky some delightful Armenian apple tea. This is also a ritual practiced by carpet salesmen, make sure to get your tea if you buy a carpet.

If you were still hungry after gorging yourself on all of these delightful eats, you could duck off into the nearest baklava shop...

Or go savor some fantastic lokum (Turkish delight) which by the way, if you aren't a fan of it at home, you might adore it when abroad as it is absolutely fantastic fresh! For those unfamiliar with the treat it consists of nuts, gelled fruit and often some other flavorings such as coconut...
They sell a lot of it.
Like a lot, a lot.
They even make houses out of it.
And serve it with their "delicious" coffee, it's prettier than it tastes.

Lokum not your thing? How bout some doughnuts with rosewater? Best fresh of course!

Although I don't recommend any other pastries sold by vendors, they aren't yeah stick to doughnuts, lots of doughnuts.

As for restaurants, street food in Istanbul is amazing but should you decide to set foot into aq real restaurant I recommend Asitane. Serving cuisine using recipes pulled from the records of Ottoman palace cooking this place is a must! Blending well-executed food with history and sophistication it was pretty much impossible for me to dislike it. The food was good, if not mind-blowing but the experience was truly worthwhile. Fair warning? Dress well.

Fruit and cinnamon stuffed mackerel

Honey, Apricot and chicken stew

Oh and one little post-script? I'm not usually one for corporate goods but like with my Scottish post that mentions the yogurt, if you go to Turkey you must try pistachio magnum bars, they aren't the same anywhere else and they are really, REALLY good.

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