We ate our way from London to Paris to Zurich to Slovenia to Croatia to Serbia to Bulgaria to Istanbul. Here are the highlights from an epic train journey.
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Modern Turkish cuisine has the slow-cooked meaty stews and hearty beans of Central Asian and Caucasian cuisine, the warm spices of Middle Eastern cuisine, and the ingredient-forward influence of the Mediterranean, all mixed up and combined with the refined technique of Ottoman and Western European kitchens. The result is a very food-centric culture with a dizzyingly wide range of ingredients, techniques, and flavors. And in Istanbul, you can get a LOT of it. Here are some of the best things I ate.
Everyone knows baklava, that pastry which layers crispy phyllo dough with a sweet, nutty filling. But most of us know only the traditional variety: rectangular pastries filled with a mixture of almonds and walnuts. Unsurprisingly, since the sweet dates back to at least the 15th century, there are many more varieties than that.
What I generally do when visiting a new food city is ask local food writers where the must-eat spots are; or, if I'm really lucky, have one show me around. So if I'd headed to Turkey, I'd probably have asked the folks at Istanbul Eats to give me a little tour. But they're about three steps ahead of me, as they're already in the business of leading small groups to eating destinations: Istanbul Eats Walks. And the day I spent on one of their tours was easily the best eating day I had in Istanbul.
Ferry boats, pomegranates, Bosphorus views, steep hills, stunning skylines—all among my favorite things about Istanbul. Also up there? Turkish tea culture. As in: you're drinking tea. Everywhere. All the time. And every micro-neighborhood has its own tea guy.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who find the idea of a sheep's head sandwich exciting, and those who find it disturbing. Only those in the former camp should read on. Because when you're eating this sheep's head sandwich, you know it's a sheep's head sandwich.
Breakfast is, without a doubt, my favorite meal of the day. Partaking in local breakfast traditions is one of my favorite parts about traveling. And I'll venture to say that Turkey does breakfast really, really well.
While I prefer the puffy, chewy dough of pide, Turkey's other pizzalike foodstuff, I'm also quite fond of lahmacun. Popular in Istanbul, as it is in much of the Middle East, it's a thin, thin crust topped with minced meat, ground peppers, and herbs, and often spritzed with lemon juice.
Is there any better way to figure out the staples of life in another country than walking through a market? Over a week in Istanbul, I began to get a sense of how locals ate. But a stroll through a street market can tell you a lot at a quick glance. The pickle stands! The 30 tubs of olives! The bunches of hot peppers!
My favorite meat is lamb. My favorite vegetable is eggplant; favorite fruit, pomegranate. Form of carbohydrate? Fresh flatbreads. My favorite food group is dairy; favorite form of dairy, yogurts and fresh cheeses. Favorite way to eat seafood, as simply prepared as possible. And favorite mode of eating? Lots and lots of little bites of things. So I was destined to love eating in Turkey, where I got my fill of all of the above. Here are my 16 favorite foods in Istanbul—any other Turkish food fans out there?
One of my favorite things about eating in Istanbul is the preponderance of cheap, awesome seafood. (Apparently, mid-November is a great time for fish-eating. I am happy to time all of my vacations around fish-eating from now on.) And the easiest way to eat said fish is from a street stand—just about every one selling balik ekmek (translating literally to "fish bread": a simple fish sandwich.)
Take an oven-hot pepperoni pizza, but with the edges folded over into a boat-like shape, and the pepperoni swapped out for garlicky, cumin-y sucuk. What you have is a most excellent pide at Şimşek Pide Salonu, one of many fantastic recommendations from the good folks at Istanbul Eats.
Although it's definitely a tourist magnet, the Egyptian Spice Market in Istanbul houses some wonderful sweet shops. You can find many of the common favorites, but Turkish delight, known to the locals as lokum, is the most plentiful find. Check out the slideshow to find out what makes good Turkish delight and to see eight top picks from the variety of flavors.
Since Turkish ice cream, or dondurma, is much tougher and chewier than American ice cream or gelato, it lends itself well to being stretched and played around with. In this video taken at an ice cream stand in Istanbul, the vendor makes a show while paddling a towering chocolate and nut-covered ice cream cone for his customer by repeatedly taking it away and pretending to let it drop. I'd enjoy this show the first time around, but after a while I could see myself thinking, "Gimmethedamnicecream." Still, after learning about dondurma, my interest in visiting Istanbul has jumped about 500%. Watch the video after the jump....
Clicking in to the AHT inbox recently, we've got this bit of juicy intel. Eat up! During my recent travels I ran across this burger joint in Taksim Square, Istanbul, Turkey. As you can tell from the picture, the burger...
On her recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey, Umami came across a simit vendor balancing a tall, neat pile of the circular bread on a board with one hand. If only I could come across vendors bearing towering piles of bread on the streets here; I'd be so happy....