All original content © 2011-2014. Photos and Text, unless otherwise stated, are by the author of Pork Bier Belly. If you want to use images or writing, please ask for permission prior to using.

Sunday, July 1

Eating and Drinking in Istanbul

Continuing the Turkey thread

Turkey is surrounded by water in the North and South and because of its close proximity to other countries, foods from other cultures are also represented.  Due to its surroundings, fish and seafood play a large role in Turkey’s food culture.  In Istanbul we tried Hamsi (fried Black Sea Anchovies) and Mussels.  But the obvious stand outs were kebabs and döner.  One place I researched was Istanbul Eats for their recommendations for local restaurants. 

As recommended, we tried Pide, Hamsi, Döner and kebabs.  Pide is (pizza) dough shaped to an oval (resembles hollowed boat), topped with toppings of choice and baked in the oven.  At a Iocal Pide joint near our hotel, we both ordered our Pides with ground lamb and veggies.  It was tasty but we both agreed the dough to meat ratio was off, too much dough and not enough toppings.   

Restaurant wise the standouts that we will always remember were Dürümzade, Köfteci Hüseyin, Hayvore, Zubeyir, and, Siirt Şeref Büryan.  

Dürümzade offers one thing and one thing only, Turkish wraps in lavash (Turkish tortilla) filled with charcoal grilled meats and few vegetables, maybe a tomato here and a lettuce there.  The key to this dürüm is the perfectly seasoned meat that alleviates the experience to a new level. Of course, the crispy lavash that’s slathered with the meat juices makes it better but we were engulfed in devouring the dürüm because of the meat.  On the first visit, we each got a 2nd dürüm because it was that good.  There are several meats (chicken breast, ground beef-Adana, lamb lung, and ground lamb-sheesh) to choose from and we opted for ground lamb-sheesh.

Köfteci Hüseyin is a köfte, ground lamb meatballs, spot that grills the meatballs in the oven and serves it with bread, piyaz (white beans and onion) and spicy red pepper sauce.  The köfte are tender, juicy and rich.  One reason I believe they are so good is their meat to fat ratio, it’s close to 75% meat to 25% fat. When there’s that much fat in a meatball, it’s bound to be mouthwateringly delicious.  The piyaz are seasoned simply, oil and vinegar dressing, and topped with parsley.  Although very mild (almost no salt), they’re a good addition for the well seasoned köfte.   And the red pepper sauce is spicy with a kick and rounds out the meal. Köfteci Hüseyin is only open for lunch and closes when the last köfte is sold.  Good thing we got there in time for lunch because when we went back the 2nd day, he was sold out and we were turned away.  Fortunately this place is close enough to other great Beyoğlu eats and we stopped in Hayvore for a 2nd time.

Hayvore is a lunch spot that serves homey food to locals and tourists alike.  They have a variety of dishes to choose from, all presented on heated tray in a glass case.  The first day we visited, he tried kuru fasulye (beans in sauce) with short grain rice, dolma (grape leaves stuffed with rice and onions) in rich stock.  I ordered chicken with vegetables served with couscous.  The beans were very well seasoned and cooked in a tomato-onion sauce.  (I just discovered a recipe for kuru fasulye and am planning to recreate it at home. It was that good!) Neither of us are fans of dolma, it’s the grape leaf thing but these were notable. Slow cooking the stuffed grape leaves in broth tenderizes the otherwise tough leaves.  The chicken was good but not a stand out.  On the 2nd day we returned, I ordered kuru fasulye with short grain rice and he ordered a chickpea and spinach stew with rice. Both were delicious.

Zübeyir was the only restaurant on our list that we splurged for dinner.  However everything was well worth the money we spent.  It’s a kebab house, centrally located in Beyoğlu near Taksim Square and is a multi level restaurant that has a large, open charcoal grill on the first level.  Everything that’s ordered from the grill is cooked fresh and served hot off the coals.  We started our dinner with few mezes (appetizers) which included bean, onion and tomato salad, tzatziki (yogurt sauce) and gavurdagi salatasi (parsley and chili salad with a hint of pomegranate syrup).  The beans were mildly seasoned with salt, pepper and vinegar.  The tzatziki was minty and perfect accompaniment to the house bread and the gavurdagi salatasi made me a parsley convert.  I hate parsley as much as many people hate cilantro but this salad was made for people like me to enjoy parsley.  From the grill, we ordered lamb sheesh and lamb chops.  Both were tender, moist and seasoned precisely. 

A memorable meal in Fatih, a neighborhood far from the main attractions, at Siirt Şeref Büryan.  This place specializes in pit roasted lamb.  The lamb is cooked for hours in the pit and served cut up in pieces over Pide.  Although Fatih was ways away from where we spent our days, it was worth the trek to get this roasted lamb. 

Onto some other food that’s worth noting.  Manti is Turkish version of ravioli, stuffed pasta with lamb and served with yogurt sauce.  We had this at a restaurant on Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoğlu’s main street.  It was at the same restaurant we tried Gözleme, Indian version of Paratha.  For those unfamiliar with Paratha, Gözleme is balls of dough that’s rolled very thin (think phyllo), stuffed with cheese, potatoes, spinach (or a combination) and cooked on a rounded griddle.  For tourist attraction, this particular restaurant had two older, plump women rolling out the dough to very thin sheets, stuffing them and cooking on a griddle by the main entrance with a glass window.  We ordered one filled with cheese and spinach and another filled with potatoes.  Both the Manti and Gözleme were fitting for an afternoon snack with a glass of Ayran. 

Speaking of Ayran, it’s one drink that Turkish people have with their meals regularly.  Ayran is made of yogurt and lightly seasoned with salt.  Some sell it fresh (definitely try it) and some sell the premade version, none the less it’s a good drink with any meal.  Post-dinner is reserved for Turkish tea.  Turkish tea is made with black tea steeped in hot water and strained into a special glass.  It’s served with couple cubes of sugar on the side.   Also, freshly squeezed orange juice on street carts and stands was readily available in many neighborhoods; we took the opportunity to drink the fresh juice daily. 

We tried Hamsi (fried black sea anchovies) at the Karaköy fish market.  The fish are de-headed, battered and fried.  They are served with lemon juice, onions and arugula.  The onion and arugula are supposed to cut through the richness of fried fish but neither one of us cared for it.  We ate the Hamsi drizzled with lemon juice and with a side of bread.  On the same seafood note, we tried fried mussels at a street stand in Beyoğlu.  It tasted good but not something we’d have again because the mussels were too oily. 

Lahmacun was one thing that we wished to try but did not because it a thin flatbread (resembles a Mexican flour tortilla) topped with ground (beef) meat, onions and spices.

And onto two places that were
disappointing I feel obligated to mention because these are highly regarded on the Internet.  Çiya Sofrası located on the Asian side of Istanbul in Kadıköy neighborhood.  This place is buzzing with lots of people sitting inside and outside but unfortunately it missed the mark on the food.  It may have been a bad night but I believe that if a restaurant that’s this well known is bound to lose its edge when everyone on the Internet is talking about their food and attracts so many tourists.  Some restaurants can keep up with the hype but unfortunately Çiya didn’t that night.  We ordered 6 dishes (they are served in small portions so it’s easy to share) and couple were memorable but overall an average experience.  One of the dishes we both enjoyed was a yogurt soup with chickpeas and the other was a lamb meatball soup. 

The other was Mohti. It’s tucked away in an alley in Beyoğlu and hard to find and that may be enough to keep customers from coming in. It’s on a second floor of an undisclosed building and when we entered on a Thursday evening it was empty. The owner was working on his laptop and the young waiter wasn’t very well informed of the menu.  We allowed him to suggest couple dishes and he suggested 2 different kinds of anchovy dishes on a menu with 8- 10 items.  Once we ordered, the food came intermittently.  Turkish cornbread was the only distinguished food that evening. And the kicker, we were charged extra for sharing plates (even though the waiter had initially suggested it) and extra for things we hadn’t ordered. Mohti is overpriced and underwhelming.

Couple bad meals in 5+ days of eating out is a good record. We couldn't have been more pleased with the results from our searches for the best food in the city. Overall, Istanbul is a city we can return to for the outstanding food.

1 comment:

  1. The ayran sounds like your lassi! The gozleme sounds awesome too.
    Piyaz is one of my favorites - I make some version of it (not sure how authentic my version is though!)