A few weeks ago I went to Turkey for my 30th birthday. Unfortunately, my husband could only join me after a few days. The thought of traveling to a country I have never been to and a country where English is not one of their official languages, never mind spoken too often, was very daunting for me. I had some serious mixed emotions, as I am a person with serious wanderlust, but also an inexperienced traveler.
Interesting fact: Turkey, and particularly the city of Istanbul, is transcontinental. This means it is divided into two contents, namely Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus strait divides these two continents. Although Ankara is the capital of Turkey, Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey. Istanbul is also the largest city (by population) on the European continent.
The Turkish takes so much pride in everything they do. It is needless to say that they find so much happiness not just preparing, but enjoying in their traditional food.
Turkish cuisine is rich and will take some serious effort to get a bite of all of their traditional dishes. This does not mean we did not try… 😉
Lucky for me the hotel served some traditional dishes at the breakfast buffet each morning. These traditional dishes included many types of Börek and a selection of Turkish cookies and pastries.
Hare are some of the traditional Turkish foods that I enjoyed:
Börek is a collective name for many phyllo dough pastries that have been filled and baked. These patries can be shaped into many sizes and filled with all sorts of sweet and savoury combinations. Su (water) Börek is a dish made with layered boiled phyllo dough with a mixture of egg, feta cheese and parley in between. This dish is then baked and cut into squares before serving.
Döner Kebap is a large kebab of seasoned meat (chicken, beef or lamb) that has been stacked on a monster of a metal rod. This large vertical kebab is then slowly cooked rotisserie-style. As the meat is cooked, it is cut off from the edges in thin shavings. The meat is extremely tender and succulent. The term döner refers to the style in which the meat is cooked. The meat can then be served in many forms, like in a pita, in a wrap, on a bread roll, or even as is with a few sides. There are so many restaurants on every street that make döner kebap and for some reason the fact that their competition is sometimes literally right next door, doesn’t bother them. They just keep doing what they do best – serving up a fantastic portion of döner meat.
Dürüm is a flatbread that has been filled with either some of the succulent döner kebap that was just cut off, or smaller kebbap (meat that has been grilled over coals) and then rolled to form a wrap. Every restaurant adds their own combination fillings to the döner kebap. Ingredients can include lettuce, tomato, gherkins, onions, chese, etc. Dürüm refers to the actual wrap. There are many types of dürüm. We had a few types of dürüm, but my favourite was at a small restaurant that was part of a hotel. It was filled with döner kebap and was so tasty and tender. Unfortunately the other dürüm that we tried didn’t quite hit the spot and left me disappointed. I wish I had more time and or a few extra stomachs to experience some dürüm at other little spots.
Islak aka Wet Burgers. So, wet burgers don’t really sound all that appetising, does it? But believe me when I say ‘It is all that’. I read about it on a few food blogs and people were going berserk for these . I was so keen to taste a wet burger. Essentially a wet burger is a small bun that has been filled with aromatic meat and drenched in a pungent tomato and garlic sauce – nothing more, nothing less. These burgers are kept in a glass case that steams the buns and makes them soft and somewhat soggy. Yeah, I think I might be losing you…. Read on! Thankfully I came across a little bistro that displayed these glorious delights. Oh. My. Goodness. It was superb! The night before we left to go home, I suddenly realised that my husband has not tasted a wet burger. Unfortunately wet burgers were not very popular in the area we stayed and we would have had to take the train to get our hands on wet burgers. Since this was our last night, we decided against it. My husband was okay not getting the opportunity to sink his teeth into these treats, but I was quite bummed I would not get another taste. He didn’t get why I was so eager to let him try wet burgers. But next time we will go to Taksim Square and eat 10 wet burgers and he will understand what the fuss was about. To this day I can’t stop thinking about wet burgers.
Manti is bitesize dumplings that are filled with a variety of fillings. The most well know manti in Turkey is Kayseri manti, which originated in the city of Kayseri. This manti is filled with seasoned meat and served with a homemade tomato sauce and a drop of garlic yogurt. Manti can be steamed, boiled, baked, or sometimes deep-fried. Although manti, or mantu in some countries, vary in size and shape, in Turkey they are called manti and they are very small, usually served with a garlic yogurt sauce. We tried one portion boiled and one portioned deep-fried. The portions were very big and we could easily have shared one portion. My husband and I preferred the deep-fried manti. The only problem was the yogurt sauce made the crispy edges soft quite quickly. I’ll ask for the sauce on the side next time. Manti is widely available at grocery stores. It is sold in freezers and you can choose your own quantity which is weighed and priced accordingly.
Pide is almost like pizza. Pide is a baked oval-shaped flatbread. The dough can be topped with many combinations of toppings (usually some kind of meat) and cheese. It almost looks like a boat with filling. The ‘boat’ is then sliced in vertically and enjoyed in slices.
Gözleme is a thinly rolled flatbread that has been filled and baked on a traditional grill, called a saç. It is then cut into smaller pieces for sharing. Ours was filled with minced meat, parsley and cheese. The crust is almost like short crust dough that has been cooked with olive oil. We really enjoyed this dish. It was very big. You can order one to share between two people.
Baklava & Turkish delight (lokum). What a treat! These are available wherever you look and come in all shapes, sizes and flavours. Our favourite place for baklava and Turkish delight was at the famous Hafiz Mustafa , who has been in business from 1864. It was quite overwhelming to choose from this extremely large selection.
Tavuk Ğöğüsü literally means chicken breast. But when you ask for tavuk ğöğüsü at a dessert shop, you will be served with a plate with something very interesting called chicken breast pudding on it. This unique dessert is made with actual chicken breast. I know, it sound totally unreal, but it’s a legit dessert! To give you some assurance that this dessert is completely safe for consumption, the chicken breast is 100% cleaned and cooked before adding it to the dessert. It adds to this unique milky, fibrous dessert. You can also make your own fake chicken breast pudding by replacing the chicken breast fibers with mastic (Arabic gum) to give it some texture. I think you’ll either love authentic chicken breast pudding or hate it. Lucky for us, we really enjoyed it.
Kazandibi is burnt milk pudding. If is similar to chicken breast pudding, but has a slighty burnt burnt top. Once chicken breast pudding is removed from the pot, the pot is heated even further to brown and slightly burn the pudding that is still left on the sides and the bottom of the pot. These browned / burnt sides are then scraped off and served as dessert. This dessert is also milky and fibrous, but much denser than chicken breast pudding. So, so good!
Firin sütlaç is Turkish rice pudding. Rice pudding is very popular in Turkey and you will see it on the menu of most restaurants. The top of the pudding has been slightly burnt to give it that extra caramelised flavour. Because I am a big fan of rice pudding, I tried sütlac at three different restaurants. I found that none of them were overly sweet and I could easily have had another portion.
Simit reminds me of a bagel. Simit are also round in round shapes and encrusted with sesame seeds. A variety of freshly baked good are sold on every corner, especially close to the tram, train and bus stops. These street vendors make their money during peak morning traffic, but simit is also a great snack throughout the day. You get off the tram, grab a simit and walk to work.
And fresh fruit left, right and centre! Heaven!
This is just a list of the food we ate in Istanbul, and believe me, this is just a few ticks on the very long list of Turkish foods that I would like to try. I cannot wait to go back to explore Turkey rich culture in other parts of the country.
We visited some markets in Istanbul, namely the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. The Egyptian Spice Bazaar is a covered market with a few streets filled with little shops that mostly sell herbs, spice, sweet treats, teas, dried fruit, and souvenirs.The Grand Bazaar is a covered market that consists of 61 streets, and over 4000 shops. Talk about a shopper’s paradise! The streets are organised and grouped to sell similar items. I ended up at the souvenir streets and the jewellery streets at another occasion. I only ended up seeing about 8 streets in total as the market is very overwhelming and I think you’d need a full day to walk through all of the streets. The shop owners are all trying their best to convince you why you should buy something from them. Obviously a lot of the shops sell the same thing, but you can buy anything at the Grand Bazaar.
Turkish people are exceptionally friendly which makes them even more beautiful. They are very patriotic and proud of their heritage. They are welcoming towards tourists – alway offering a cup of tea with a friendly smile, although we were lost in translation most of the time. So special!
And don’t let me get started on how spectacular the mosques are…
My trip to Istanbul has been such an incredible one which I will always remember and hold dear to my heart.
Is Istanbul on your bucket list? It should be!