What I Ate: Istanbul, Turkey

No surprise here, I’ve been eating all of the things! The food scene in Turkey is top-notch, and we have not held back. Sam and I both love to try new foods and Turkey is full of them. Honestly, prior to this trip I had never really had Turkish food. It is a very interesting cuisine, because it has so many different influences.

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There is a large Mediterranean influence (obviously since its on the sea), so there are lots of olives, tomatoes, oils and figs in the dishes. You also see a large middle-eastern influence on the food, so pork is nearly non-existent and figs, nuts, kebabs and eggplant are very common. Additionally, Asian influences round out this unique cuisine. Curry spices, peppers and tandoori grills can be found everywhere! There is so much flavor in even the simplest dishes, which makes it a joy to eat here.

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Street food, like in many foreign countries, is ubiquitous. On nearly every street, you can find a grilled corn vendor or roasted nut cart. Fresh fruit, like watermelon and pomegranate, will entice you even when there’s no napkin to clean up your sticky mess. In the front of many restaurants, you are greeted by huge spinning meat spikes, also know as kebab. Available in chicken or “meat” (usually lamb & beef combination), the chefs shave off slices of juicy meat right in front of your eyes as the meat spins around a vertical oven. It is served in a variety of different ways, including as is, on a bun (doner) or in a wrap (durum). We tried all three! I definitely preferred the “meat” option, since it was juicier and retained more flavor. Sam’s favorite street food was the doner, kebab meat in a fresh baguette with pickled vegetables and a couple french fries!

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Kumpir is another tasty street food delight. Similar to a loaded baked potato, kumpir is a gigantic baked potato stuffed with cheese and pickled veggies and topped with a spicy pepper sauce. Surprisingly delicious and complimentary, you need to eat this dish with a fork as the potato and veggies will get everywhere. One last one, try an Islak hamburger. Described to us as a soggy hamburger, I was less than excited to try this local favorite. But a couple of guys at the hostel convinced us and sent us to a local joint to give it a try. It is “soggy” because the bun is dipped in a creamy tomato sauce (like a french dip) before the meat is put on the sandwich. Usually served in a dish, grab extra napkins before trying this treat. But it is well worth the mess.

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We also managed to go to a few restaurants during our stay here. There are more restaurants in this city that you could visit in a lifetime, so it can be overwhelming to choose one. But don’t worry, you’re likely to have some tasty dishes regardless of where you go. Be sure to try the Sultan’s Delight, an eggplant and lamb stew in a tomato broth. Often served in a piping hot clay bowl, this dish is excellent. Being right on the water, fresh fish and seafood is another good option. I had a sea-bass stew with onions, curry and eggplant that was flaky and delicious. Or try a fried fish sandwich, with an almost tempura-like batter. So light and crispy!

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Recommended to us by a friend who loves Istanbul, Refik was by far and away the best meal we ate during our time in Istanbul. Located just off Istiklal street (that pedestrian mall I mentioned yesterday), this family owned joint is known for meze. Similar to tapas or small plates, you order as you go and can try a variety of different cold and hot appetizers. I think the waiter sensed our naivety because he brought over a tray of the day’s special mezes to let us choose. A couple looked particularly good, and then he picked his favorites. We wound up with 4 dishes, and one was better than the next. Our bevy of cold mezes included a white bean dill paste topped with olive oil, a spicy tomato & parsley couscous, salted honeydew with feta and the table favorite, a garlic, tomato and eggplant salad with yogurt dressing. We washed down the meal with a local liquor called Raki, an anise flavored clear alcohol. Mixed with water, it clouds up and goes down easy. Throughout the meal, Sam and I just kept looking up at each other and saying “This is too good. This is what we came to Istanbul for.” It was such a relaxed and satiating meal, I would easily come back to the city just to eat there again. I highly recommend it to anyone!

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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