We really ate well in Turkey. And that’s because Turkish food is one of the most delicious cuisines we’ve encountered. Here are our favorite foods, and where to eat them in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey in some cases.
Kebab is a Turkish word simply meaning “roast meat.” In this dish, extra thin strips of lamb (in Turkey known as “meat” as in, “would you like chicken or meat?”) are draped over bite-sized pieces of bread and covered in some rich tomato based sauce and plain yogurt. The first time I tried it, the chef came out with a pot of liquid flavor that I can only assume were meat drippings and poured a generous helping over the entire dish. The best iskender has very thin meat and the bread is crispy.
Where to Find It: İskender was invented in the late 19th century by a man named İskender Efendi in Bursa – the name is actually trademarked by the restaurant he worked at. I didn’t make it to Bursa to eat at the famous Bursa İskender, but luckily you can find good versions elsewhere.
- Istanbul: Kasap Osman, Hocapaşa Sokak 22, near Sirkeci Train Station. This was in the Istanbul Eats book, and we thought it was pretty okay. Had we checked their website, we would have known that there were reports of lower quality here. It was still the best iskender we ate in Istanbul.
- Ankara: Tevhid Et Lokantası, Anafartalar Mehane, Anafartalar Cd No. 10, not far from the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. We stumbled upon this place, popular with local businessmen, and had the best iskender of our trip.
These are basically Turkish baked beans. If baked beans were awesome. It’s beans stewed in a tomato based sauce, sometimes with meat.
Where to Find It: Kuru fasulye originates in the Black Sea region.
- Istanbul: Fasuli Lokantası, various locations (website is in Turkish but has all the locations listed). This one is also in the Istanbul Eats book, but that’s not where we found it. We stumbled upon the Çapa location because it was near our Couchsurfing host’s house.
- Istanbul: Hüsrev Lokantası, Dedeman Is Merkezi, Yıldız Posta Caddesi 48/1, not far from Gayrettepe Station. I found this on Foursquare since it was near where we were staying. While these beans were the most expensive we ever found, at 12 TL a bowl, they were also probably the most delicious. Though Fasuli, above, was very close in quality.
Simply a loaded baked potato, where cheese and butter and mixed into the fluffy potato. The most common toppings are olives, pickles, mayo, and ketchup. Greasy tasty student food.
Where to Find It: Look for it in student areas, mall food courts, and the like. While I didn’t find any especially notable kumpir vendors, I have read that the ones in Ortaköy, Istanbul are the most popular.
Ever have clotted cream? It’s okay if you say no, most people haven’t. It’s richer than almost any food I can think of. It’s like someone concentrated cream and put it in a solid, spreadable form. It is basically the same thing as kaymak. Except where in the US you pay exorbitant prices for for enough to cover the top of one scone, in Turkey it’s a cheap breakfast food that is served in huge slabs covered in honey with (just like everything is served with) an endless basket of bread. It is also sometimes eaten on top of baklava, making it ridiculously rich.
Where to Find It: From our kaymak experiments, we found that the quality doesn’t vary hugely. It’s pretty much always good. But we have a recommendation for you anyway.
- Istanbul: Karaköy Özsüt, Yemişçi Hasan Sokak No 9/11, Karaköy, near the waterfront. Open since 1915, this place serves up a nice plate of bal kaymak (honey and kaymak) for 7.5 TL, pictured above.
A classic mezze – vine/grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice.
Where to Find It: Yaprak sarma is, happily, very widely available.
- Istanbul: Çiya Sofrasi, Guneşli Bahçe Sokak No 43, Kadıköy, not far from the ferry docks (within the market area). Now, the thing about Çiya is that they change their offerings often. So I can’t actually promise you that they will have yaprak sarma on their cold mezze bar. However, if they do, it will be the best you eat. And if they don’t, well, I doubt you’ll be sorry that I told you to eat there.
When Americans think of kebab, these are probably one of the three things most people think of. There is shish kebab, AKA: chunks of meat on a stick. There is doner kebab, AKA: strips of meat cut from a spinning meat lathe. Then there are Adana and Urfa kebabs which are basically ground lamb combined with spices and grilled on a stick. The only differences between them is that Adana is spicy and Urfa isn’t. Whatever spices they add are like crack. It’s often served with rice and/or bread, peppers and tomatoes, and sometimes with onions.
Where to Find It: Both Adana and Urfa kebabs give away their city of origin in their names. They’re both from southern Turkey. They are also both pretty ubiquitous on kebab joint menus throughout Turkey. We don’t have anywhere particular to point you – perhaps go to a place with lots of people, or that smells good.
What’s your favorite Turkish food?