Of course, at the moment, travel plans for pretty much everyone are on hold thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have no way of knowing just when things will go back to normal – if ever. There may be restrictions on travelling for pleasure for the foreseeable future, or until a vaccine is developed, or we may find ourselves wearing face masks and carrying hand sanitiser around with us forever. Who knows? What we do know is that Istanbul in Turkey is one of the most fantastic places to visit, and no virus can change that.
It is the only city in the world that straddles two different continents: Europe and Asia, and this vast, metropolis of a city reflect its differences in cultures by being a city of two halves: the busy, bustling, lively European side and the more laid back and relaxed vibe of the Asian side.
The good thing about Istanbul is that it is incredibly easy to get around in – we recommend that you avoid hiring a car and use public transport such as FAT TAXI, who have taken steps to protect travellers who use their service in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Being able to hop in and get from place to place means that Istanbul is not just the ideal place for those who want to see the wonderful sights and absorb the rich cultural history that the city has to offer, but for those who want a foodie experience that is, quite frankly, out of this world.
In this post, we look at some of the culinary treats and treasures that this bustling metropolis has to offer to whet your appetite and planning your first post-pandemic holiday.
In Istanbul, meals are not just something to sustain you but are an event – one to celebrate. Whatever budget you have, whatever the occasion or taste, there is an option for it, all using fresh, seasonal ingredients with particular focus on succulent grilled meat and fish. You quite simply will not come away from a meal feeling anything less than replete and satisfied!
What is on a typical menu in Istanbul?
Local Istanbul cuisine has been carefully and reverently refined over many years, and is treated with as much love and respect; if not more; than any museum collection or artefact.
That does not mean it is over complicated and fancy. In fact, what makes Turkish cuisine different from others is that it is homely and almost rustic. Mezzes – simple dishes served in a way similar to tapas) are basic, the kebabs are simple, and food is generally unstructured and without sauces to give the main ingredients – always fresh and local – a chance to shine and explode with flavour in your mouth, to provide you with a real taste sensation.
Some of the popular meals and dishes on the menu include:
Mezze: To describe mezze as either a meal or a dish is a disservice; it is a whole sensory experience of which there is little else to compare it to. Visit any of the meyhanes – the Turkish equivalent of a tavern and be surrounded by waiters balancing enormous platters of mezze food. There are both hot and cold dishes to choose from. Generally, mezze is vegetable-based, such as artichokes, aubergine and hummus with pitta bread. There are seafood mezze dishes as well, such as octopus, calamari and prawn based dishes.
Meat dishes: The Turkish are generally carnivorous – they love a tasty meat dish. Lamb, beef, mutton, chicken and liver feature heavily on menus and in home-cooked dishes, cooked and served in various ways. There are even restaurants specifically for meatballs (köftecisi) and kebabs (kebapçıs). You will have most likely heard of one of the most popular Turkish meat dishes – a shish kebab – marinated lamb or beef cooked on a skewer. They also have a range of kofte dishes – grilled or baked meatballs – and guvec, which is a meat and vegetable-based stew.
Some restaurants in Instanbul serve manti – an Anatolian dish of ravioli stuffed with beef mince, topped with butter, tomato and garlic.
Fishy dishes: Fish dishes are super popular in Istanbul but can err on the expensive side. When you visit a balik – a fish restaurant – always ask to choose your own fish from the display. Look for ones that show signs of freshness – clear, bright eyes and the gill slits should be red and fleshy. Don’t forget to ask for a rough price so that you are not caught out with a massive bill at the end. They will weigh it to give you the price of the day. The best time of year to eat fish in Istanbul is in the winter.
Veggies: Despite being a nation of meat and fish lovers, the Turks love a vegetable dish. They eat them fresh and simple in the summer, and pickled and sharp in the winter. Many vegetables are sautéed in olive oil or stuffed with meat or rice.
A Turkish salad is something of wonder and delight. It is simplicity at its finest – crunchy, fresh ingredients such as tomato, pepper, onion and cucumber served as a side to other meals.
Sweeten it up: In Turkey, meals are often rounded up by fruit, so dessert is not generally a big thing. However, they do have a sweet tooth and the Turkish sweets, often served mid-afternoon for a bit of a sugar hit, are something to experience. The baklava is a world-famous delicacy: crispy, sweet pastry drenched in syrups and filled with chopped nuts such as pistachio. They also love a simple rice pudding made of rice, milk and sugar, flavoured delicately with exotic spices.
Food is much more than something to simply eat in Istanbul, and indeed in Turkey as a whole. It is an experience to be savoured and enjoyed with friends and family, a chance to sit back and talk and have fun.