Feasting in Istanbul

This year's extended vacation kicked off in Istanbul for four days.  As usual, along with the sightseeing we were also in search for the best kebabs and yogurt.  We stayed in the central historical district near the Gulhane tram stop.  Upon arriving, we were directed to go to a restaurant area near the hostel which was described as "more local".  I wouldn't necessarily attest to that statement, however we were still really successful in finding not one, but two, very worthy restaurants for two dinners.

Kesap Osman specializes in the Iskender Kebab.  In the simplest terms, it's döner with sauce.  Of course, I know it's far more complex, and I acknowledge the döner is an art form that's not always executed properly by local kebab joints.

Unsurprisingly, this was superb and gave us a hint of what was to come over the next week.  It can only be described as a giant skewer of lamb that's grilled slowly over charcoal.  The lamb is shaved off (rather gracefully might I add), and then served over warm pita bread.  Then comes this rich tomato sauce and smokey thick yogurt, the combination is amazing.  What I also loved is this grilled pepper that was served with almost every single one of our meals in Turkey. Yes, I can get used to this.

Taking the advice of one of our favorite foodies, Anthony Bourdain, we headed to Sur Ocakbasi in the Fatih district for another dinner.  It was a hike getting there from our place, but well worth it once we sat down and started sneaking glances at the other tables.  We started with something I'd seen alot, a red lentil soup with warm pita bread.  It was nothing out of the ordinary, just a simple pleasure.

We ordered two mains, but only one came, which is a good thing considering the amount of food.  Lamb kofte with rice and pita.  The kofte looked rather unassuming but was extraordinary. What surprised us even more was the rice/barley.  It had so much flavor and texture, definitely on my list of things to cook at home.

A day trip to the Princes Islands was well worth it, especially after discovering SofrAda on Buyukada Island.  After wandering around convinced we weren't going to find it and prepared to settle for a tourist restaurant, we spotted it tucked away down a small street.  There was nobody there, just alot of cats, obviously.  The owner, who speaks no English, came out and showed me inside to her kitchen... aka. house. She had prepared a ton of large dishes and asked me to pick a few. It was so charming that I even had to overlook the fact that our lunch had just been reheated in a microwave.  After a few days of greasy kebabs, this kind of pure loving home cooking was really welcoming. 

Not to mention, she did fry us a fish! 

On our last night in Istanbul, we went back to the first restaurant area to check out Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi.  This place specializes in only lamb kebab and they do it perfectly.  Mmmm look at it roasting... 

Of course, this was not enough. We also had to get one more thing from the tiny menu... 

How could you not order something called "crushing pain"?  Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed, it wasn't nearly as painful as we were anticipating.  But it did go really well with THIS!

Two skewers of juicy lamb that I had watched them shave off, warm paper thin lavash bread, and a grilled pepper.  With the heat of the pepper... I guess I was grateful the crushing pain was more mild...

Of course, I have a soft spot for street food and Istanbul is one of those cities that's filled with it.   From fresh pomegranate juice on every street corner, to stuffed mussels, to strange pickles in plastic cups...the city's energetic vibe is perfect for grabbing on the go.  The best thing however is the fish sandwich.  So good we got it twice... how can you resist for only 5 TL.

Other favorites are lahmacun and pide, essentially these are Turkish pizzas.  They are topped with minced meat, sometimes with cheese.  The lahmacun is nicely rolled up with salad inside, while the pide is served like a boat.  I can't figure out which I prefer so the natural answer is both.

This flakey warm burek filled with cheese also made for a nutritious breakfast.

What I ended up learning is that four days in Istanbul is not really enough... not enough to see the sights, experience the culture, or taste all the flavors.  We had a few mediocre meals in between after succumbing to tourist traps, but I have to admit even those mistakes felt and tasted pretty good.  I could definitely get used to this city.

Oh and... one evening... this happened...


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