Turkish Food Experience in Istanbul

Kebabs, coffee, kunefe and baklava. I was ecstatic to hear that I would be going to a Turkish wedding, along with being able to tick-off my bucket list of Turkish food!
So what is Turkish food? Is it all that I expected…or more?
Day 1 – Kebabs and Pastries
We had our first Turkish taste at the hotel (breakfast) and everything was fresh, healthy and flavourful.  Turkish breakfast consisted of many items such as freshly cut tomatoes, cucumbers, cheeses, honey, plain yogurt, boiled eggs and bread. I have never considered eating raw vegetables for breakfast, but having cucumbers in the morning was very refreshing!  The yogurt was medium thick consistency and creamy; not bitter at all.  I loved adding a bit of the local honey to it (especially the crunchy part of it)- soooooo good. Boiled eggs – perfectly done; I ate a lot of these!
For lunch, we stopped at was Sultanahmet Koftecisi (because it had over 1300 reviews on Tripadvisor!).  Upon arriving that street, we saw 2 different restaurants with exactly the same name (2 buildings apart!) – very confusing indeed.  After checking our pics of the actual building on the phone, we confirmed we were going into the correct one!
Their menu was very simple…and so was the restaurant).  We ordered mixed kebabs, lentil soup and salad to share.  Yup, my first Turkish kebab 😃  It was tasty, but kinda lacking in salt.  Price? Pricey for Istanbul – but maybe that’s because it was located in a super touristy area.  Lentil soup tasted like Bangladeshi dall (but more bland).
Straight after that, we popped into Cigdem Pastanesi, a little cafe where they sold Turkish sweet/savoury pastries and tea/coffee.
Turkish tea was lightly fragrant (mine was with a hint of bergamot) served in a tiny glass cup.  Honestly, this seemed to taste like a regular cup of tea, so it didn’t fascinate me as much. However, I loved the fact that it was served in a tiny glass (too cute) and this made me wanna drink tea wherever I went; especially since it was so cold during our first few days in Istanbul!
Hubby ordered 2 types of baklava (as shown above). At the time, this bakery unfortunately ran out of chocolate baklava, so I decided to try the chocolate profiterole cake (after all, I love profiteroles!).  The cake was huge, but the chocolate wasn’t dark or strong. In fact, I could hardly taste the chocolate.  The cake reminded me a bit of Bangladeshi style choc cake: very light, fluffy and floury, less flavour in the cake itself, layered and covered with buttercream. To my dismay, the single profiterole (that was sitting on top of the cake) did not taste the same as those in France or the UK.  It was sweeter and heavier filled with buttercream rather than some light cream.  I thought to myself, “Okay, I shouldn’t expect a French food item to taste like real French food in Istanbul!”
Day 2 – Claypot Meat Dish, Turkish Coffee, Chocolate Kunefe, Chocolate Baklava, Intestine Sandwich
For lunch we decided to try a popular claypot dish at Kucukoglu BBQ.  We ordered mixed meat claypot dish, which took around 30 mins for them to prepare.  In the mean time, we were served with Turkish tea and some absolutely delicious flat bread (similar to pita), which was warm.  I couldn’t stop eating this with butter!
Claypot dish came.
Meat was very tender and saucy.  I personally felt that it lacked a bit of salt (either I got used to having more salt in Canada and the UK, or Turkish didn’t put enough salt in their food or probably every restaurant that I went to that didn’t put enough salt in their dishes :D)
After the main meal, they gave us Turkish tea and baklava (which was the best baklava ever – light, fresh, with a lot of pistachio nuts.
Within 10 mins of eating, we headed towards another popular place (dessert place) called Hafiz Mustafa.
Even though we were so stuffed from eating meat stew, bread and 2 baklava’s each, we still were brave to try more Turkish desserts…and uhhh… I was dying to try the coffee!
The menu was very extensive and I was delighted to see chocolate kunefe and chocolate baklava on the menu!
So i ordered them both along with Turkish coffee.  Hubby ordered regular baklava and cheese/walnut baklava (called Cevizli Kelebek).
 Taste wasn’t much different to the ones I had in Canada (Lebonese ones), but there was certainly more choice here! Hubby totally fell in love with the cheese and walnut ones. The chocolate kunefe tasted like a regular kunefe, but had a very little hint of chocolate taste.  In all honest case, it wasn’t a big difference than a regular kunefe, but still I loved that hint of chocolate and the idea of it!
As for the chocolate baklava: I could only eat a little bite of it.  This was too buttery and heavy, drenched with syrup.  I decided not to conclude on chocolate baklavas solely on this bakery – I would have to try it from somewhere else.
Turkish coffee – OMG, this had to be the highlight of my trip so far!  Served in a tiny cup (with a separate glass of water in case you choke on the coffee), it was thick, strong, roasty and dark flavour.  I could feel some of the granules at the bottom of the cup.  In fact, I couldn’t drink right to the end because the coffee granules sank to the bottom. It was so aromatic and really gave me a kick! In fact, I felt so happy for the rest of the day 😀
We then stopped at Cigdem Pastanesi again because I wanted to try their version of chocolate baklava, but unfortunately it ran out!
At the end of the day, we stopped for some street food for kokoretsi kokoreç (stores located across many areas of Istanbul).  Basically it consists of lamb intestines wrapped around seasoned offal, including hearts, lungs and kidneys typically grilled.  Yup, I don’t really eat organs :/ just meat…. but I ended up having it! Ahh…
It was weird…I prefer not to mention it, let alone think about it.  It is a popular dish so if you’re not afraid, just go ahead!
Day 3 – Turkish Breakfast, Clotted Cream, Salep, Ice-Cream
We headed towards a place, far far away… actually it was around 40 mins train/walk ride from where we were staying in Sultanahmet.  I heard about menemen – a Turkish style scrambled eggs, and you know….I love eggs!
At Cakmak Kahvalti, I ordered menemen with pastrami (beef that was dried, seasoned with herbs and spices, smoked and steamed) as well as a fried bagel.  The scrambled eggs were semi cooked – very wobbly, soft and light.  This was cooked with tomatoes, red peppers and oregano; and I loved the smoky chunks of meat in the dish.
The texture was similar to Shahi Paneer (an Indian wobbly dish).  I ate this with fried bagel, which in fact tasted like a bhatora (Indian fried bread)!  To elaborate, this bread didn’t taste or look like a bagel at all! It was a little thick bread made with yeast and fried, but not oily (as shown below). Hubby ordered a dish of poached eggs with roasted beef. I was enjoying my dish too much, so this was the first time that I didn’t eat half of his plate!
For finishing touch, I had clotted cream with honey.
The clotted cream had a more smooth, buttery texture than the British Cornish version and had fewer clots – it felt in between a cheese and a cream texture.  It was too rich to eat it by itself.  By having honey with it, this made the cream a little sticky and was the perfect creamy sweet ending.
This breakfast was the highlight of the trip, and so far the best meal.
We later headed towards Taskim square area and Istaklal avenue (pedestrian shopping street) and stopped by at Taksim Suitis for some Salep and a light snack!
Salep was a smooth, frothy drink made with whole milk that’s thickened with starch and sweetened with sugar and flavoured with cinnamon.  It was like pudding in a cup. Hubby absolutely loved it.
I tried fig rice pudding (since dried fruits are big in Istanbul).  I loved that little gritty fig texture (and the sweetness of figs) in the rice pudding.
Apparently, Mandabatmaz was THE place to have the best Turkish Coffee.  After finding the place in a  small alley just off the avenue, I was so gutted that it was shut due to construction!  So later, we ended up going to Mado (a big franchise of pastries/food and coffee around Istanbul).
I ordered Turkish coffee (of course) and hubby had pistachio ice cream.
 Pistachio ice cream was top of the notch – loved the fact that so many pistachios were in the ice cream (crunchy texture), but a very smooth light ice cream.
Day 4 – Doner Kebab, Fish Sandwich, Turkish Tiramisu and Seafood
So…since I couldn’t try the chocolate baklava from Cigdem Pastanesi yet, I decided to go there first thing in the morning at 10am. And guess what? They didn’t have any.
Just outside the Grand Bazaar was a popular donair place called Donerci Sahin Usta.
This Turkish doner was certainly something that I’ve not experienced elsewhere.  The meat was a little smoky, grilled until the outside was a bit crunchy (with a soft and very meaty texture in the middle).  This was served with salad, onions and dried red chilli inside a warm freshly baked thin bread.
We headed towards the Galata bridge where there were around hundreds of fishermen 😃
It was fascinating seeing a line of fishermen and how many fishes they were catching!
This area was known of selling fresh mackerel fish in a bun (called Balik Ekmek)!  We headed towards the food area, but they only took cash.  After getting some cash at a nearby ATM machine, we realised that there was actually a line full of fish sandwich places – all offering the same thing! We just headed towards the first boat!
The mackerel was very fresh and tasty (lacking salt again), drizzled with lemon juice sandwiched in a  very thick bun.  Overall, I found the sandwich dry – I’d prefer it with some garlic mayo or something 😀 or hot sauce?
I couldn’t continue my day without a cuppa Turkish Coffee, so I stopped at Coffeetopia.  I ordered a cup of coffee and a pot of tiramisu! After all, their tiramisu was alcohol-free! (and I really miss the tiramisu that I had in Italy)… but uhhh… I should’ve listened to my earlier decision – “Don’t expect a French food item to taste like real French food in Istanbul!”, which also applied to Italian food.  Tiramisu wasn’t bad actually, but it tasted in between an egg pudding and rice pudding! The coffee taste? – I could hardly feel it (especially after drinking Turkish coffee every day).
For dinner, we went to Sultanahmet Fish House.  Hubby (not a fan of fish) told me that he would just watch me eat.  I ordered anchovies for starters which were grilled and served with salad – absolutely delicious as these tiny fishes were crunchy and so fresh.  Hubby actually couldn’t resist himself eating them too!
For main, I ordered my favourite fish (seabass), grilled.  This wasn’t anything special, but I had to have it since I don’t get it in Canada!
Hubby ordered a baked calamari dish.  It was basically a whole chunk of calamari (not breaded), baked with tomato, spices and saffron.  This was devine and he loved it too!
For desserts, I wanted to try something different so I ordered a sesame halwa! It was basically, sesame seeds, baked in a small cast iron dish.  Had a slight gritty texture cuz of the seeds and was perfectly sweetened.  Served with ice cream.  It was something very unusual, but satisfying.
Day 5 – Pide (Turkish pizza)
Last day and I really wanted to experience that Turkish breakfast of menemen again, but we couldn’t find a place near our hotel in Sultanahmet that served it :/
For lunch, we decided to head towards Hoca Pasa Pidecisi for Turkish pizza (pide)! Yum!
Their menu consisted of a large range of pide!  I chose the “special pide”, which consisted of different meats such as sausages and beef kebab, cheese and egg.  This was probably the second best item of the trip! The base of the pizza was so soft and a little eggy (more like brioche but not as sweet).  The whole pizza was just mindblowing,  Just take a look at the following pic and dream about it…
Other Items:
Turkish Delights were given with almost every cup of tea/ coffee that I had.  I never liked Turkish delights until I had them in Turkey!  At first, it felt weird having them (jelly sweet, but not that sweet; usually with pisatchios in it), but it grew on me over the week of the trip!
Simit – a street food and very convenient bread to grab wherever you are.  It’s similar to a sesame bagel, but bigger and thinner.
Fresh juice – There were juice stalls throughout the streets of Istanbul.  I had pomegranate juice numerous times – so sweet and delicious!
Spices – I picked up some Ottoman meat spice and salad spice from the Spice Bazaar! Haven’t tried them yet, so no comments yet.
Dondurma Turkish ice cream – Have you ever watched YouTube videos of Istanbul’s sticky ice cream?  Well, I ended up taking a video myself!
This ice cream is made with cream, salep, gum and sugar.  It tasted very weird –  very creamy, sticky and not sweet.
Oh and our hotel?
Osmanhan Hotel – It was near the Blue Mosque, transport to and from the airport were included, budget friendly, breakfast included, warm hosts and the most comfortable (firm) bed ever.  For the price, I couldn’t ask for any better.