As you may have gleaned from my posts over the past year, business school is weird. Sure we’re in school, but we lead oddly extravagant and indulgent lifestyles. Not that we sit around eating caviar everyday (which is obviously the epitome of extravagant) but a lot of us take every opportunity to travel. In the past year I’ve been to Thailand, NYC, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Bahrain, Oman, UAE and now Croatia and Turkey.
Basically, over the summer we all intern and then have about 3 weeks off. Rather than saving all of our hard-earned money, we plan extended vacations before school starts. I spent the first week hanging around Chicago/Evanston and then headed to Croatia for 5 days. Croatia was magical. We spent a day in Split and then transitioned to Hvar for a few days where about 18 of us rented a villa on the water. Needless to say it was amazing.
From there I met up with one of my besties for a Turkish adventure. Turkey was on my radar as I begun to learn more about the Middle East prior to our travels over spring break. I liked that Turkey was at the intersection of Islam and Christianity. Also that it spans two continents. And incidentally once we were in the Middle East, one of my favourite meals was actually at a Turkish restaurant. Go figure. So when the political situation made Turkey a not-so-great travel option we were sad. But then things calmed down somewhat so we said YOLO and booked a ticket.
Our travels took us to Antalya which is a city on the southwestern mediterranean coast of Turkey and is supposedly the third most-visited city in the world behind Paris and London. Then we were off to Cappadocia for some hot air ballooning and lots of caves. Our last stop was of course Istanbul where we soaked up a lot of history and ate some great food. 9 days was the perfect amount of time and we were very content with hitting three cities.
Because the summer was pretty intense, I didn’t do my usual due diligence when it came to choosing restaurants for our trip. Normally I would scour blogs, read tons of articles and make elaborate plans. This time I relied on a few friends who had been to the region (or who were going to the region), did some minor searching on blogs but most of our decisions were made using… Tripadvisor. I don’t think I’ve ever really used Tripadvisor for restaurant recommendations (if I’m crowdsourcing opinions I’m more likely using Yelp). Basically I’d pull up a list for whatever neighbourhood we happened to be in, see what was ranked really well, assess the ease of getting there and then would make a decision. I have to say, our Tripadvisor recos kept us well fed and we didn’t really have any misses. The one time we strayed off Tripadvisor was probably our least delicious meal.
So what do you need to know about Turkish food? There’s a lot of grilled meat kebab type situations. They try to confuse you by having 8 different kebab variations on the menu differentiated by regional names but with only slight differences in the actual descriptions. I would usually just ask the waiter what was best or choose by names that I particularly liked. There’s a lot of meat casseroles, things involving yogurt and mezes. I love me some mezes. I love being able to have a bunch of different flavours and hunks of bread to scoop them all up with. Oh, they also have a lot of dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) which I could take or leave. Supposedly there’s also a lot of seafood to be had in Turkey but to be honest, I don’t think we saw a ton on the menus of the places that we visited. We also consumed a lot of Turkish tea and baklava. Just like Turkey is at the intersection of Islam and Christianity, I felt like their food was also a hybrid of where they are situated. A lot of the food reminded me of food that I ate while in the Middle East but then I see some similarities to Iranian food that I’ve eaten in the past. Needless to say, Turkish food is great.
Here’s a sampling of what I ate along the way…
I loved a cold meze plate. I’m usually particularly passionate about the tomato salads (even though they have cucumbers) and labneh which is strained yogurt. Oh and the eggplant. Eggplant is great.
I’ve always enjoyed calamari back home, but in Turkey calamari is so much better. Maybe because it’s on the water so it’s fresher, or maybe they just know how to cook it so that it’s tender vs. rubbery. Either way, I had calamari in Turkey a few times and it was lovely.
One of my favourite meals was at Zeytin Cafe in Cappadocia. It’s this tiny restaurant where upon entering the owner takes you to the kitchen so that you can see what they’re cooking and select what you want. I decided to have everything except the chicken. This ended up being a beef stew, okra stewed with tomato, chickpea stew, dolmas, rice and a couscous cooked in milk. It wasn’t fancy or fussy and felt like we were eating at someone’s house. It was great.
One restaurant that has super high ratings is Ziggy’s in Cappadocia. So on our first night we set out in search of it… to no avail. We asked people and they would point us in the direction but we couldn’t quite find it. Super frustrating. So we settled and had dinner at another restaurant, which was fine, but I wanted Ziggy’s! So the following evening we set out and were able to find it. It was worth the wait! We had a “10-course” tasting menu (really a bunch of mezes and a few mains) for about $25. The highlight was the fava beans which sounds random but it was such delicious, spreadable goodness. They were also super accomodating and allowed us to have a sampling of desserts and try both mains. What’s even cooler is that they have a shop downstairs run but this really interesting guy. I totally bought a necklace.
What I found particularly interesting about Turkey is their alcohol consumption. While in the Middle East it was hard to find alcohol, in Turkey it was literally everywhere despite the fact that most people are Muslim. In fact, alcohol was so present that we actually went wine tasting at a Turkish winery called Turasan. We sampled about 7 different wines and they were surprisingly good. Prior to coming to Turkey I didn’t even realize that they make wine in Turkey, so my expectations were pretty low. Well done Turkey with the wine. Apparently they don’t export much which is why Turkish wines aren’t popular.
Efes! The beer of Turkey. Many an Efes was consumed over the nine days. In fact, I ushered in my 31st birthday drinking Efes while overlooking the waters of Istanbul (I’m being vague because I’m pretty sure it’s not the Bosphorus but can’t figure out what it is).
And while we’re on the subject of alcohol, let’s talk about Raki. Raki is an anise-flavoured Turkish hard alcohol drink that is usually served as an aperitif. It’s in the same family as ouzo, pastis or sambuco. I’m not a fan of liquorice flavoured things in general, so Raki is not my favourite. The one time that I had it it was diluted with water which made it cloudy. Still didn’t love it but it definitely made the walk home more fun!
One of our first meals in Istanbul was at Sultanahmet Kofetecisi. Located right near the Blue Mosque it’s a super no frills restaurant with a super short menu and crazy low prices. I opted for the chicken kebabs and while not the best kebabs of the trip it hit the spot.
One of my favourite dining experiences in Istanbul was at Fuego in Sultanahmet. For my main I had the Ali Nazik Kebab which is beef and lamb kebabs marinated in yogurt and served over roasted eggplant with yogurt. Good stuff.
One of the tourist attractions in every guide book related to Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar… so of course we went. And promptly decided to get the heck out of there. So many people! So many goods made in China! So many catcalls! Not our scene. But we also had a serious case of the hangries so we hit up one of the restaurants in the bazaar called Havuzlu. We literally just picked it out of convenience when we couldn’t find the restaurant that we were actually looking for. The cool thing about Havuzlu is that your waiter takes you to a window where you can see all of the food on offer for the day. I chose this casserole very similar to moussaka which was absolutely delicious.
While traveling I had an intense craving for vegetables almost the entire time which led to a lot of salad eating. My favourite salad-related discovery is pomegranate molasses. They use it a lot in salad dressings in Turkey and it just makes things delicious. There’s a sweetness but also a tartness and the consistency is on the thick side. I pretty much devoured every salad that I ate that featured this good stuff. One of my favourite salads was at Sultanahmet Buhara Kebab House.
We spent most of our time in Istanbul in Sultanahmet but one day we ventured to the Beyoğlu area to do a little shopping along the main retail strip. We ended up having lunch at Antiochia Concept, a trendy restaurant that I had found through the great site Istanbul Eats. This was a nice break from some of the others restaurants that we visited as it seemed more like a modern take on Turkish food. I had this great kofte wrap sandwich and an assortment of meze. One of my fave meals for sure.
A girl cannot live by kebabs alone so we went to the highly recommended Karadeniz aile Pide & Kabap. Here I had pide which is often described as a Turkish pizza. You have a base of dough and it is filled with cheese and probably meat and veggies. The edges are folded over to give it an oblong shape and the whole thing is baked. Super filling and delicious.
While in Beyoğlu we stumbled upon a Shake Shack. Definitely was not expecting to find this NYC institution there but when in Istanbul… so obviously I had a concrete and went for the local variation which featured baklava, bananas and a cinnamon caramel sauce. SO GOOD.
Speaking of baklava my travel companion and I developed a ritual of afternoon baklava. Basically, when we got to the point in the day where we’d given all that we could give we would buy a box of baklava, go back to the hotel, eat baklava and take a nap until dinner time. True story. Baklava is amazing.
Of course we couldn’t leave Turkey without having Turkish tea. In fact, we had A LOT of Turkish tea… almost at the end of every meal and usually for free. Sometimes instead of the usual black tea we’d get apple tea which was like warm apple juice. Interesting but not my fave.
And so concludes my Turkish food adventures. Now I just need to find myself a Turkish cookbook so I can recreate all of this goodness!
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