Istanbul is a city of foodies and has been for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In fact, the deeply rooted desire to replicate recipes exactly the same way is part of what has preserved this legendary food culture. Whether you are vegetarian, pescatarian, or flexitarian, Istanbul offers up something for every palate. Here are a few classic eats that cannot be missed.
Turkish breakfast: kahvalti
Breakfast in Turkey is like no other. Not just a quick eat-and-run, this meal sets the pace for the day and is all encompassing of every taste from salty to sweet. Traditional kahvalti starts with black tea served in small, tulip-shaped tea cups with one’s liking as to how much sugar. Then, sliced fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, white cheese, olives, white bread, halva (tahini fudge), thick cream, butter, jam, and eggs (boiled or an omelet) take center stage. It’s a meal worth remembering—and replicating—every single morning.
Kunefe and baklava
Dessert, much like breakfast, is a staple that should never be missed. Kunefe, a traditional pastry made with cheese layered between vermicelli-like noodles, is soaked in honey and topped with crushed pistachios. It’s quite the experience, although I personally prefer good old baklava, which is buttery layers of phyllo dough with crushed walnuts or pistachios in between, oozing with honey. One of the most famous places in Istanbul to find baklava is at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, where they have been making baklava for over a hundred years!
Simit (bagel ring with sesame seeds)
Another snack or breakfast item not to be missed while in Istanbul is the classic simit, a bagel-like bread covered in sesame seeds. One of the best things about these little simits are their marketing; men and boys hock these each morning by walking around with a plateful balanced on their head. Simits can be eaten plain, or sliced open with Nutella or cheese on the inside. You cannot miss eating a simit at least once, but at about 1 TRY (less than 0.25 USD), why not spring for it every day?
Dondurma (stretchy Turkish ice cream)
This ice cream is known for its ability to stretch, yes, literally stretch, due to the mastic resin and salep (orchid flour) used. This ice cream is not only amazing, but delicious and can be found around every street corner in Istanbul. Often, the ice cream vendors serve the ice cream from a long utensil, as pictured above. The performance adds to the culinary experience! Be prepared for a different, more chewy texture when you dig into this unique dessert.
Turkish coffee and tea
Turkish coffee and tea are symbols of the culture. Though tea is drank here with greater regularity (at breakfast, at break, after lunch, in the afternoon… you get the picture), Turkish coffee is served with more formality. Turkish coffee is black with the amount of sugar one likes (although this is done during the preparation not after served), and is generally accompanied by a small glass of water and something sweet. Coffee is served during important conversation and formal meetings, or during celebratory times. Reading the bottom of the coffee cup for one’s fortune is also a fun pastime to partake in while in Istanbul.
It’s clear that Istanbul knows how to eat. This short list is far from exhaustive. Expect consistent, fresh flavors wherever you go in Turkey. Ayfit olsen, may what you eat bring health!
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