Sunday, 16 November 2014

Istanbul, Turkey: Kibbles, Kebabs and All Things Delish!

At the time I booked the flat for our  Istanbul trip, the only considerations  were that it was relatively cheap and should be near a Metro station.  I found one in Beyoglu, just a five minute walk from Taksim Square.  It turned out that Beyoglu is not only the city center of modern Istanbul,  it is also considered as the culinary center of the city with the most concentration of restaurants, bakeshops, cafes and bars.  Were we happy with our stay in Beyoglu? Suffice to say that we never went hungry in Istanbul!
Simit for Breakfast

                                Image from Simit Sarayi

I was made to believe that Simit,  some sort of sesame-encrusted pretzel, is the traditional breakfast of choice in the city.  Luckily,  a Simit Sayari shop, Istanbul´s famous Simit chain, was right next to Taksim Square in Beyoglu,  a mere five minute walk from our flat.  So on our first day in Istanbul, after depositing our bags at the flat, we eagerly embarked on the short  journey to our first Turkish culinary experience: a Simit breakfast.

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I had the Cheese stuffed simit while my friends had the simit sandwich with feta cheese and tomato.

    The cheese filled Simit  tasted like a nuttier version of Cheese filled soft pretzels. The cheese was pretty mild.

                 The Simit with feta cheese and tomato tasted like a typical bagel sandwich.

There was really nothing extraordinarily delicious about Simit, but is something of a comfort food, like  a Turkish version of bagels and pretzels,  good and filling but not really that much  different from the usual breakfast breads in other parts of the world.

Stumbling upon Selvi

On our first day in Istanbul,while walking towards Taksim Square for some window shopping, we passed by this small eatery.

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A window  showcasing delicious-looking viands- roast chicken, roasted eggplants, multicolored vegetables  and stews had us salivating.   The small eatery had this busy vibe which made us think that this was perhaps a  favorite local lunch haunt offering traditional Turkish dishes at good prices.  And so we had our first Turkish proper meal at Selvi.

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Selvi is a self-service restaurant, what in Filipino is known as a turo-turo.   One gets a tray, and choose from the array of dishes on display, points to a dish, and the kind server then scoops out a serving for you,  aside from the viands,  there were an array of traditional Turkish desserts on display.  One can also get as much free bread as he wants from a big basket of bread near the till or concoct his sauce from  a pretty wide selection of sauces, dips and spices available at the counter.

These were some of the delicious food I had at Selvi.

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Roast Chicken with roasted tomato and peppers and rice pilaf.  So flavourful and tender that I ordered it again the next time we ate at Selvi.

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Eggplant and Ground Beef Musakka

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           My favorite Turkish Dessert is Kazandibi, a silky smooth pudding with a subtle cinnamon flavor

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                                                  Rich and unctuous Tulumba. Golden fried dough coated with delicious
                                golden syrup. This was definitely sinful, but sooo good!

Selvi´s food were awesome and cheap!  We loved it so much that we ate there twice on our three day stay in Istanbul.  Both times the place was filled by locals but the restaurant servers were always very accomodating to us, spoke good english and answered our questions about the dishes.

Most dishes cost only 10 TL each and the servings were pretty substantial.  Two can share a  vegetable dish, a meat dish and an extra order of pilaf and the bill would perhaps cost only about 25 TL. We always ordered one meat dish, one veggie dish, and one dessert each and then tasted each other´s dishes, because well, we were gluttons on vacation, and we only paid about 20 TL per person.  That´s just 7€ for  a delicious, authentic Turkish meal!

Selvi, it turns out, is a much loved Esnaf Lokantasi in Istanbul.  An Esnaf Lokantasi is, translated roughly, a tradesman restaurant.  A traditional restaurant catering to office workers and locals, usually family run, and serving traditional Turkish dishes.  

How lucky we were that we had our first meal at  one of the most recommended  Esnaf Lokantasi in Istanbul!

Bambi for Pide and Kebabs

Going to Istanbul without trying out Kebabs is like going to Brussels without indulging in Belgian chocolates.  So on our first night in Istanbul  we decided it´s kebabs for dinner.

Again,  thanks to our flat´s location,  we had numerous  Kebab eateries to choose from.  We settled on Bambi because unlike some of the kebab stalls which were mostly takeaway counters, Bambi was a full service restaurant and also because it has Pide among its offerings.

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Did I not mention that the Turkish people are really happy and gregarious? Look how game our server at Bambi was:

Most meals in Istanbul are served with a complementary basket of delicious flat bread

My Kebab: Iskender Kebab
Long, fat yet paper thin slices of lamb meat basted with rich tomato sauce served with cubes of delicious crusty bread and a tangy sauce of yoghurt and cheese.  Yuuum!  This kebab has ruined my once devoted longing for shawarma, or what is known in Turkey as  Durum. It might be the delicious counterpoint of flavors : the  definitive gamey taste of lamb, the slightly sweet yet mild flavor of the tomato sauce, and the creamy, slightly sour cheese and yoghurt sauce.  These components came together oh so perfectly and now I have my standard of the ultimate kebab experience.

It turned out that an order of Kebab at Bambi are hefty and can be shared as what most of the local diners did but we were gluttons so we each ordered a kebab (at a super reasonable price of 15 TL each) and then decided to share a Pide for good measure.

                               Pide or what most tourists call as Turkish Pizza.  

In some ways, Pide is similar to pizza.  It is a flat bread with a sort of tomato sauce base and a sprinkling of veggies.  The Pide we ordered had thin slices of lamb instead of pepperoni and ham.  It was pretty good, but  between Pide and Iskender Kebab, I´d go for Iskender Kebab any day!

Kofte at Omar Sultanahmet

Oy, we teased our friend, you didn´t tell us, may restaurant ka pala dito! Libre!  while we were looking for a place to eat after touring the Basilica Cistern.  Of course,  we ended up eating at Omar´s.  Sadly, the BFF could not be persuaded to treat us at his namesake restaurant haha!

The main draw of this restaurant is the view from the terrace.
                                The majestic Hagia Sophia

                                          Our complementary flat bread

                                          We shared an order of fried calamares

My order of kofte. Lamb meat balls served with rice, fries and roasted tomato and peppers.  Good and tasty but nothing memorable.
 My favourite part of the meal was this tall glass of freshly squeezed lemonade with mint leaves. Refreshing!

For the same kind of food and service, restaurants around Sultanahmet are usually pricier compared to those in  the Beyoglu area because of the tourist attractions in Sultanahmet ( Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace).  To be fair, even with the slightly jacked up prices, the food was still reasonably priced at about 15 to 20€ for a meal with drinks.

Sultanahmet has that byzantine old world feel to it.  But I was glad that even without meaning to, I booked a flat in Beyoglu not in Sultanahmet.  We wanted the freedom to roam around even at midnight, and Taksim in Beyoglu is always bustling with people.  And if you are like us where the partaking of local food is an important part of the experience, then my advice is  to stay in the Beyoglu area where there are 24 hour kebab shops, a diverse array of restaurants to choose from, and yeah, numerous cafes, bakeries and bars open until the wee hours.

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