You can have great eats no matter if you dine in a fine restaurant or in a shabby bar in Istanbul, but since it is the street food that shows the soul of a city, that’s what I would like to focus on. I bet that as soon as you think of Turkey you just see kebabs. But there’s much more than that 😉 First of all amazing sea food. There are lots of restaurants where you can enjoy some amazing dishes and mezes (I’ve never eaten before so amazingly delicate squid!). But street bars also offer some delights. In previous post about Istanbul there is a pic of people who enjoy fishing for sardines – hamsi. If you don’t have your rod while visiting the city, and I bet you don’t, you can anyway enjoy those small jewels of the sea by eating in one of many tiny bars serving fresh deep fried hamsi – so simple, yet so delicious! In the nights the streets become full of vendors trying to sell smoked mackerels and superb mussels filled in with pilaf – that’s a must try when you’re in Istanbul! You’re surrounded by two seas and a Bosphorus trait so be prepared for eating tons of fish!
Ok, so Turkey is a truly carnivorous country. Though you’ll find there some delish vege food as well, the main focus is on meat. Kebabs are known worldwide but there are some other particular delicacies to be sought for. One day we wondered into Fatih district of Istanbul where foreigners are not a common sight. We went there because of one particular dish – pit oven roasted suckling lambs. There are several restaurants there serving this delicious meat and they were full. No wonder, the meat was amazingly tender and tasty. I can say without any doubt that it was the best lamb dish I ever had in my life! The lamb is cut into small chunks, topped with lavash – turkish kind of pizza as I like to call it 😉 and served together with foamy ayran – a yogurt based beverage.
The post wouldn’t be complete if I wouldn’t mention offal. The dishes with it are really abundant in Turkey. What a pity that in the Western countries we seem to forget how tasty those parts can be. In my family for example we were not used to cook with offal, not even liver! And I know most of my friends had same situation in their homes when they were young. I believe that often the things you’re not exposed to in your youth are then the ones that make you feel scared or disguised. So many people will not try them by themselves once they are grownups. Luckily, I’m a curious person and though at the beginning I felt a bit weird about eating offal I always want to try new things, and once I tried I must say that if prepared well it’s delicious! It’s such a pity that offal is in many counties a very neglected food. And I don’t mean only the various flavors we miss, I just feel that by eating some offal from time to time we would decrease the amount of animals that need to be killed. Nowadays just several cuts are popular and most people cook with those. Of course the rest is never really wasted but what if instead of sending those parts to be minced for fodder we will eat it by ourselves? May seem like a minimal impact for animal welfare and environment but even such matters!
Once you’re wondering in Istanbul during the small hours you’ll be stunned by the amount of street food offered to help your grumbling belly. One of the comfort foods is a stew with sheep brains. Just next to our hotel there was a bar serving this delicacy and we could see day by day cooks patiently peeling off skull bones to fulfill the locals’ cravings. Ok, so I must admit that though I like to try offal, brain is a definite no for me – I guess it’s mostly psychological barrier, but I like to say that since I work with brains on daily basis I need to separate my professional and private life and therefore won’t eat those 😉 We had instead just a delicious basic kebab wrap (note that when grilling they put flat-breads on top so that the juices will soak into them).
Ok anyway, let’s go back to what offal we actually ate in Istanbul 😉 Of course we had kebabs made of liver and they were absolutely amazing! Delicate meet with a hint of sweetness, perfect. But the staple street food I want to write about is kokoreç. It is simply tripe grilled over charcoal fire, cut in tiny pieces, put inside the bun with fresh tomatoes and loads of sumac and pepper. At the beginning I was a bit skeptical as I have seen tripe being soaked at the butchers. It was grayish with bits of undigested grass, what else to say – gross. But once we took a first bite of it, we immediately stood in the queue to get a second portion 😉