Turkish Food 1: Istanbul

Wondering what Turkish food is like? My experience of it has on the whole been pretty good. Of course, like any other country there are tourist trap restaurants serving overpriced tasteless food near popular sites. And sometimes, if you’re short of time you have to eat at one of these – our worst experience so far being ordering a “jumbo prawn stew”, expecting a stew made out of jumbo prawns. It turned out to be a little bit more literal than this – it arrived as one rather small single prawn that had been stewed! Hardly the “plenty adequate for one person” the waiter had promised. However, despite a couple of experiences like this, I’ve mostly loved Turkish food, and below are some examples of my favourites.

1) Gözleme

These are a sort of traditional pancake, often made in front of you in the restaurant. The difference to French style crepes is that they aren’t fried – they are cooked on a sort of large curved heated surface, similar to a griddle. Popular fillings are feta cheese, spinach or minced meat, but this can vary according to the region. They are really tasty, and much less greasy than the pancakes I’m used to – and perfect for a mid-afternoon snack.

Turkish woman making gozleme (photo not mine as I managed to delete mine by mistake! - but it looks just like this...)

Turkish woman making gozleme (photo not mine as I managed to delete mine by mistake! – but it looks just like this…)

2) Sütlaç

This might not be to everyone’s taste as it is a form of rice pudding, which I’m aware a lot of English people dislike as a result of stodgy puddings experienced at school. However I personally love English rice pudding (if it’s made well – my favourite back home is the Jamie Oliver recipe) – and so it was great to try this Turkish version, served in a small clay dish. I found it a little sweeter than I was expecting, but the pistachios on the top were delicious. (Pistachios are definitely another thing I’ve been enjoying here!) Apparently it originated in the Ottoman palace kitchens and used to be flavoured with rose water, which would definitely be interesting to try.

Rice pudding from day 3 (this time with hazelnuts on top)

Rice pudding from day 3 (this time with hazelnuts on top)

3) Apple Tea

This drink is ubiquitous in Turkey – served in small curved glasses, and very very sweet. The weather in Istanbul in April is reasonably sunny in the middle of the day but quickly gets nippy in the afternoon – so when you’ve been out in the open all day it’s the perfect drink to warm you up.

My apple tea yesterday

My apple tea yesterday

3) Kebap

I’ve been disappointed by some of the street kebabs (or “kebaps” in Turkish) that I’ve had here – mainly because I really like street kebabs with that sort of garlicky yoghurt sauce, and here they tend to use mayonnaise instead. But kebabs here are also sold in restaurants as a main course, and can be really good. On our first night here I had a really delicious lamb one, very succulent and full of flavour. However, it can be a bit hit-and-miss – sometimes they’re delicious and sometimes really not at all – it just depends on that particular restaurant.

4) Olives

They just taste so much better here! They’re big and juicy, and often stuffed with interesting things – not at all like the flavourless shrivelled tinned stuff you get in Sainsbury’s. And there’s nothing like going to the market and finding a shop full of barrels of different types of olives for you to try your way through. I particularly like to get them in the morning for a midday snack.

5) Baklava and Turkish Delight 

This is another thing that you CAN get in England – but I always assumed I didn’t like until I tried the real stuff. Baklava in England is sold on those clear plastic trays covered in cling-film and is usually rather dried out and not very flavoursome. The stuff here is simply dripping with fresh honey and stuffed with all sorts of tasty nuts. Two years ago we found a place in Istanbul’s Spice Market that did simply divine baklava and we somehow (I’m not quite sure how given the many twisting alleys of the market) managed to re-find it yesterday. I can’t eat more than a couple at a time because they’re so rich, but god are they good!

Just look at these baklava from yesterday, oozing with honey

Just look at these baklava from yesterday, oozing with honey!

The best baklava in Istanbul - to be found in the Spice Market

The best baklava in Istanbul – to be found in the Spice Market. The green ones are made of pistachio.

Turkish delight in the UK usually comes in little cubes which are pale pink, yellow and green, which I think are meant to taste of rose, lemon and apple. It’s hard to work this out, however, as they’re so bland they all taste the same: it’s sort of like eating cubes of glutinous jelly coated in icing sugar when they’ve forgotten to put the flavouring in – I couldn’t never understand how the White Witch in Narnia managed to lure away Edmund with this frankly rather disgusting stuff.

When I got to Turkey, I realise that she must have been bribing him with the real deal, which is incomparable to what I’d had before. To start with, the flavours are much more vibrant. Then, there are usually nuts added in, which makes the texture much more interesting – it’s no longer like eating cubes of wobbly plastic, but a fascinating sweet made of different materials – a veritable treat for the tongue. Lastly, you can get so many different shapes and flavours and colours that there are always new ones to try out. Having said that, I again can’t eat too many in one go as they are pretty sweet…but a steady supply throughout the day doesn’t do me too badly!

Turkish delight shop

Turkish delight shop

Here's one I ate about five minutes ago...

Here’s one I ate about five minutes ago…

Have you eaten Turkish food? If so, what do you think? Most of the above is food I’ve had in Istanbul but I’m wondering if it will be different in other parts of the country – if so, look out for Part 2!

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