Tag Archives: Food

The Holiday Season in Istanbul

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streets of nisantasiLess than 10 minutes from my apartment lies a magical place. The streets are filled with toy soldiers, sparkling lights and even  a Christmas Tree (or more accurately ‘A New Years Tree ‘ for the Turks).  Stars and lights hang from restaurant windows, store entrances are decorated with ornaments and to my surprise , even familiar Christmas music plays in the stores. For this homesick American, it is to my sheer delight to see familiar symbols, decor and music to celebrate the holiday season in the Istanbul neighborhood of Nisantasi.  Read the rest of this entry

Where to Eat in Istanbul

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I am always searching for authentic Turkish restaurants that will impress visiting guests, appeal to diverse culinary tastes and offer a unique dining experience.  I must admit: when we go out to dinner, we rarely go out to Turkish meals. We seek out Japanese, Thai, Italian and other unique flavors, simply because we are lucky enough to taste a variety of different Turkish foods on a regular basis. Thus, the conundrum  Where do you take guests who are visiting Istanbul and want to eat Turkish, and only Turkish food. Here are my recommendations:

Zubeyir Ocakbasi

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Also located in Taksim, this restaurant is down Bekar Sokak at the top of Istiklal, 5 minutes from Taksim Square. It is famous among Istanbullians, foodies and sadly, it is probably in every major guide book by now. The Ocakbasi refers to the traditional grills that kebaps are prepared upon.  Immediately upon walking inside, you will see (and smell) their large grill, and notice the photos on the wall which showcase all of their famous patrons. This place has a very special place in my heart because it is where we brought our two families together before our wedding. The service is spectacular. The environment is lively. Everything on the menu is fresh. And, every bite melts in your mouth. Be prepared to splurge a little bit to truly experience this place. It is best to come here with a large crowd. Select at least 6 of the appetizers from the appetizer plate. Order a big bottle of Raki. Drink and be merry! Be sure to make reservations or go early…

Ciya Sofrasi

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Located in Kadikoy, this restaurant has become the gem of the Turkish culinary scene. It was founded by a chef who wanted to reintroduce Turkish cuisine to the world, and show the diversity of ingredients and flavors that exist within Turkey’s borders. There are numerous things that make this restaurant unique. I will share 4 of them with you. First, there is a buffet of various Turkish appetizers. You will be given a plate and you can (and should) fill your plate with each and every dish. The plate is weighed to determine the price. Secondly, the menu is comprehensive and informative. Next to each item, you will find the city it originated from. It is wonderful to see the diversity and learn about regional specialties we rarely get to experience in Istanbul. Thirdly, the walnut dessert (Ceviz Tatlisi) is the most incredible and indulgent thing I have ever eaten. Be prepared for your mouth to water.  Finally, Ciya is located in Kadikoy, a lively neighborhood on the Asian side. Come early to walk along the waterfront, explore its lively food market and to sip coffee at any one of its cafes. You will observe a young, hip and liberal crowd that call Kadikoy home. After dinner, stop for a beer and sit outside for some excellent people-watching.

Asmali Cavit

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Asmali Cavit has the best Turkish mezes (appetizers) in the city. Each and every dish is fresh and flavorful. The waiters are friendly and helpful. The atmosphere is lively and warm. It is the perfect place to go if you are looking for a traditional Turkish restaurant with GREAT food. You will start by being summoned to the display case, where you will select the cold appetizers that appeal to you. Once you select them, they will be brought to your table in small plates. I predict you will quickly devour them and want more. Next, move on to the hot appetizers. I recommend the borek and some fried hamsi (small fish). If you still have room, tackle the menu. Oh, and do not attempt to drink anything but Raki for this meal.

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Van Kahvalti Evi: The Best Breakfast Place in Cihangir

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As you may know, Cihangir is home to many cozy, charming and lively cafes that offer wonderful breakfasts. One of my favorite weekend activities is a breakfast date in Cihangir. As a result, over the past year I have written rave reviews about several different breakfast places in Cihangir. But, if you only have one morning in Cihangir, you must go to Van Kahvalti Evi.

This place is the star of the Cihangir breakfast scene. There are lines of young hipsters and expats along the sidewalk, awaiting a coveted seat in this bustling cafe. The staff runs around delivering one glass of tea after another  and work harder than any other wait staff I have ever seen. Several minutes after you place your order, numerous small plates cover the table. Unfamiliar delicacies await you. They include a ground walnut paste with honey, a hearty mixture of wheat and egg and the best tahini you wil ever sample. Additionally, a wide variety of incredibly fresh cheeses, the juiciest tomatoes, fresh kaymak (clotted cream) and homemade honey. Read the rest of this entry

Happy Thanksgiving!

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This year was my fifth Thanksgiving away from home. While it breaks my heart to away from the established traditions, lively discussions, delicious food and my wonderful friends and family, I am delighted by the wonderful new and established traditions that shape my own celebration!

My friend and I befriended a Turkish man with a New York accent on the bus, while we were returning from the Sabanci Museum yesterday. He was a Business professor at the esteemed Bogazaci University and lived in the United States for many years, while teaching at Temple University. We started by talking about Seattle and the Bosphorus, but after leaving the bus, our interaction continued with one final conversation. He reemerged from the crowd to wish us a happy Thanksgiving. In fact, he was off to celebrate with his Turkish American friends!

He inspired us. His enthusiasm for American life and Thanksgiving was surprising, but also endearing. Originally, I was saving all of my energy for our established weekend extravaganza with friends (we always reschedule Thanksgiving festivities to ensure we get the whole weekend to celebrate and prepare), but we decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner of our own last night as well. Now, keep in mind we came to this decision at 6 PM last night…so we did not have much time.

How do you prepare for Thanksgiving dinner in 2 hours? Read the rest of this entry

Copenhagen: First Impressions

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More colorful than Berlin, friendlier than Paris, cozier than London and hipper than Rome, this city seems to have elements of all of my favorite cities, with a magic entirely of its own.

It is hard not to feel at home in Copenhagen. With bright colors, friendly people, innovative design and a wholesome approach to living, this city has something for everyone. There are more bicycles than cars. The royal palace grounds are open to all. Beautiful institutions of culture line the waterfront. People are outgoing, helpful and articulate, all while speaking perfect English. Every type of food can be found on along the city’s cobblestone streets. Warm cafes lure you in with modern designs and the enticing scent of freshly ground coffee beans.

Fathers push strollers of smiley babies. The weather does not keep anyone off the streets. No table is complete without a candle. Home decor stores, cafes and bakeries seem to dominate the streets. Hot dogs are the street food of choice. Runners glide along the waterfront.

And! It was Autumn! Vibrant red, orange and yellow leaves cover the streets. Every restaurant and shop had pumpkins, gourds and Halloween decor. The city’s amusement park opens for two weeks simply to celebrate Halloween. Seeing as we are still blessed with sunshine and warm weather in Istanbul, this was a wonderful surprise, which provided me with the opportunity to experience a taste of all my favorite Autumn experiences from home…

I am still sorting through photos  and catching up on work, but stay tuned for more photos and stories!

10 Essential Istanbul Experiences

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Ok, savvy travellers. If you are coming to experience the rich and dynamic cultural offerings of Istanbul you absolutely must experience the following:

1.)  A Full Turkish Breakfast at Cafe Kale

Situated along the Bosporus, the breakfast at Cafe Kale thrills and delights absolutely everyone. Within a few minutes of placing your order, your table will be covered by numerous small plates: hot and cold, sweet and savory, there is absolutely something for everyone.  It is the perfect way to spend a morning and experience the city.

2.) The Istanbul Modern

In recent years, Istanbul’s modern art scene has exploded.  The Istanbul Modern is the heart and soul of the art world and has initiated the transformation of the surrounding area. New shops and cafes are popping up around it and interesting exhibits ensure I keep coming back. Situated in an old warehouse along the Bosporus  the space alone is worth seeing. It has a fabulous view of the old city and the buzz of activity on the water. The museum’s permanent collection offers a  uniquely Turkish palate,  landscape and overview of modern Turkish art history. It is the perfect lens to gain additional understanding of modern Turkey. There is a lovely cafe and a great gift shop (perfect for those of you searching for souvenirs).

3.) Watch the Sunset from a Terrace Bar

The city comes alive at night and its treasures are hidden above the chaotic streets. As you wander through Beyoglu, look up and find a terrace to watch the sunset. Many old apartment buildings along the backstreets of Istiklal Caddessi host hidden cafes and restaurants with extraordinary views of the city. My favorite is Balkon, near Tunel. For dancing, try the wonderful top floor bar Araf for Balkan beats and a fabulous view of the city…

4.) A Day on the Islands

The perfect escape from the chaos of city life. In 80 minutes you are transferred to a summertime paradise complete with beach clubs, ice cream stands, bicycle rentals and horse-drawn carriages. The Princes Islands were once where the city’s Greek, Armenian and Jewish intellectual elite spent their summers. The beautiful homes around the city center are a perfect testament to the Ottoman charms that once defined Istanbul as the center of the Ottoman Empire. If you only have one day, go to Buyukada. Be sure to have some ice cream, hike the steep hill to the monastery and drink a beer at the top to enjoy the fantastic view.

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Walking the Streets with Istanbul Eats

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I could not resist. Please excuse my horrible rhyme. However, my heart still beats when I think about Istanbul Eats and the wonderful day we spent in Beyoglu tasting the hidden delicacies and street food of this neighborhood’s backroads and alleyways. I have lived in Istanbul for three years, and the day was still full of surprises and firsts for me.

We started at the Turkish equivalent of an old school greasy spoon restaurant in Cihangir where we sampled eggs, sucuk (Turkish sausage),  kaymak  (clotted cream) and honey. Next we strolled over to Datli Maya, where we toured this innovative chef’s latest creation: a small bakery and cafe in the neighborhood’s old Simit shop.

We past several preserve and pickled shops. We tasted Turkish delight and baklava. We sampled some Black Sea delicacies. We indulged in the city’s infamous profiterol shop. We nibbled on several different types of durum (the Turkish equivalent of a burrito with kebab). We sipped Turkish coffee at a traditional coffee shop. We wandered through the old passage ways, courtyards and churches hidden in the backstreets of Beyoglu. We sampled an eclectic mix of street food, including the kokorec sandwich and fried sardines.

Overall, it was a fun day and a perfect way to share Istanbul with your curious and adventurous guests. I would recommend this tour to Istanbul natives as well as visitors. For people looking to get outside of Beyoglu, they also offer food tours for the Old City, Kadikoy and beyond.

They also have a fantastic blog called Istanbul Eats which reports about all of Istanbul’s best restaurants and most authentic meals. This is my guide and inspires every dining choice or recommendation I make. They also started a network of underground foodies in cities around the world (including Mexico City, Shanghai and Barcelona) called Culinary Backstreets. For natives and tourists, these websites will not disappoint.