Tag Archives: Istanbul restaurants

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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Karakoy is situated along the shore of the Bosphorus across from Eminonu and the old city. It was once the financial center of the Ottoman Empire. The elegant facades of many of the buildings in the neighborhood have slipped into an unfortunate state of decay.  This area of the city was overlooked for years.  The city developed and changed around it. The financial center of Modern Turkey moved to Levent and Maslak. Hardware shops dominate many streets.

Ten years ago nobody would have ventured to Karakoy by day or night. Now, it is becoming a destination. New galleries, cafes and restaurants are popping up left and right. Many say the crowd that once reinvented Nevizade, Tunel, Galata and Asmalimescit will make Karakoy the next hip neighborhood of Istanbul. The neighborhood’s slow transformation is impossible to ignore. Empty warehouses sit next to bustling new restaurants and bistros.  This is the magic of Karakoy, the most recent discovery and destination for Istanbul’s hipsters, trendsetters and yuppies.

We went on Saturday night to see for ourselves. Our destination? Bej, a bistro could easily be located in the heart of New York City or London. With small appetizer plates and a comprehensive wine list, this restaurant attracts the glamorous and hip 30-something crowd. Shiny BMWs surround the restaurant. A DJ sat inside spinning an eclectic mix of club music. The menu touted an interesting array of fusion cuisine. We sipped wine and nibbled on the Caprese salad, sesame chicken and kebab on a bed of humus. In three plates, we tasted authentic Italian, Chinese and Mediterranean flavors in one sitting. We watched as an accordion player passed through the crowd, TV personalities walked by and this forgotten neighborhood proved it was full of life, charm and promise.

 

Bej: The Jewel of Karakoy?

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Watch out Cihangir. Besiktas is the new weekend breakfast destination!

In the past 2 years, a handful of new breakfast cafes have popped up near the Besiktas Balik Pazari. This lead TimeOut Istanbul to describe Celebioglu Sokak as a street devoted to breakfast, stating that the street “pretty much exists just so that Besiktas residents can eat breakfast.’ However, I predict that these restaurants and cafes will attract more than local residents. These bustling cafes have crowds of people waiting for a seat. Their charm as well as their quirkiness contributes to their allure. Blues and jazz play in the background. Tables unfold onto the streets.

I spent my Saturday morning sampling the numerous jams and delicious menemen at Reçel Türevleri. This particular Besiktas breakfast cafe has a unique draw: numerous jams from the city of Adana. We were served cherry, quince and carrot jam in our particular breakfast spread. We ordered the ‘serpme kahvalti’, menemen, tea and ended the meal with fresh squeezed orange juice…all for 18 lira. The young owners serve as waiters and cooks. The decor is colorful, hip and inviting. Prices are low and ingredients are fresh and organic. Read the rest of this entry

Besiktas: The New Breakfast Destination in Istanbul

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You have not experienced the glory of Turkish Breakfasts, until you have been to Cafe Kale.  Located in the Rumeli neighborhood along the Bosphorus, in the shadows of the second bridge and the Fortress of Europe, the view alone is reason to enough to explore Rumeli.  Once a simple bakery  in a small seaside house, the cafe has now expanded into two adjacent buildings and onto the streets. After securing a table, you will quickly be spoiled with delights. Especially if you order the ‘Serpme Kahvalti’ (The Breakfast Spread). I promise you will not be disappointed! This breakfast spread goes above and beyond normal breakfast standards. Within 5 minutes of placing your order, your table will be covered with delights. Ranging from kaymak (decadent clotted cream) covered in honey, fresh squeezed orange juice, fried eggs and sucuk (the Turkish sausage), Helumi (Fried Salty Cheese from Cyprus), Borek with pastirma and so much more. The staff is famous for their hospitality and service, and the space itself is buzzing with activity. This is a meal that cannot be missed in Istanbul!

Address: Yahya Kemal Caddesi, No: 16, Rumelihisarı.  Take the Bahcekoy-bound 42T anywhere along the Bosphorus Road until you reach Rumeli Hisari.

Breakfast at Cafe Kale

Birthday Dinner

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We spent last night with friends at Quick China. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Istanbul, and offers the best Asian food in the city. It is dark, intimate and oh-so-chic. It is walking distance from our apartment, and offers some of the best sushi I have ever tasted. This is an incredible statement to make because excellent international cuisine is almost impossible to find in Istanbul. Of course, there are numerous restaurants in the city that offer an array of Japanese, Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine, but rarely do you leave successfully satisfying your craving. They are often incredibly overpriced, and they are often foreign dishes made with Turkish ingredients. I admit, I have been very spoiled in my life. On the small island where I grew up, there were a plethora of restaurants that met every craving and represented the best in international cuisine. As I search for these flavors abroad, I have come to appreciate the diversity of flavors and cuisines that exist in the United States.

For my birthday, we reserved a table for 16 and enjoyed the company of friends as we ate sushi, fried rice, dumplings and more. Both my current and my beloved past teaching partner were in attendance, as well as many co-workers and friends. I felt very loved and very happy. We chatted into the evening, and the waiter spoiled us with late-night treats, ranging from jasmine tea to caramelized walnuts and fortune cookies. It was nice to catch-up with new and old friends, and to be surrounded by so many people who I love.

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With pictures of New York City covering the walls, oldies music playing in the background and the very familiar smell of bagels filling the restaurant, I felt instantly at home at Tribeca. As I looked at the menu I saw all of my favorites: poppy seed, cinnamon raisin, sesame seed and my personal favorite: the everything bagel.

With over 12 different types of bagels, and a menu of every type of bagel sandwich or topping you could crave (even lox cream cheese!), I was thrilled by the satisfaction and joy of this discovery. With locations in Akatlar, Yenikoy and Nisantasi (less than 20 minutes from our apartment!), the restaurant is strategically located to attract foreigners and any Turk with a particular fondness for New York bagels.

The owners of Tribeca lived and worked in New York City, and returned to Istanbul to share their love and knowledge of bagels. They succeeded. The bagels are authentic and satisfied my craving. I am hooked.

The success of Tribeca was featured in a New York Times article that shared the owners intention to sell a slice of American culture, along with a bagel breakfast. While I am not sure if I agree with some of the things they assert, I was fascinated by the power and influence American movies were given in their explanation.  The owner claims that ”maybe people in other countries don’t understand what a bagel is, but they saw Bruce Willis eating one in ‘Die Hard’ so they want to eat the same thing.” He reassured us by saying “Turkey will stay Turkey. France will stay France. But that American daily culture will become the world culture because Hollywood is so powerful. It is a huge power”. I was surprised to hear the connection between the allure of bagels and the allure of American daily life…

My most memorable bagel breakfasts will always be the magical mornings from my childhood following my dad’s return from New York City…with two bags of H&H bagels. The suspense surrounding the content of the bags, and the excitement around the cream cheese and other toppings ensured that it was an event that lived up to every expectation.

Bagels in Istanbul!

The Best Durum in Taksim

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First of all, what is durum? It is essentially a Turkish burrito. While the contents of a durum vary dramatically, a good durum should contain grilled meat (my favorite is chicken), tomatoes, shredded lettuce and onion, and lots of seasoning. While everyone has their own tastes, and favorite restaurants, I thought I would share my personal favorite source for durum in Istanbul.

If you begin to walk down Istiklal Cadessi, take the first left. Walk past ‘The Pita Pit’ on your left, ‘Bistro’ on your right and turn right on the street, before the Japanese restaurant ‘Tokyo’. You will find Melekler Durum Evi. There are no more than 10 tables in this small place, but it is incredible, and certainly worth the wait on a Friday night.