Tag Archives: 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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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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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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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