Sunday, 17 November 2013

From the Food streets of Istanbul

 Istanbul is a whirlpool of unbridled emotions, a lyrical poetry of sorts that effortlessly claims your senses, furtively creeps into your soul and becomes a part of your being. For me it will remain a city of haunting memories, where time has come to a screeching halt so that life could move on. The soft swells of the waters of Bosphorus, the mosque minarets silhouetted against the evening sky calling out to the faithful, the noisy bazaars full of haggling buyers and sellers, the colours of the spice bazaar, the chestnut vendors on Sultanahmet square, the lovers around the bend of the steep cobbled street, deliquescing in each others arms, a lazy cuppa in the corner cafe, a game of chess on the streets, the stolen kisses, the hidden tears, the outside and the inside, the old and the new — together they all conjure a world where time is only a suggestion.

For me, Istanbul is all that and Istanbul is great food. When I think Istanbul, I think food and when I was planning my trip to the fabled city I knew it was going to be all about food. And the trip went just like I had envisaged, hoped it would be. I had made a list and I got to tick each of the items off. This post it mostly about fast bites, great street food off Istanbul's culinary backstreets. About the kebabs and köfte , that's another story again.

 The first stop on my culinary trail was at an open air cafe nestled on a curb by the wall of the majestic Aya Sophia. I was sure it would be an expensive deal considering the location but the place was crammed full with locals and it seemed like just the way to kick-start the vacation.

        We (my younger brother was my travel buddy this time...good grief) ordered for a nargileh just for the kicks of smoking a pipe in Istanbul. A cup of Turkish tea that came along was just the thing to settle my nerves jittery from all the travelling. It was getting cold too. But what I tried here and I am glad I did was a gözleme — hand-rolled dough stuffed with meat (other fillings too actually, like spinach and cheese) sealed and cooked on a griddle. So,it was a thin, soft, handkerchief-life bread, folded to form a half moon and in between the folds was generous stuffing of subtly spiced and perfectly seasoned minced meat. When I ordered for the gözleme I was expecting it to be greasy and pretty heavy on the stomach but here it was not at all greasy, the flavours of the meat not overpowered by that of the spices and the bread, though a lot like our rumali roti, not elastic-y. You might order a yoghurt dip cause it might seem a little dry on its own for some of us.

Minced meat stuffed Gözleme at Green Corner
    I had first heard about Istanbul's famed Pudding Shop from none other than renowned author Valerio Massimo Manfredi, while doing an interview for a newspaper I worked for then. This cafe, also known as Lale restaurant, off Sultanahmet Square, was the starting point of the hippie trail back in the day, when the restaurant, a tiny, shabby eatery back then, used to be crammed full with hippies. The cafe was really like a 'physical' ride-surfing portal and a board on The Pudding Shop's wall, which still remains, was, well something on the lines of the Facebook Wall. Say you were off to Kathmandu tomorrow and you had two extra seats in you car, you could post a message on the wall asking if there was anyone traveling to the same destination and would wish to hitch a ride. Or you could be the one asking for the ride.

 Interesting stuff. And imagine all those psychedelic trips over pots of delicious pudding!  And though I know all about the place's crazy history and had wanted to visit when in Istanbul, it was quite by chance that I stumbled upon the quaint restaurant. I didn't even have to look for it, it was right there, across the street.And it made me hungry.

So after we were done taking a thousand pictures of the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, we decided to take a pudding break. Inside, we were greeted with signature Turkish hospitality and a bread basket was put on the table. I think the waiter was a little disappointed that all we ordered for were two portions of chocolate pudding. He promptly took the bread basket away and he almost grimaced when he did! Or I was only imagining that. Anyway, as for the pudding, it was delicious. A bottom layer of white chocolate and cheese, a middle layer of fluffy light chocolate and finally a thick and creamy layer of thick dark chocolate pudding. It laced the insides of my mouth in a way that spelt ecstasy. We struggled to finish it though, it was that big a portion.

The oh-so-sinful chocolate pudding

Creme Caramel topped with ground pistachio.
And it was  not just that once that we had pudding at the Pudding Shop. We went there every day during our stay in Istanbul, and when we had planned to have lunch or dinner elsewhere in the city we at least went back to try one or the other of their puddings. The waiter from the first night was a lot friendlier and got friendlier still with each passing day.

At the Pudding Shop The baked rice pudding topped with crumbled cheese and a generous sprinkle of ground pistachio was delicious too. And so was the creme caramel with a subtle cinnamon-y twist. The caramel had a hint of cinnamon in it and though I am not a huge fan of cinnamon in desserts, I must say that it did add a whole new dimension to this rather familiar dessert. Honestly, I am not a great fan of Turkish sweets. I find them too sweet. So I am not going to extol the virtues of the baklava or Khunafa. But the pudding, those were something.
Baked Rice Pudding
On the second day, after we had our full of the views of Istanbul from the Galata Tower, we headed for Taksim square. For me Taksim Square was synonymous to Sabir Tasi's İçli Köfte but it was too early in the day for those deep fried morsels of unadulterated goodness, and we were full from breakfast. So I started with a sesame crusted simit off a street cart on Istiklal Street, Istanbul's answer to Barcelona's Las Ramblas or London's Oxford Street.

Again it was on Taksim Square, on another day, that I tasted something I will not forget in a long long time and if you ever get lucky enough to try it, I dare you to stop at one. A pound of spiced minced meat between soft fluffy bread dipped in an oily tomato sauce and kept in a steam jar — Istanbul's famous wet burgers, Islak Burger. And Anthony Bourdain would vouch for these.

There is a line of these joints selling wet burgers off the glass jars, and each one one was crammed full with hungry tourists and relaxed locals.For 2.5 Turkish Lira you are in for a superlative street food experience.  It's a pity it was raining and I couldn't manage to take a photograph of this spicy, soggy and delightfully flavoursome street grub though. One it was raining, two, I had no time to waste. but take my word for it and you won't regret it

Another, street delicacy that had made to the top three of my wish list was the Kumpir. And I went all the way to Ortakoy, just to try one of these. Now, you get kumpir all over Istanbul, but I had read that the ones in Ortakoy were famous. You have perhaps seen the iconic picture of the Bosphorus Bridge with a mosque in the forefront. Well that is the Ortakoy mosque, just on the water front. The area is best known for its riverside restaurants and cafes and the panoramic views that they offer. However, the road leading upto the mosque, which was however under renovation, is lined by shops selling waffles and the famous Kumpir. Incidentally, the street itself is known as the Kumpir Sokak (street). They all have their loyal fans, so take your pick. Now what is this Kumpir I have been going on about. Well its good old baked potato. But not the same.

So, these are huge baked potatoes in skin which is cut open with one adept slash. And then an obscene amount of butter in patter on followed by a generous sprinkle of stringy cheese, perhaps Kasseri. The butter slowly melts claiming the insides of the potato and then the cheese melts too seeping into the potato becoming an inextricable part of it. And them come the toppings — spicy Turkish sausages, pickles, salads, corn, tomato chilli sauce mayonnaise and more. For mine I opted for sausage slices, pickles, kısır (ground bulgur with herbs and tomatoes) salad, some chili tomato sauce and a good drizzle of mayonnaise, which was pretty much everything.  What followed was pure bliss. But take  a  tip and choose your sauces wisely. For instance, I wish I hadn't mixed the tomato chilli and the mayonnaise.


If you are talking about street food in Istanbul, you can't not talk about the fish sandwiches of Eminonu. In Eminonu, by the Galata bridge, from boats bobbing up and down on the waters of the Bosphorus, they sell the a very simple but delicious street bite. A chunky slice of fried fish and fresh salad greens between crusty bread. Little bowls heaped with salt and squirting bottles filled with lime juice are kept on wooden stools. Season your sandwiches just the way you like it. I enjoyed mine on a cold evening  sitting on a bench by the Bosphorus, watching Istanbul sparkle and shine all around the dark waters of the Bosphorus.

To be continued ....


  1. okay so I want to pick your brains now and must meet up soon! <3

    1. Totally....when and where????? LOL

    2. your call... there's a new breakfast joint at Hungerford st. Edesia. Want to go there?

  2. This is gonna be my food guide when I travel to Turkey! thanks a lot :)

    1. So glad you liked it...more to come on food in's a crazy place!! Keep Reading

    2. I live in Kuwait and planning a trip next summer...keep penning and I would keep following! cheers...

  3. This is a complete guide to street food in Istanbul, for sure. I was so piqued by your description of the 'wet burger' that I just had to google for its images! Yum!