Ah the food of Istanbul! Full of colour, history and taste.
In the tourist district of Sultanahmet are located many of the sites people come to Istanbul to see, the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace to name a few. They are all within walking distance of each other and along the way are numerous street vendors to keep you fueled for a full day of sightseeing on foot.
How you begin and end your day will depend on where your hotel is located, how hungry you are and which sites have the longest line-up. Big Boy Travel is a website that provides “…the best free walking tour maps and insider tips to help you get the most our of your next dream vacation!”¹ It does an excellent job of detailing a self-guided walking tour in Istanbul’s Old Town
Human fuel means carbs and whole grain bread is an ideal choice to provide your body with the energy it needs for endurance activities such as walking and sightseeing. Feel free to indulge in a whole grain simit (or 2) while you explore all that Istanbul has to offer.
This is like a Montreal style bagel with sesame seeds. For 1 TL you can get your carb fix. All throughout Turkey and especially in Istanbul you are never far from a simit seller.
Some simit sellers also sold shiny buns shellacked with egg wash and sprinkled with nigella seeds. Say that 10 times fast!
An aromatic spice often used in savoury dishes in the Middle East. Has an onion flavour and resembles black sesame seeds.
Loving bread the way that I do I had obscene amounts of it. I frequented Simit Sarayi, a chain of ‘fast food’ bakery cafés with a Turkish flavour. My favourite was the spinach filled bun with nigella seeds sprinkled on the glistening brioche like dough. A close second and third were the whole grain simit with cheese and the potato filled brioche dough.
TL = Turkish Lira
Other foods you may encounter while you tour around Sultanahmet are:
Turkish ice cream has a texture like pulled taffy and a consistency reminiscent of gelato. Dondurma doesn’t have the air whipped into it like a traditional custard ( i.e.the whip cream churned until it doubles in size with the egg yolk used to bind, thicken and give a creamy texture to the airiness of the whipped cream). Instead it is handled excessively with stainless steel spatulas by guys dressed up in the Turkish version of carnival-style costumes. After being pulled and pushed, the vanilla looks like melted hot and stringy mozzarella cheese.
Ice cream is sold by the container so load up with as many flavours that will fit. For 2 TL (about $1.50 CAD), I had pistachio, chocolate and lemon ice cream. They are not scooped but rather scraped with the steel spatula into a bowl.
The show is also part of the service. The vendors yell to attract visitors, sometimes shoving a stick with ice cream on it in your face. Their costume tends to be a striped shirt, dark pants and a fez-like hat.
I had mine at Hafiz Mustapha where it was served with a complimentary bottle of water. Hafiz also sold chocolate pieces, baklava and other sugary treats.
Turkish coffee is strong, granular and usually sweet. It is coffee served in the perfect size: a small cup, just a shot like espresso, to give you a caffeine hit without overdoing it. The first sip is strong and the last sip is very granular as you will have reached the coffee grinds at the bottom. The sweet spot is the middle sip. Here you get the sweet coffee taste characteristic of the way this beverage is usually taken.
Hardcore coffee drinkers will be pleased to know that you can have it without sugar too.
Corn is available steamed or grilled. The steamed serving comes with copious amounts of salt. Nothing special-it just tastes like corn and not the peaches and cream type either. Cost is about 1-1.5 TL (around $1 CAD).
…roasting on an open fire in a cart with wheels. It reminded me of Toronto in the autumn. Chestnuts are sold by weight.
As ubiquitous as Starbucks in Seattle, pastry shops and baklava shops are everywhere here. Many of them sold chocolate baklava-yum! I had never heard of such a thing before but it makes perfect sense-chocolate goes with any dessert!
In sampling several offerings of baklava I discovered that I prefer the walnut to pistachio. It seems to go well with the buttery sweet combination. Pistachios, however, have their place in ice cream. Personally I find the taste a little lacklustre in baklava.
*Prices listed are from 2011. Current pricing may have changed.
¹Retrieved June 15th 2015 from http://www.bigboytravel.com/