- Zeytinli acma
I think that I have to put this on here just for the sheer frequency with which I eat these. A zeytinli acma is sort of like a croissant stuffed with olive paste. I grab one almost every day on my way to work– it’s often the only thing that I eat before dinnertime.
- Visits to the only pig butcher in Istanbul (and maybe in Turkey)
Since most Turks are Muslim, and they don’t eat pork, it’s awfully hard to find any pig products here. In fact, there is only a single place to find them in Istanbul. Ironically, in the poorest neighborhood of Istanbul, there is a high-end pig butcher selling salamis, hams, and any other pork products you could dream up. I never really thought I’d miss pork so much, but after being deprived of pork for so long, I just come in here to breathe in the forbidden aromas. But it’s another thing to actually buy it– at around 50-70 TL (30-40 USD) per kilo, I can wait.
- Adana durum + ayran
Out of all the different combinations of grilled meat and various types of bread and seasoning, the adana durum is my favorite. Skewers of lamb grilled and wrapped with spicy seasonings… mmm. Plus, there’s something kind of comforting about the open charcoal pits they cook them on.
It’s not complete without a glass of ayran– the salty yogurt drink of choice. I remember when I first tried ayran back in the US– I took one sip and spit it out. Just couldn’t conceive of a salty dairy drink. But coming here, I can see the need for this drink– the “fast food” sandwiches, like the adana durum, are impossibly dry on their own. But the flavor of ayran goes nicely with these wraps, and is almost inseparable from them.
- Balik Ekmek
There’s nothing really special about the flavor of these fish sandwiches with onion and lemon. The special part is being by the sea and feeling connected to it. Sitting along to the Bosphorus eating a fish sandwich makes you remember where you are, near this magical sea that calms and inspires at the same time.
- Yayla corbasi
Yogurt soup with mint and rice– it’s the best thing to eat on a rainy day, or when you’re feeling gloomy. The best comfort food I’ve found here.
- Cig kofte
Bulgur mixed with tomato and pepper paste, onions, lemon, spices. Sometimes its hard to feel like you’re eating enough vegetables here– everything’s about the meat and oils. This one’s got a fair amount of veggie flair, so alright.
The only disturbing thing about cig kofte is that it comes in the shape of someone’s fist. It’s kind of off-putting to know that what you’re eating was squeezed together in someone’s hand– and I doubt they were all wearing gloves. When I was little I used to take a slice of plain white bread and squeeze it in my hand until it became kind of like dough. I had probably picked my nose right beforehand. I guess this is kind of like that.
- Raki + meze
There had to be some booze on this list, so here it is. Raki, the tasty liquorice flavored alcohol, is still a favorite of mine, even though I’ve accidentally gone overboard just about every time I’ve drunk it. And then I just sit there eating all these cheeses and oily beans and eggplant… whatever the waiters bring past our table. Goodbye again, day’s worth of pay.
- The secret beef lokanta
Another thing that can be hard to find is beef. But I’ve located a top secret diner that makes beef stew, almost as good as grandma’s– Beyoglu Lokantasi near the border between Taksim and Tarlabasi. Luckily, they also make yayla corbasi, so this is the perfect place to go for some comfort.
One of my favorite foods, even before coming to Turkey, was dolma– grape leaves stuffed with rice and spices. But here, “dolma” can refer to many kinds of stuffed vegetables. The most notable ones that I’ve tried are green peppers and peppered cabbage. But in my opinion, the best dolma are still the classic stuffed grape leaves, especially when they add cinammon to the spices… mmm.
Topping my list of yummy Turkish foods is the kumpir. This is a giant baked potato, with its insides mashed with butter and cheese. Then you go down an assembly line and choose from all kinds of toppings such as sausage, olives, couscous, spicy pepper spread, and a lot of other possibilities. I never thought that any of these things would be good on a potato, but the combination of all these random flavors is… incredible. It’s something that just must be experienced.
From all of these delicious foods (that and not exercising), I must have gained 10 pounds since I’ve been here. Well, maybe it will keep me warm in Russia. NO REGRETS.