Turkish cuisine maintains a place of great importance among the cuisines of the world. Indeed, the fame of Turkish dishes, whose flavors are unparalleled, is known throughout the world.
To visit Istanbul without eating döner is unthinkable! Döner, which has been a crucial part of Turkish cuisine since the second half of the 19th century, is a type of kebab prepared with lamb, which is turned and roasted on a spit over a coal fire. In addition to red meat, döner made with sausage and chicken is also widely consumed.
While different types of döner are typically served on a plate over rice, döner is also sold with pide (long bread) and as dürüm (wrap). The most famous dish of döner is probably the İskender Kebab, in which döner is combined with a tomato sauce and butter, and served with yoghurt.
Eating fish on the Bosphorus is superb! Turkey’s sophisticated culinary culture involving fish stems from the fact that the country is surrounded by seas on three sides. The Bosphorus is a popular fishing ground in Turkey, where many different species of fish with substantially different flavors are caught. For this reason, the area of Istanbul that is most associated with seafood is Boğaziçi. You can sample both seasonal fish and seafood mezes at any restaurants that are found all along the Bosphorus, on both the European and the Asian Side.
Istanbul: A meyhane paradise
Meyhanes are unique locations. Alcohol is drunk, and special mezes are eaten with rakı. Deep conversations take place, troubles are cast away, and the music starts up and the dance begins. Meyhanes are indispensable locations for conversations among friends.
The history of meyhane culture among Turks stretches back to the 15th century. In those times, this culture was prevalent in neighborhoods of Galata, Tahtakale, Ortaköy, Tarabya, Kumkapı, Balık Pazarı, Kadıköy, Yeniköy and Çengelköy, which were inhabited by non-Muslim communities. In the area near the Galata Tower alone, there were hundreds of meyhanes.
The king of the table: Rakı
Rakı, an alcoholic beverage with a history not as old as that of wine or beer, was first produced by the Ottomans. Because rakı was known as “lion’s milk”, it was served in containers decorated with embossed figures of lions. In fact, the color of rakı does indeed resemble milk. Rakı is produced from the razaki grape, and, in the past, was known by such names as “araka” and “araki”.
First, water is added to both dry and fresh grapes. After the mixture becomes must (unfermented grape juice), the process of fermentation begins. Later, after this mixture is distilled, its extraction becomes a type of alcohol known as “suma” (in essence, rakı before it has been flavored with anise). Finally, after aniseed is added, the suma is fermented again, and turns into rakı.
Rakı must be drunk according to certain customs. Above all, rakı must be consumed slowly at a table set specifically for this purpose, adorned with different kinds of mezes, hot dishes, meats, and fruit. Rakı can either be drunk with water or dry, and ice may be added to it if so desired.
The exquisite flavor of kebabs
Kebab is the name generally given to different types of meat that are roasted over a coal fire. Among the most common types of kebab are the spicy Adana kebab and the mild Urfa kebab, both of which are made out of mincemeat; and shish kebabs, made out of small pieces of veal or lamb. Kebabs are typically served with different types of vegetables, such as peanuts, tomatoes, and eggplant.
Kebabs are typically eaten at restaurants known as “grillrooms” (ocakbaşı), where one can sit around the coal fire and dine while watching the different stages of grilling that occur. Kebabs can also be eaten with various condiments as dürüm (wrap); it is even possible to eat on your feet at dürüm restaurants.
Lahmacun: Turkish fast food
Lahmacun is a dish particular to Turkey’s Southeastern cuisine. It is made from a mixture of onions, spices and mincemeat, which is spread over a thin layer of dough and cooked over a coal flame. Lahmacun can be either spicy or mild, there is a similar dish known “peymacun”, which is made with a mixture of cheese and parsley. It is often eaten as a wrap with condiments. Ayran (a salty yoghurt drink) is the most appropriate beverage.
Fruit syrup: A sweet voyage
Fruit syrup (şerbet), which is prepared by boiling fruits such as apricots, cherries, plums, and oranges together with sugar or honey, is a traditional Turkish drink that originated in Ottoman times. Fruit syrup was an essential part of both palace cuisine and home cooking during the Ottoman era. It was so popular then that one could easily find fresh types of fruit syrup, stored in glass containers, at candy shops every day.
Today, fruit syrup is typically drunk with a meal, and is often offered to guests. In particular, it is customary to offer fruit syrup when making visits to a family to propose a marriage engagement or after the birth of a child.
The term narghile (hookah, or water-pipe) comes from the Persian word nargil, which means coconut. Narghiles play an important part in many Eastern cultures, and first became a part of Turkish culture in the 16th century, during Ottoman times. The narghile is a crucial aspect of deep conversations in our own time. Narghile cafes are certainly prominent in many areas of Istanbul. Above all, a large number of narghile cafes are found in the neighborhoods of Tophane, Çemberlitaş, Beyoğlu and Kadıköy.
Simit: A sesame feast
Simit is one of the most traditional and common types of Turkish food. It is made from flour, formed in the shape of a ring and cooked in an oven, and is typically covered with a large quantity of sesame seeds. Simit is both inexpensive and flavorsome.
One can find fresh simit at every hour of the day in bakeries and shops that sell baked flour goods. You also might encounter simit merchants, with their glass-pane wagons, walking along the city’s bustling streets. In the past few years, several simit chain restaurants, which only sell different types of simit have become popular.
Turkish Traditional Flavors in Istanbul
How about a bubbly Turkish coffee?
The coffee plant was brought to the Arabic Peninsula by merchants coming from Ethiopia in the 10th century. Its first use that is similar to the current is seen in around the Mocha city in Yemen in the form of “drinking coffee juice”. Those who used the coffee in roasted form first have been the Turks. Traditions reigning for hundreds of years are effective on the whole process ranging from cooking to the service of the Turkish coffee that is produced by means of milling the Arabica-type high-quality coffee beans.
This special hot drink is brewed in special pots called “cezve”. The tastiest Turkish coffee is brewed gradually in copper coffeepot over low flame. The Turkish coffee with great flavor and taste is served in petty cups accompanied with one glass of water. For many Turkish people, nothing can take the place of abundantly bubbled Turkish coffee.
Our ancestors already emphasize it by expressing “A cup of coffee has a memory of forty years!”
A Peculiar and Unique Taste: Turkish Delight
Among the leading foods well known as a traditional Turkish flavor in all over the world and offered to guests comes the Turkish delight. Starch and sugar solution constitutes the raw material of this traditional sweet especially preferred for offering to guests. It is rendered more attractive by integrating supplements such as almond, pistachio nut, hazelnut, cream and rose. Turkish delight stands are ranked high among the foods offered to the guests.
The history of Turkish delight dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. It was initially made of grape molasses and honey and then refined sugar in the midst of the 18th century.
Well-Steeped Tea Delight in Thin Elegant Glass
Turkey is one of the biggest tea producers in the world. Tea comes second after water among beverages that are highly consumed throughout the country. The Turkish people have their breakfast in the morning in accompaniment with tea. Showing variation from country to country, the tea culture has acquired a peculiar nature over years in Turkey. Tea is brewed in a special cooking appliance called “çaydanlık” (teakettle) and this process is called as “çay demleme” (steeping)”.
Anyhow, the vital spot of brewing tea in Turkish style lies in this “steeping” process. After the water put into the lower section of the teakettle that is composed of two parts boils, it is added over tea preliminarily put in the upper part, the teapot. The flame is reduced and the tea is allowed to steeping. After well-steeping over light flame, the tea is served in thin elegant glasses.
As Turkish tea has an influential taste and effect like the Turkish coffee, again thinner glasses are preferred for service.
The fish in Bosphorus is distinctive!
Fish culture in Turkey, a peninsula enclosed by sea from the three sides, is quite sophisticated. This culture has reached its climax in Istanbul, a city through which a sea passes. The portion of the city that has got the most share of pleasure from this culture is undoubtedly the Bosphorus line.
It is possible for you to enjoy thousand varieties of tastes made up of fish in the restaurants located along this line. Traditional Turkish appetizers produced by flavors extracted from sea may be good starters for your meal. Rakı will for sure accompany your meal.
The Most Special Turkish Dessert: Baklava
Here is the traditional Turkish dessert: Baklava… An indispensable sweet of the Turkish cuisine, baklava is the traditional dessert of national festivals.
It is a pastry of phyllo dough and nuts. Phyllo is a simple flour-and-water dough that is stretched to paper thinness and cut into sheets on trays. Dry fruits such as walnut and pistachio nut are sprinkled among the sheets. Next, after the trays are baked, hot sauces composed of sugar and water are poured on the sheet and then allowed to cool down.
This traditional dessert may be tasted with ice cream or cream on it.
Enjoy the Traditional Delight: Hookah (Nargile)
It is not definite which community used hookah first. However, it is known that its involvement in the Turkish culture dates back to the 17th century during the period of the Ottoman Empire. Smoked in a period of 2-2.5 hours on average daily, hookah was employed as a tool for “chitchat” at that time. Admired by women as well as men, hookah had a function during the period of Ottoman Empire of bringing people together. Being a traditional delight, hookah survives in hookah cafés today.
The hookah is composed of four sections namely the mouthpiece, fold (upper section), frame (the lower section filled with water) and flexible tube. A special oak wood is used to fire the hookah. It introduces a pleasant aroma into the hookah. Furthermore, various tobacco options are offered to those wishing to garnish the hookah delight with miscellaneous flavors such as banana, apple and cocoa.
The Guest of Honor of the Çilingir Sofrası (Snacks Table): Rakı
Today, the whole world accepts the fact that rakı was first produced within the boundaries of the Ottoman State. The reason for why calling rakı as the “lion’s milk” is that it was served in ancient Ottoman pubs in lion-engraved cups and further due to its milk-like color. It is thought that the word “Rakı” comes from the Razaki type grapes used in the preparation of arrack, or according to another view its origin is “arak” that is derived from roots of the date fruit in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The inclusion of arrack in our life dates back to the second half of 1800’s. While depicted as the sign of masculinity in the past, rakı is a beverage also admired by the women today. It can be drunk straight or with water. rakı is usually drunk at table called “Çilingir sofrası” set with rich meat dishes, hors d´oeuvres and fruits.
Let Sherbet sweeten your taste!
Sherbet is one of the traditional beverages since the Ottoman period. It is prepared by usually boiling fruits such as cherry, orange, apricot and plum and then adding sugar or honey on it. The sherbets have also different varieties prepared with violet, bergamot, rose and lemon.
It can accompany your meals or be offered to guests. It is known that in the Ottoman traditions, it was offered to the guests in the palace. Offering sherbet as a drink to people that have come to visit the mother and her newborn baby is still a common tradition.
A Tasty Stand-up Snack: Simit
Simit is a ring-shaped, savory roll baked in oven and covered with sesame seeds. Simit is the traditional and most common representative of stand-up snacks.
Offered for sale in barrows equipped with display window in around all busiest streets of Istanbul, simit was upgraded to a food served in various forms in various menus at special simit shops for a couple of years due to the high interest it has received. It is offered in olive, sausage and kashar cheese-added varieties.
Thanks to its both affordable price and well-known taste, it is very commonly consumed.
Traditional Fast Food: Lahmacun
It is a sort of food introduced by the Southeastern cuisine. It is a kind of pancake with spicy meat filling and onion and baked in stove. In addition to its spicy and non-spicy varieties, lahmacun for vegetarians is also offered recently. Peymacun that is prepared with cheese is another variety of this food.
It is in thin and round shape and eaten in rolled form. The beverage that most commonly accompanies lahmacun is ayran.
A Sui Generis Flavor: Badem Ezmesi (Almond Paste)
It is a sort of sweet prepared with almond that is cultivated for 3500 years in Iranand China. It is a traditional sweet having its origin in the Ottoman palaces in Edirne, the capital city of the Ottoman State at a period. It is a sweet variety cooked with almond’s kernel, sugar and egg’s white in a formable consistency.
The soft almond paste is used as a filling agent in pastries and candies. The almond’s kernel is scalded, peeled, dried and then pounded into powder form. Sherbet is poured on pounded almond and then thoroughly mixed. Sometimes some fragrant agents are supplemented into the almond paste during kneading or grated coconut is sprinkled over it.
If you happen to go to Bebek, do not neglect to stop by the renowned Bebek Badem Ezmecisi (Bebek Pounded Almond Shop).
You Will Be Addicted to This Flavor: Kebab
It is Eastern Mediterranean and Southeastern Anatolia origin. It is a traditional meat dish cooked in fireplace over the coal flame. The most widespread examples of this dish are the Adanaand Urfakebab prepared with minced meat. Shish kebab that is grilled on on a stick have varieties such as red chopped meat shish or chicken shish.
It is served on plate together with various garnitures and can also be eaten in rolled bread as well. We highly prefer you to enjoy the kebab varieties in special meat restaurants called “ocakbaşı (fireside)” in Istanbul, sitting around a huge coal fireplace and watching the entire process of cooking kebab.
There is no way of neglecting Döner!
It is type of kebab that is derived from the method of roasting lamb on a spit over fire that is traditionally performed in special days, feasts and other ceremonies. Starting on the second half of the 19th century, Doner kebab was first prepared with red meat but then sausage and chicken doner types began to get widespread.
Doner varieties are offered on plate and also enjoyed in rolled bread. The type of doner that is prepared with butter and tomato paste sauce and generally served with yoghurt is known as “Iskender Kebap”. Doner stands among the mostly consumed foods.
Meyhane & Pubs
“I wandered around all the pubs of Istanbul tonight”*
Pubs are places where people eat, drink, go into deep chats and have heart-to-heart talks with each other. The pub delight enjoyed in accompaniment with special appetizers and rakı is irreplaceable.
*Münir Nurettin Selçuk
The introduction of Turks with the pub culture dates back to the 15th century. At that period, the pub culture was mainly prevailing in districts such as Galata, Tahtakale, Kadıköy, Ortaköy, Tarabya, Kumkapı, Balık pazarı, Yeniköy and Çengelköy accommodating predominantly the non-Muslims. In the region around the Galata tower, there are around 200 pubs. This district was being commemorated with the pubs there.
During the Ottoman Period, there were three kinds of pubs such as “regular”, “established” and “mobile” pubs. Today, mainly in Balık Pazarı in Beyoğlu, there are various pubs in the Kumkapı, Adalar and Bosphorus region.