So, we ate Istanbul. We ate it all. Cheese, bread, mezze, rice, kebabs, rice puddings, iskender, baklava, olives. Both of us are now on a slightly more regimented eating plan that cannot be called a diet because diets are not ideally meant to include Doppelkeks and camenbert, which mine does, liberally. But travel is not travel without food. Food is the way to a country’s heart and indeed the way to mine. Istanbul had to be eaten, there was so other option.
We used the Trip Advisor Istanbul app to separate the wheat from the chaff. Istanbul is absolutely packed with restaurants and cafes, there are thousands of them, all with a persistent spruiker out the front trying to out-entice the one next door. Falter, hover, stand still for more than 2 seconds and you’re gone baby, gone; you will be seated at a table with a basket of bread and a waiter waiting to take your drink order while a cat watches belligerently from afar.
There were, of course, occasions we went off book, for example at a tiny, local pide place on one of the Princes’ Islands, which was hot, cheesy and delicious. And for lunch one day, we were sucked into this hole of rapid movements wherein we were seated and served within 20 seconds flat, huge plates of rice, meat, bread and garlic and mint yoghurt. The most notable excursion off book, however, occurred when we made the fatal error of dithering. Just down the way were two top-ten places and at the precise location we dithered was a decent looking place that seemed to be reasonably full and so in we went. Bad food, awful service and a bill that was as expensive as the two top-ten places down the way. Lesson learnt.
The below is where we ate and drank. It goes without saying 7 days limits one to sampling a really solid amount of places, but we gave it a good crack.
Fuego’s in Sultanahmet and Cafe Mesa in Gülhane. Both serve really fresh, really good, authentic food with a smile and sans the spruiking. Aloran in Sultanahmet also serves up a mean Iskender kebab and the service is truly lovely. If you’re after a serious view and somewhere quite ‘upmarket’ (read swanky and corporate) then you can venture down to Vogue which sits high above Istanbul, down near the water. But perhaps a cocktail is enough at this place – the cocktails are good and come served with a delightful array of snacks – that’s main attraction is its view. The food isn’t anything to write home about, however the wine list is.
Solera Winery in Beyoglu. Just off Istiklal, Istanbul’s enormous shopping street that sees millions pass through everyday. The winery is down a quiet little street, away from the manic crowds and has a great wine list with a lot of Turkish wines.
Hafiz Mustafa in Sirkeci. These guys are a bit of an institution. Their shop just opposite the Sirkeci tram station is treat heaven. Floor to ceiling baklava, nougat and pudding. You can go upstairs to the cafe and drink Turkish tea with a plate of baklava or put your own box together downstairs. We went twice – both times for tea and treats upstairs with one visit resulting in a sample box for Mum. The place is almost always full of locals and tourists alike, seeking a little restoration.
I come from Sydney. We are ghastly about coffee. Annoying and whiny and snobby. We turn up our little noses at anything less than barista brewed espresso. When I read that Denizen serves the best coffee in Istanbul (as we are used to it, not the Turkish coffee) I beelined for its warm walls and availed myself of its services. Strong. Good. Full of silver haired Australian Baby Boomer travellers who had also clearly heard the same thing. They also have free wifi which is always useful when on the move.