Turkish Food!

Rusch Meyer, a German film maker produced this short video about Turkish food using our band Turku's live recording of Fidayda. There is no narration, just yummy video.
...and here's a fun site, "Culinary Backstreets of Istanbul".

People sometimes ask me where they should go to eat in Istanbul.
That's a really hard question, because there are so many restaurants there, each with their own specialities. But, I'd like to tell you about one that I think is really special. One reason I wanted to mention it on the travel tips page, is because their website is an education in itself.
I recommend that you right click on this link so you can reference it as you read this... http://www.ciya.com.tr/

Think of this as a fun and practical Turkish lesson!
Now, if you click on Iletisim (contact) on the top menu bar, you get a map. You see, you'll probably be staying on the European side, so you'll have to take a ferry to the Kadiköy neighborhood on the Asian side. Don't be scared, this is a fun adventure. You see the little anchors on the map that indicate the ferry stops. Click here for a video walk through the area. There is a colorfull market in this area. I especially like the pickle shops. One of these days, I've got to try some of those elaborate wrapped vegetable pickles on display. The Turks have the pickle down to an art.

At the bottom, you see some frames with pics and words. We have salatalar (salads) kebaplar (kababs) tatılar (desserts), çorbalar (soups), pilavlar (rice type dishes), and yemekler (that just means foods. If you click on it, you see it is divided into 'etli yemekler' (meat dishes) and etsiz yemekler(meatless dishes)).
I think the tatilar section is really interesting. some of their more unusual desserts have photos with descriptions.
The 'Serbet' section is for one of their specialities. (kin to sherbet, but not frozen) they are (mostly) fruit (meyve) drinks, very sweet)

If you've gotten a handle on your Turkish alphabet with the phonetics, you might find it fun to try and pick out the english words on the page. there are quite a few. remember that they might have Turkish suffixes stuck onto the end.

The word "Yöre:" is indicating the town or region that the food is from.
If you find the 'etli yemekler' (meat dishes) section, it's very informative. This is pretty esoteric stuff; most restaurants specialize and keep it simple.

You may see some odd characters on the page. there are 2 kinds of turkish keyboards. When you go to an internet cafe there and try to send emails home, they might see some weird characters. depends on their encoding. The weird 'a' looking thing on their page is a g. Sometimes an undotted i shows up as a strange 'y'.

If you find the otlar page, it has pics and names of many of their herbs.

Most of the dishes have the major ingredients listed, but you'll have to look those up in a dictionary.

The "Günün Menüsü" page refers to special dishes made that day.

If you have trouble deciding what you want from the menu, you can ask the friendly staff and they will show you what's cooking in the kitchen.

I've found a great blog on food in Ankara by Steven Bartus, an English teacher at Bilkent University. There is a google map with the restaurants he's reviewed. Reading his blog, you'll learn alot about the different foods and types of restaurants in Turkiye. Some of the places are chains, so you may see them in Istanbul, as well. You can check it out here.

Culinary Backstreets Istanbul is a great site with some fun food blogs.

One of the (very) few things that some travelers dislike about Istanbul is the fact that you can't escape the cigarette smoke. That is changing. There is a ban, effective in 2009 that prohibits smoking in bars, restaurants, coffee houses and the gardens of schools. The new law prohibits smoking in all enclosed public areas. Smoking on buses, airplanes and large offices is banned, as it is on taxis, ferries, trains and some open-air locations such as stadiums and playgrounds.
This is a big improvement that I think will have a positive effect on tourism.

The most famous area to go for fish is Kumkapi. It's packed with cafes, all with competing bands. It is a tourist trap, but it can be fun if you do just a couple things to keep from getting ripped off. Every cafe has someone outside trying to hussle you in. They may offer a free raki with your dinner, or some such thing. If they don't give you an itemized bill at the end, demand one. Take note of the price of everything you order and make sure that's how it shows up on the bill. If not, call them on it. If they bring out an appetizer tray for you to pick from, don't be shy about asking the price. If you order a fish, know the price. If it's market price, ask before they bring it to you.
We used to prefer the Balık Pazari next to Çiçek Pasaji. It wasn't so touristy. But it really has gotten bad since they got their new fancy sign and are no longer a back alley.
We went to a place there called Degustation, which took it's name from a famous place which used to be on Isteklal. We had been there a few times on previous trips, but this time, when the bill came, our jaws dropped. They tried to charge us 260 lira ($206 at the time) for three people. (a few appetizers, 2 local variety fish, 3 beers) They even charged us for bread, which ALWAYS comes free with meze. (usually free with any meal. I've had whole loaves of bread set in front of me when I'd only ordered a bowl of soup)
We raised hell with the manager, and they brought it down some, but it was still outrageous.

What's for dinner? Actually, there is a dish called döner (pronounced almost like 'dinner') that you see everywhere. It's meat that's layered on a rotisserie spit and sliced off like gyro. You can get it as a sandwich or on a plate as a meal. Here's a list of some more common dishes to help you wade through the wonderland of Turkish cuisine...
meze are appetizers, hot (sıcak) and cold (soguk(so-ook)) they are yummy.
patlıcan is eggplant. The Turks are good at eggplant. patlıcan sos is eggplant pieces with olive oil, patlican salata is pureed.
acili ezme is a salsa like dish that sometimes comes with bread even if you don't order it.
some places (especially for the evening meal) will bring a tray to your table with an assortment. You point and they bring it. These are cold meze that will include the above, plus herb salads, brain, beans, yoghurt based stuff and such. Hot meze will be listed on the menu.
There are many dishes resembling pizza. If you see a lady sitting inside with dough in front of her, you may see 'pancakes' on the menu, which you can order with different stuffings. It's not sweet, but bread.
Pide (pita) is the football shaped pizza ordered with cheese, meat, peppers, ect, or 'karışık' (mixed)
lahmacun is very thin crispy pizza, with ground meat and veggies, served with a little salad to put on.
balık is fish, et is meat (usually lamb), pilic is chicken, ek is bread, pilav is rice, çorba is soup
tatlı are desserts, , meyve is fruit
yamurta is eggs, midye is mussles, kofte is meatballs
kebap, izgara, and sis indicate grilled meats, kokorec is lamb intestines on a spit.
mantı is one of my favorites, little raviolis in yoghurt sauce.
güvec is a stew. durum is a wrap sandwich; tantuni is grilled minced meat.
kumpir is a big baked potato with this little salad bar thing where you point and they mix it in with it.
For desert....sütlac is pudding, dondurma is ice cream, kek is cake, kunefe is a shredded wheat thingy with cheese and syrup (better than it sounds, our favorite dessert, actually. get it with the clotted cream if you can.) creme karamel is like flan, waffle is crispy with fruit and other toppings.
Drinks...Çay is tea, elma çay is apple tea, nescafe is instant coffee, filter kahve is brewed, Turk kahve is Turkish coffee. Salep is a thick sweet, hot winter drink, a dessert in itself. Ayran is a salty watered down yoghurt. (that's where I draw the line, kind of reminds me of buttermilk)buz is ice, serap is wine,  bira is beer, su is water, suyu is juice, süt is milk.
Then there are what we call the 'point place' where you will see big trays of pretty dishes in the window. You just point at what you want.
Afiyet Olsun! (bon appetit, may it bring you health)

For the longest time, we never saw a supermarket in the old neighborhoods of Istanbul, where you'll probably be staying. And you'll probably not have a kitchen, or even a microwave, though you may have a mini-fridge in your hotel room. The restaurants are very inexpensive, though. And don't forget to pick up a Turkish cookbook to take home for those times when you really miss Istanbul. (*update*...We found a couple grocery stores on the street behind our hotel. For about 25 cents each, we brought home a million packets of lentil soup mix. (ezogelin corba) It's pretty good and easy to make; and one of our favourite snacks in Istanbul.) We like the little convenience stores that dot the neighborhoods. It's good to keep snacks and drinks in your room and these C stores are great for that. They're cheap and you can get paper quarts of cherry (visne) or orange (portakal) juice and alot of the American junk food (candy bars and chips) that you're used to. Some have Turkish baked goods and other fun and interesting things. Most of the pre-packaged stuff has a picture of the product on the package, so try some new stuff! If you need any kind of medicine, look for an eczane. One handy thing to know is that it's the law here that when a drug store closes, it must put up a sign telling you where the nearest 24 hour eczane is located.

Turkish cuisine is fabulous. Don't just stick to the first restaurant you find that you like, because they tend to specialize. One place might make pizza type things (not exclusively, but especially) or do mostly seafood, or feature food from a particular region of Turkey. Some specialize in "Meze" which are appetizers and these can be really fun. They bring out a large tray piled up with little dishes of appetizers. Many people skip the menu and entrees and just sample everything that looks good on the meze tray. Kumkapi neighborhood is famous for it's seafood restaurants. It can be pricey and chaotic, but it's always interesting. In warm weather, the shops open up and put tables outside this pedestrian street. It's one restaurant after another, each with it's own band playing Turkish music. You have to run the gauntlet of hosts trying to drag you into their shop, or entice you in with offers of free Raki with your meal. (check your bill after) We'd just as soon go to the market near Çek Pasaji off Isteklal Caddesi and have midye tava (fried mussels) if we want fish. That's a neat market to walk through anyway, without the tourist trap of Kumkapi. One dish you should check out is lahmacun. It's cheap (around $2) and pretty much the same no matter where you get it. It's just a little thin pizza looking thing with finely ground meat,spices, and some veggies.
Is it hard to be a vegetarian in Istanbul? Not as hard as it is to be a non-smoker. I think I could be a vegetarian in Istanbul easier than I could in the US. So many good eggplant dishes, beans, and the like. One favorite is Çiğ köfte. It was traditionally raw lamb meatballs, but I understand that this is not legal in restaurants anymore. Now, it is made with bulgar, and it's very tasty. Just wrap it up in a lettuce leaf for a quick lunch.
Oh, I could talk about Turkish food all day, but I really encourage you to experiment fearlessly when it comes to food in Istanbul.

Many people asked us why we were going to Istanbul during Ramadan. We've been twice during Ramadan; and though we wouldn't visit most Muslim countries at that time, Istanbul is no problem. Quite the contrary. Every night during the month of Ramadan there is a festival at the Hippodrome. It's very colorful and you'll be able to hear great live music. You can also try Turkish festival foods that you can't get other times of the year. The restaurants are all still open during the day, and we had no trouble getting fed. It would be considerate to avoid walking down the street munching away on something. Also, if you venture out into the country-side, you may find more closed restaurants.
I recommend a book called, "Eat Smart in Turkey" that has a very complete explanation of Turkish Foods. You can find it in our Turku Guide Library.

The area of Fatih mosque has much to offer if you're hungry or figuring you'll be hungry sometime in the next few days. On Wednesdays, there is a large market in the streets with produce, clothing, and household goods for sale. Out one gate of the mosque is an area of shops selling cheese, produce, nuts, honey, fish, and other yummy things. One of our favorite lunchtime fish restaurants is there. Try the karides guveç, a shrimp cassarole with cheese. Make sure you walk around Fatih Camii. In the back is a beautiful cemetary and a turbe, or tomb. Standing there, look up at the walls of the Camii and try to spot the built-in bird houses. There are green parrots living there, very high up.
Heading out of the opposite gate, wander out to find the bronze horse sculpture. There are a few hookah bars in old houses, and at the end of the block, a charming little coffee shop. From here you can see the end of the aquaduct. Follow it downhill on the left side. You will soon run into
Kadınlar Pazarı
 (Lady's Market). It is famous for butcher shops, but there are also many restaurants and shops selling kuruyemiş, or dried/preserved fruits and nuts. If you walk through, and up the hill, you end up at Zeyrekhane, a very nice restaurant in an ancient Byzantine church. We had lunch there one day, looking out over Istanbul; and watching a boy exercising his pigeon flock up on a neighboring rooftop. *sigh* Writing this now, I'm ready to go back.

Mama said 'don't drink the water!'
For the first few trips, I wouldn't even brush my teeth with the tap water in Istanbul, even though an expat friend told us that it was ok. Then, we were there for a whole month, and I said, screw it, and drank plain old tap water out of the apartment. No problem. I still order bottled water at restaurants; though, many of them bring you bottles of water automatically.