Snapshots of Turkey’s Food Scene

For those of you who have been reading my blog or who know me personally, you know that I’ll eat basically anything. From frog legs to pig tongues, durian to fish eyes, if it’s in front of me, it’s in my mouth.

Well, except for maybe a tarantula. I’ll just leave that to my blog friend Pete.

Anyway, I made it a point during my trip to Turkey to eat as much and as wide of a variety as I could. So, from greasy street food to fine dining, I tried everything that Turkey offered me. Luckily, I had been to Turkish restaurants before in the United States, so I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect. Grape leaves, known primarily as “dolmas” to us in the US but to the Turks as “sarma,” are actually one of my favorite foods! I was excited to travel and eat my way through a place that takes full advantage of the wonderful spices and flavors that our world has to offer.

 

The Classics

On our first night in Istanbul, we walked through the streets of Kadiköy looking for a place to eat. We stumbled upon Hado Pub, a small restaurant on the street corner near our hostel, and we ate an all-Turkish dinner consisting of sarma (grape leaf wraps), beef köfte, and some Turkish beers to kick off our week.

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Our first and favorite restaurant in Istanbul.
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A beef dish called “köfte” for dinner on our first night.
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“Sarma” grape leaves – our favorite Turkish treat!

Among some of our other frequent food finds were döner, a spinning hunk of beef or chicken roasted over a grill and served with bread, pide, a Turkish “pizza” of sorts, with melted cheese and fresh vegetables on top, and grilled fish, an Istanbul specialty because of its abundance of fresh fish hailing straight form the sea.

 

The Sweets

Some of the world’s most famous desserts and sweets come from Turkey, namely baklava, a pistachio pastry, and turkish delight, a chewy, flavored candy sold everywhere in Istanbul. Our food adventures in Turkey were no different – there seemed to be a sweets shop on every street corner. Of course, we had to refrain from eating too many sweets, which would probably fill our midsections and drain our bank accounts, but we made sure to take a taste here and there.

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A delicious display of every kind of candy you could imagine near Istiklal Street.

 

The Exotics

On our food tour, we got to try some rather exotic foods. I’ll go into detail a little bit later about this, but there are a couple I just have to share now. Before our actual cooking, we visited a pickle shop. A PICKLE SHOP?! Yes, you guessed it, a site dedicated ENTIRELY to pickles. There were pickled apples, pickled onions, and even pickled pinecones.

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Do you know the pickle man?

We also tasted a local specialty called çig köfte, or “raw meat.” At one point in time, this delicacy was actually made out of raw meat, but since health laws were implemented, locals have begun to make it used a ground nut blend. It tasted like nothing I’ve ever eaten before!

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I can’t believe it’s not meat!

We’ve all had pumpkin spice lattes or pumpkin pie before, but have you ever eaten a pumpkin flower? While in Ortahasir (Cappadocia), we had the opportunity to taste pumpkin flower wraps, which were actually amazing. They tasted very similar to grape leaves, only they looked like chicken wings!

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Looks like chicken, but tastes much better!

 

The Just Plain Strange

Of course, being in foreign countries also enables me to try strange and possibly downright disgusting food. Turkey was no exception!

Among some of our quaint delicacies, and the one I was most excited to tell you about, was lamb brain salad, which was basically a lamb brain on top of a thin bed of salad greens (Maybe raw? Maybe cooked then refrigerated? Marinated in olive oil? …But definitely brain-like). I’m not usually squeamish around food, but one bite of this strange organ threw me for a loop. Slimy? Check. But on top of the slime, it also had the consistency of frozen yogurt and the taste of fish. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my favorite. But, as always, I’m glad I did it.

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My lamb brain salad…something I’m glad I tried once, but never again.

 

Learning to Cook

While in Istanbul, I had the amazing opportunity to take a Turkish cooking class with Oguz from Istanbul Cooking School. I’d never taken a cooking class before, but after spending an afternoon and evening with Oguz and the rest of my class, I decided I needed to take more.

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Oguz, our trusty cooking instructor, teaching us about fish eggs!

The afternoon started with a quick tour around the Çiçek Pasajı, or Flower Passage, a side street near Taksim with amazing street food, fresh produce, and any kind of specialty food store you could imagine. Here, we picked up our ingredients for the evening. Next, we went to Oguz’s kitchen, where we all donned colored aprons and cooked a 5-course meal, including a cracked wheat dish called bulgur and an eggplant salad.

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The classmates listening intently…
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Peeling chickpeas, an arduous task before making our delicious hummus!

Our group consisted of two English girls, Rafael and me, and about 10 Italians – definitely making for an interesting and eclectic class environment. We finished up the night with good wine, new friends from all over the world, and engaging conversation as we munched on our freshly-cooked meals. It was a wonderful way to top off my culinary experience in Turkey!

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The finished product!
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The pepper ‘stache. It’s a good look for me, isn’t it?

Now that I’m back at home, I’m definitely missing the delicious Turkish food from our trip. Oh well, guess that means I’ll have to hop over there again sometime soon!

*Special thanks to Istanbul Cooking School for partnering with us for this tour. As always, all opinions expressed here (and everywhere on The Kay Days) are strictly my own.

What was your most recent interesting food experience? Share your story in the comments!

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Comments

  1. says

    What a great food experience you had in Turkey! Where did you have the lamb brain salad? It’s not a very typical Turkish dish as far as I thought so I’m really surprised about that! You are really brave, I would never have been able to try it!

  2. says

    I tried frog legs for the first time when I was in France last year. I am not a seafood person and so the fishy tasting meal was not up my alley but I am glad I tried it. However I think it would have helped a bit if the frog legs were not in the shape as though they had been pulled right out of the frog. That lambs brain, i am not sure if I could eat that because it looks too much like a brain and I have biology flashbacks to dissecting pigs lol but good for you for trying it!

    • Kay says

      Yeah, frog legs were strange to eat, but I have to say the brain was stranger! Glad I tried it but it definitely wasn’t my favorite, hehe

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing!! Every time I read anything about the food in Istanbul, I’m just more and more excited to be going this summer. But! I don’t think I can eat lamb brain like you! I’m impressed!

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