Food in Turkey is an amalgamation of the Asia and the Europe. While the middle eastern tradition brings in the koftas and the curries in various meats, the European cuisine brings in the salads and the preserved vegetables and cheeses.
The riverside journey
In Turkey, the journey begins with food and ends with it. Every new place brings in a new flavour and a new colour to the same old greens and grains. Mine started the moment I touched down at Ataturk airport. I was taken to this waterfront place by the Bosphorus called Eminonu. It was quiet highly breezy and the chilling wind from the riverbed made me hungry, suddenly I was feeling more hungry than jetlagged. On the Bosphorus waterfront promenade next to the bridge there are small carts selling a drink in plastic glasses stuffed with vegetables. Being curious I picked up one and it turned out to be pickled vegetables called karışık turşu. While enjoying my very sour drink I looked up to find many locals angling across the Galata Bridge, seems like a national past time in here. Slightly higher on the sour side, this roadside drink is not for the mild hearted but it’s very refreshing specially you have it with the fish and bread served on the boats anchored in the waters. It’s called ‘Fish in Bread’ and you know its famous because this place is crowded even on a weekday afternoon.
‘Balık ekmek’ shout the people from the boats where they grill the fish stored in a tank dipped in the river water. Once grilled the fish fillets are stuffed inside a long bread with some lettuce tomato salad and they taste crisp outside and perfectly juicy fish inside.
Post lunch as we walked down towards the city we noticed carts frying dough balls in hot oil. The balls were then dipped in syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon powder. ‘Lokma’, this sweet Turkish doughnut is best when eaten hot off the fryer. Dripping sweet and crisp on top while melting soft in the core, this dumpling is found everywhere in the city but best eaten while the chilling breeze hits you from the riverfront.
What vegetarians eat
Almost all their meals are accompanied by various pickled vegetables. Okra, cabbage, brinjal… every vegetable is pickled with spices and they almost taste like cooked vegetables in gravy. Brinjal specially is used in various preparations with meat and also as preserved as pickles with variety of spice. So a vegetarian might not need to touch any meat and yet have a fulfilling meal with just the pickles and salads they have.
Eat like a local
Lokantasi, a local food centre serving traditional dishes from the Turkish and Ottoman cuisine, is the best place to try the country’s food. In local lokantasi means restaurants for shopkeepers and tradesmen. There are long winding counters lining the place starting with soups salads and ending with desert. You can slide your tray across them as the servers put the dish you point at, on your tray. Generally they have a few soups and then at least 10-11 varieties of salad and ends with 4-5 types of desert. The main course is in the form of koftas, kebabs and curries. And side orders is made of rice or pilaf. There’s no biryani on offer but the lamb pilaf served is looks almost like a biryani but tastes much different. Breads of different shapes and sizes are served complimentary all across the country. Karakoy Lokantasi on the Asian side is one of the best costs is on the higher side. The one at Taksim Square is more basic but even then it’s a treat for a first time traveller and is much cheaper.
After food cravings
Sweets come in fried and baked varieties both. Forget the Baklava and the Turkish delights but try the other local sweets. Try Ekmek kadayıfı, a custard which resembles bread pudding but softer. Or the ‘Kazandibi’ which is a black bottomed custard.. looks burnt on one side but its perfectly caramalised and is a sticky custard.
Even Turkish ice cream or dondurma also comes in various flavours. The fun lies in buying the ice cream because of the way they make and hand it over to the customer.
Drinks all day long
The Turkish finish all their meals with ‘Turkish Chai’ which is a black dark tea drunk without sugar and milk. It can be drunk in small quantities all day long. Even the Turkish coffee is dark and black and has residue so you cannot finish the whole cup as the coffee sediments settle at the bottom.
Milk and cheese galore
Milk and cheese are an important part of Turkish meal. Cheese shops in the market are as big as meat shops there. Curd churned with salt in water known as ‘ayran’ is the most favoured summer drink in hotter regions. Cheese is a part of the daily breakfast. Most of the cheese or Beyaz peynir, sold in their daily market is not long stay and hence has to be consumed fresh. Much like feta cheese, its either eaten as part of salad or put in food like Borek or Menemen(scrambled egg).