There’s a lot to put on paper about my culinary journey to the most mesmerizing place “Istanbul”. Let me share with you all about my lifetime experience which was indeed a dream come true!!!! I knew that the Chef Instinct in me is gonna take me to the Foodssss, but I thought before I begin with that let me know somethings that are very popular in Istanbul.
Evil Eye” or the Nazar Boncuk
“Evil Eye” or the Nazar Boncuk- One eccentric item to buy is an Evil Eye (Amulet), it is believed you need it to prevent bad things from happening to you. The famous little magic stone “Evil Eye” or the Nazar Boncuk (pronounced as “bon-dschuk”) wards off evil. The Chef in me took me on a culinary trail….
The Spice Bazaar (Turkish: Mısır Çarşısı, meaning Egyptian Bazaar) in Istanbul
First I headed to the Grand Bazaar which has 3,000 and above shops containing all kinds of everything, in particular silver and gold, ceramics, glassware, leather, metal wares, Turkish lamps, pashminas and carpets. At the Grand bazaar, I saw people chilling out smoking a Nargile pipe, which are said to relax you without the harmful effects of cigarettes and tobacco. They are usually flavoured with apple, grapes, cherries and even cappuccino!!!! One of the things that I admired the most as a Chef was the Spice Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar (Turkish: Mısır Çarşısı, meaning Egyptian Bazaar) in Istanbul, Turkey is one of the prime bazaars in the city, is the place with a fresh supply of spices (baharat) and herbs, over the years other edibles were added, such as nuts (kuruyemiş), honeycomb (petekbal), Turkish delight (lokum), dried fruit and vegetables (kuru meyve ve sebze), mature hard Turkish cheese (eski kaşar), caviar and smoked or dried beef (pastırma).It is the second largest covered shopping complex in Istanbul after the Grand Bazaar. As I am from a culinary background I believe that Organoleptic sensory organs such as eyes-for appearance, nose- for aroma, tongue- for taste, ears- to hear the crackling sound, and touch- to feel the texture ,play a major role in preparing, serving and eating food. The aroma as I entered the spice bazaar was truly intoxicating. My nostrils immediately picked up the prodigious aroma coming from the hundreds of spices on sale. In short the Spice Bazaar is a must stop place for foodies who want to carry home memories of this magnificent place. For an ardent tea lover like me, I had the great opportunity to choose from the various tea flavours. And most shop owners gave a lot of small treats to taste before I actually bought them, so that I could actually choose the best ones among the rest.
Turkish coffee (Türk Kahvesi)
Turkish coffee (Türk Kahvesi) There is an old saying about this coffee which goes like this. “Bir fincan kahvenin kırk yıl hatırı vardır” meaning that if one has been offered a demitasse of coffee, he is obliged for forty years to the one who offered the coffee. It means that the person who offers the coffee is to be respected, honored and remembered for a long time for the sake of his/ her coffee offering. Turkish coffee is made of finely pulverized roasted coffee beans, roasted to various degrees and duration as per the taste of the person consuming it. Coffee is sold either as green, or roasted beans or in pulverized form in small shops called “Kuru Yemişçi” which means a person who sells all kinds of nuts. In old houses a brass-made hand manipulated coffee mill would be used to pulverize the coffee beans. Turkish coffee is prepared in 4 ways. “Az Şekerli” means coffee has little sugar about ½ teaspoon. “Orta Şekerli” means coffee has standard amount of sugar 1 teaspoon. “Çok Şekerli” means coffee has more sugar than enough which is 1 ½ teaspoons. “Sade Kahve” means black coffee, without sugar. Turkish coffee is served in demitasses made of porcelain. Coffee is served for guests with “Lokum” (Turkish Delights). It is served usually during midday or following a lunch or dinner.
Turkish Tea (Çay)
Turkish Tea (Çay) The sight of the çaycı (Chah-yee-juh, tea-waiter) carrying a tray of glasses to thirsty, caffeine-craving tea-drinkers is one of the most common sights I saw in Istanbul. Having fresh, hot tea always available everywhere is one of life's splendid little luxuries in Istanbul. In Grand bazaar, all I could see around me were hanging trays with glasses of Çays being taken from one shop to the other. Had the opportunity to drink that in the Grand bazaar and also the Topkapi Sarayi Konyali Lokantasi restaurant. Tea is big in Turkey. Turks drink it all day long for its taste, but also offer it as a token of hospitality. Turks evolved their own way of making and drinking the black tea (Çay in Turkish ), which became a way of life for their culture. Wherever you go in Istanbul, tea or coffee will be offered as a sign of friendship and hospitality, anywhere and anytime, before or after any meal. Turkish tea: hot, fragrant, bracing, and available everywhere, all the time in Istanbul, Turkey. Traditionally, Turkish tea is brewed samovar-style, with a small pot of very strong tea kept hot atop a larger vessel of boiling water. Pour a small amount of strong tea into a little tulip-shaped glass and cut it to the desired strength with hot water. Turks usually add cube sugar (never milk or lemon, although you can often get milk or lemon if asked for) Order your tea açık (ah-CHUK, “open,” weak), or koyu(koh-YOO, dark, strong) as you like, or just order çay and it will come normal strength. In some restaurants and pastry-shops you can order aduble çay (DOOB-leh, double tea): it comes in a water glass. If you want caffeine free tea then , try these: Ada Çay: sage tea, one of several popular herbal infusions (bitki çayları, BEET-kee chah-yee-lah-ruh) Ihlamur: linden-flower tea (mostly in winter) (UHH-la-moor) Elma Çay: apple "tea," like hot apple juice, mostly sugar (EHL-mah chah-yee)
Baklava is a must to taste during your stay in Istanbul. The recipe may sound too easy to be true: chopped nuts are spread in between the phyllo (yufka) layers, dressed with butter, baked and sweetened with syrup or honey. But the excellence depends on the quality of the flour, the thinness of the dough (phyllo) and the proportion of the syrup. As a Chef I profoundly believe that, a Baklava is said to be well- made when it consists 02 S’s, 01 T & 01 D: Sound – A crackling sound is what you should hear when you stick your fork into it. If you don’t hear it, then it is not fresh. Smell – The creamy fresh butter smell is what you should sense. Taste – Sweet. Digestion – In case you have heartburn after your baklava consumption, it means the ingredients were not of good quality.
Simit in Turkish also known as ‘Turkish Bagel ‘in the world.
In Istanbul, and also throughout Turkey, on or near street corners, street vendors sell a curious bun, the simit, ring-shaped circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds. who either have them on a trolley or carry them in a tray on their head. Street merchants generally advertise simit as fresh (Taze simit! /Taze gevrek!) Since they are baked throughout the day and drinking Turkish tea with simit is traditional in Turkish culture. Simit is generally served plain, or for breakfast with tea, jelly, jam or cheese. Simit comprises of flour, water, salt and yeast, then the snack is covered with sesame seeds and is enjoyed by natives as well as tourists who cherish eating it with a very hot tea. It is an economical and cheap snack that tickles your taste buds when you are keen to have a small delicious bite, it may be eaten plain, with olives or with a little Cheese.
Turkish Delights It is a soft type of sweet has a satin-smooth texture and belongs to a family of confectionaries based on a gel of starch and sugar and comes in a myriad of colors, shapes, and enchanting flavors. Superior varieties consists largely of chopped dates, pistachio nuts, and hazelnuts or walnuts bound by the gel; traditional varieties are mostly gel, generally flavored with rosewater, orange and lemon. The confectionary is often packaged and eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar, desiccated coconut, or powdered cream of tartar, to prevent sticking and clinging.
Roasted Water Chestnuts (kestane)
Other common flavors include rosewater, cinnamon, cardamom and mint. Roasted Water Chestnuts (kestane) Street vendors in Istanbul sold water chestnuts (kestane) roasted in the style of a barbecue, in winter time on their push carts especially around the popular Sultanahmet Square and in front of Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace.
Döner Kebab In spite of me being a pure vegetarian, the Chef in me tasted the Döner Kebab through my Eyes- for appearance, Nose- for its aroma and ears- hearing it roast and did I tell you???? With my tongue- for taste!!!! . The first Döner kebabs were developed in Turkey and this most famous Kebab literally means “rotating Kebab” in Turkish. Meat is cooked on vertical rotisserie, normally lamb but also a mixture of veal or beef with these, or sometimes chicken. Authentic Turkish döner is made from lamb; regardless, mostly beef or a mix of beef and lamb is used in Europe.
Some of the foods and drinks that I relished were: Topkapi Sarayi Konyali Lokantasi is one of a very few and very expensive restaurants preserving the Ottoman tradition of şerbets, drinks made from water, sugar, fruits and flower petals, often with delicate spicing as well, and symbolized by the Ottoman Palace Şerbet, prepared from a complex secret recipe.
I explored something new, Cocktail Food “Foodtails”. Ever had a wonderful dish in the flavor of a cocktail? The Mövenpick Hotel in Istanbul had this offering innovative dishes that are a blend of famous cocktails and food. One can try the foodtails on the summer terrace of BarAdoX. Souvenirs that I took back for my family and friends were the Spices, Flavoured Tea leaves, Amulets, Turkish delights, Pashminas and along with them so many treasured memories. Well I want to tell all my readers that there are so many more delicacies in Istanbul, which I did not get an opportunity to taste, as my stay in Istanbul was short. Sadly, it was my time to say goodbye to Istanbul. But what made me happy was that I have had the most wonderful and commemorative culinary experience in Istanbul. Lots more to explore!!!!!
With Culinary Regards, Chef (Mrs.) Reetu Uday Kugaji