As George Bernard Shaw said ‘there is no sincerer love then the love of food’.
Finding myself in Istanbul, a city of many wonders…Bustling markets to explore, many mezze dishes, tipples and tempting treats to taste, I have to say (not for the first time) that I totally and utterly agreed with him! True the mosques, culture and art of the city are astounding, but there is nothing like a full plate of richly creamed houmous, or a platter piled high of vine leaves encapsulating the most delicately balanced spiced red rice, or tender chargrilled lamb chops weeping their juicy sweet liquor, to put a smile on your face.
I might dare to say that this magical place is home to some of the best food ever to pass my lips. To call it a mecca of inspiration to any food writier, eater or passionate cook would be an understatement. If you haven’t yet visited, I implore you to do so. If you love food as much as George and I, you will certainly enjoy yourselves.
On our second day in the city I awoke, flinging the covers of the bed in my beautiful hotel suite in the Pera Palace, like kid on christmas, desperate to get out and soak up more of the colours and inspiration the city had to offer. The first day was only a taste that had left me wanting more… Excitingly we had rather a full day planned, beginning with a moment of mosque appreciation and a little bit of time to shop the magical markets…
Cheese string accessorising…
Lead by our esteemed tour guide, the food writer, Aylin Oney Tan, we were escorted between stall and vendors of the bazaar with speed and precision. As a local and well researched foodie, she knew well the shops to pop into and the things we had to try.
Below I have included a list of some of the places we visited in the spice market, also the best restaurants for a darn good mezze feeding. These are a selection of snaps from day two.
In the Ucuzcular Baharat spice shop we were all covered in the scent of aphrodesiac. Its a must for any women shopping in a market. It practically does the haggling for you. A few squirts of this mighty stuff and we were getting freebies right, left and centre. I left with a litre of it (naturally)
Local vendor selling sesame crusted pretzels.
Amazing almond cookies at the Pandeli Restaurant
Our delicious lunch at Nar Restaurant
Rice stuffed courgette flowers
My plate of mixed mezze : Including tabbouleh, houmous, a stuffed courgette flower, lamb stuffed red pepper, beetroot and cucumber yoghurt dip, braised fennel and broad beans marinated in olive oil and dill.
Tomato and onion salad with nut crusted breadcrumbs
Minced lamb stuffed quince
After lunch we headed over to Murat Bozok’s kitchen for a little change of scenery, swapping our bibbed napkins for aprons. Esteemed chef, Murat (who is one of the judges of Turkish masterchef) was at hand to teach us a few tricks and techniques to make some of Turkey’s favourite dishes. Including a faultless classic, creamy houmous and a sublime, yet simple dish of sweet and sour bulgur with seared calimari and pomegranate molasses.
It was lovely to be back in the kitchen working, after being so well fed this trip. I felt hugely inspired and fortunate to cook with him. I have certainly taken some new inspirations away from this trip for the next book, that is for sure.
Things to do/ Restaurants to visit in Istanbul
Tapasuma – Located on the asian side of Bosporus straight, (Çengelköy shore) Tapasuma is the restaurant attached to the hotel ‘Sumahan on the water’ The food is a twist on inventive Turkish with a hint of the mediterranean. My favourite item was part of the cold mezze. Spiced bulgur wrapped in swiss chard (see here for the picture)
Duble Mezze – A trendy spot to dine, at the top of the Palazzo Donizetti Hotel. It has amazing views of the city. They offer an amazing selection of traditional turkish plates with an innovate, contemporary twist. Some of my favourite dishes were the sea bass marinated in mustard seeds, the chargrilled octopus and the smoked aubergine dip with sun dried tomato puree and cream cheese. It is certainly a great date night spot, it was also filled with a rather lively crowd when we went. There was dancing on chairs and all.
Nar Restaurant – Perched on top of a beautiful clothing and homeware store, Nar is restaurant specialising in natural and regional Anatolian speciality food. With buffet style serving, you can help yourself to any number of dishes. Some of the more spectacular was the quince stuffed with spiced lamb and raisins and their courgette fritters. (See photos above)
In the Bazaar
Pandeli Restaurant – Located in the bazaar, this is a place that the serve traditional Turkish food, nothing contemporary. Only true authentic dishes. An amazing rustic atmosphere and some of the best almond cookies I have ever tasted (see photo above)
Kankurtaran – One of the oldest shops in the spice bazaar, serving wonderful fresh cheeses, olives, cured meats and fish. One of the more obscure things we tried was a salted cured roe, which they sell in long hardened pieces. It looks a little like resin and is best sliced and eaten on toast with labneh, or cream cheese.
Fez Cafe – The place to try traditional drink, Salep. A creamy hot drink made from the root of orchids. I have to say I wasn’t much a fan of this, I did however love the refreshing juices they offered. The apple, lime, ginger, cucumber and greens was so refreshing after a morning of shopping.
Ucuzcular Baharat Spice Shop – It is a family run spice shop, founded in 1980. They sell and array of wonderful spices, seeds, special spice blends, medical plants, essential oils, hair and skin care oils, herbalist products and also wonderful natural perfumes. If you need some medical supplies, then you can go the DME Supply USA website.
Murat Bazok’s Cooking School – We had the joy of being taught to cook a couple of traditional dishes by One of the judges of Turkish Masterchef, Murat Bazok. His cooking school offers a wide range of classes, from one off to more advanced prolonged courses. If you fancy learning to make some incredible turkish food, this is the place to come.