With one foot firmly grounded in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul personifies “East Meets West”. It’s the food of Istanbul that showcases its brilliant blend of culture like no other.
The average traveller can easily get stuck on the Kebab, Turkish Breakfast and Baklava route, but once you venture out of this “safe” zone you’ll find a huge range of alternatives catering to every budget.
Ali Baba Lokantasi
Across the road from the Suleymaniye Mosque, is Ali Baba Lokantasi (Restaurant) a popular hangout spot for the locals and university students. Eat a meal there, as they are famous for their Kuru Fasulye (butter beans in a tomato and red pepper gravy, and, if you dare, topped generously with chilies). The Kuru Fasulye are served with buttered rice and pickles. Extremely affordable at only about £5-6 per person. Combine with a visit to the Suleymaniye Mosque close by, where you’ll find a perfect blend of serenity, beauty and an undercurrent of activity.
The ideal place to unwind as the evening lights come on and to admire the sights donning a different, more ethereal garb, is Marhaba Café, located in a sunken courtyard next to the Blue Mosque.
Great Service, reasonably-priced, delicious food, traditional Hookah and live music all rolled into one; a wonderful place to experience the laid back Turkish life style. Try the hookah and the rose tea. If you strike up a conversation with the friendly staff, there may even be a cup or two gratis. Every evening between 19:00-20:00 there are Whirling Dervish Ceremonies (a form of physically active meditation and a highly esteemed spiritual journey). For a pre-dinner snack, try the Soslu Patilican: fried vegetables in a tomato sauce, add Hookah and a few cups of tea and it comes to about £10-12 per person.
The Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Market, is the centre of spice trade in Istanbul and is the best place to get bargain souvenirs. A short walk away is Hamdi Restaurant, where I had one of the best meals in Istanbul. It’s a big claim to make but I am sure Hamdi will not disappoint.
…views of the Galata Bridge…
Be sure to make a reservation well in advance because this place is extremely popular. For the mezze (Cold Dishes, served like starters) try the Haydari (yoghurt, mint, and garlic), the Soslu Patlican (fried vegetables in a tomato sauce) and the Patlican Salata (aubergine salad with yoghurt). With the main course you are spoilt for choice, but I recommend the Iskander Kebab (kebab with yoghurt) and the Patilican Kebab (aubergine pieces stuffed with kebab). If you are on a budget, then Hamdi is perhaps best avoided, but if you are allowing yourself to splurge (£25-30 per person) let it be here. When reserving a table request one by the window, for views of the Galata Bridge, the busy Eminonu area just below and the Golden Horn.
The beauty of Istanbul is that it is a constant discovery. No matter how long you’re there, there will be new sights to uncover, new dishes to try and new lokantasis to visit. It’s easy to get distracted, forget planned itineraries and just head where your senses lead you. And really, that is the best way to do it.