Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baklava Heaven and other Turkish Treats

One of our favorite parts about traveling is eating the local cuisine when we are visiting a new place. Our time in Istanbul was no exception to this. Every meal we ate while we were there was better than the one before! The food was unexpectedly EXCELLENT and even the "street food" was tremendous. I am still stuffed just thinking about all of the baklava (and the food) we ate while we were there....

For perhaps a century, fishermen brought their catch from the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul's Galata Bridge for sale. A few enterprising boatmen had an idea: why not cook the fish right on the boat and offer it for sale ready-to-eat? They built grills and fryers right in their boats, built fires in them, grilled fish fillets, stuffed them in half a loaf of bread, and handed from the boat to thousands of hungry, thrifty Istanbullus every day.
Balik ekmek! Balik ekmek! They shouted. (Fish in bread! Fish in bread!)
Then came Turkey's aspiration to join the European Union, and such old-fashioned, romantic, but perhaps unsanitary practices were outlawed. Istanbul's newspapers were filled with requiems for the Galata Bridge fish sandwich, paeans to its flavor, nutritional value, cheapness, and tradition. A part of Istanbul's age-old culture died. Luckily, the tradition did NOT die, and although the boats-with-fires-in-them are long gone, Istanbul fish sandwiches are still 
being served daily at little restaurants beneath the Galata Bridge. We headed straight to these boats on our first evening in Istanbul to try these fish sandwiches we had read about in advance. They did not disappoint! 
The boats lined up beneath the Galata Bridge all serving fish in bread sandwiches to customers. 
The "chefs" inside the boat cook up the fish and then just hand over the sandwich to the land side. 
The fish cooking on the griddle (boat rocking in the water all the while!) and the man handing over the sandwich to the land side, wrapped in paper. 
We went back to the fish sandwich area on another day over the weekend and the stands were packed with locals and tourists. 
Inside the tent areas next to the boats are small areas for customers to sit and enjoy their fish sandwich. So, we pulled up two little stools and began to salt our fish sandwiches. 
The fish sandwich with some lettuce and chopped onions, as served to us. There were only a few bones in the sandwich and it was pretty tasty. 
Given the proximity of Istanbul on the sea, seafood was readily available....
The next evening we had dinner at this lovely seafood restaurant on the Bosporus, called Mavi Balik - http://www.mavibalik.com/. Scott's colleague who heads up their Turkey office hosted us for dinner and it was incredibly delicious. I wish I had been able to take a photo of the fish he ordered - a sea bass encrusted in a 5 inch (or more) salt casing, and then as the fish was brought to our table, it was set on fire for a stunning presentation. Given that this restaurant was quite classy, a photo probably would not have been most appropriate at that point in time....Not only was the food good, but the view was spectacular as well. 

The sweets in Turkey were heavenly. In fact, I referred to one sweet shop there as my own "Baklava Heaven." The history of baklava is not well-documented; although it has been claimed by many ethnic groups, the best evidence is that it is of Central Asian Turkic origin, with its current form being developed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace. The finest baklava in Istanbul is known to be a place called Karaköy Güllüoğlu for an authentic baklava experience. Located a stone’s throw from the Bosphorus, this baklava emporium has been catering to Istanbul sweet tooths since 1949, serving than a dozen different kinds of phyllo-based sweets, none of them resembling the cardboard-like, past-its-prime version of baklava that is often dished out outside the Middle East.
Outside Baklava Heaven (aka Karaköy Güllüoğlu).
On the first visit to heaven, we purchased a box of mixed sweets....
All of the sweets inside the box. The chocolate baklava was a good twist on the traditional, but my favorite was the pure walnut baklava.
Inside the baklava emporium, customers wait to be served so they can take away baklava and other sweets.
Choices, choices....
Weighing my second selection of just walnut baklava and chocolate baklava....
Packaging up my goodies in a to go bag! 
The trays of baklava sitting in the MANY cases in the store....
One full tray can't last long when it tastes that good! 
This baklava tower is not from the same store that I called "baklava heaven" but it was pretty neat to see this man pouring honey all over the baklava rolls in the window of the pastry shop. 
The Street Food: Vendors in their red & white carts are dotted every ten to twenty steps throughout Istanbul, most especially in the old city area. They sell roasted corn, chestnuts, and simit bread which seem to be consumed by locals and tourists alike. 
The corn vendor walking down the street. 
One stand selling both roasted chestnuts and corn. 
The simit bread (round, sesame seed topped bread snack) stacks ready to be sold. 
The Markets - The Spice Bazaar sold lots of spices and also quite a few food treats. Turkish Delight (according to Wikipedia) - is a confection made from starch and sugar. It is often flavored with rosewatermastic or lemon; rosewater gives it a characteristic pale pink color. It has a soft, jelly-like and sometimes sticky consistency, and is often packaged and eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar or copra to prevent clinging. Some types contain small nut pieces, usually pistachiohazelnut or walnut. It was sold everywhere we turned in Istanbul. After trying a few kinds for the fist time, I decided that I did not care for the rosewater kind, but did like the pistachio logs. 
Turkish delight and other sweets on display inside the Spice Bazaar. 
Huge mounds of turkish delight! 
Not only did the markets sell sweets, but they also sold meats and cheeses and fish....
Sheep's stomach, anyone? GROSS! It is sold at the meat markets in Turkey and is used as an ingredient in some stews there....
Or how about sheep feet? Those are sold too! 
Or better yet, sheep cheese that is being stored inside a goat's skin as seen above...
So many varities of FETA cheese....I had no idea they made so many kinds. 
Another local cheese - string cheese!
A local fish whose season is right now. 
More fish and seafood for sale. The seafood was all so fresh! 

One other food item we sought out on this trip was a burger known as a "wet" burger (or Islak Burger in Turkish). I had read about these burgers online from an article talking about street food in Istanbul. Then, another American friend who visited Istanbul recently told me about these burgers by saying "I can't describe it other than a white castle slider on steriods." Oh, how correct she was! Soggy burgers piled up in a plastic case in a little crowded food stand in Taksim square....for 2 lira (about 1 Euro, or $1.50), we had the best lunch of our trip at this little place. We ate these burgers in the middle of the day before any liquor consumption, so I can only imagine what this place looks like in the late hours of the night, just as we knew the Weiner Circle in Chicago to be a favorite haunt at that hour....     
There are a few of the food "bays" that sell these wet burgers, but according to our guide with us in Istanbul, this place - Kizilkayalar  - is the most famous.    
Make no mistake, the burger is wet, having been doused by an oily, tomato-based sauce before incubating in a glass-lined burger hamam.  

And within a few minutes, our burgers were quickly and successfully demolished
The Kebab or kebap is ubiquitous in Istanbul. It can be found on every corner and on every menu in the city. The doner, is basically that big round stack of unidentifiable meat spinning vertically in the window of the store. Itís no accident that you can see it from the street. That chunk of oozing fat and crunchy wonder is supposed to make your mouth start watering. There are a million ways to serve it, the most basic being between a sandwich roll. 
A kebab shop on a busy street corner. 
A local lady ordering a kebab sandwich, with the lamb meat roasting here. 
The chicken doner being shaved for sandwich filling. 
We spent two days touring Istanbul with a lovely local Turkish guide. When she found out I was so enthralled with all of the local foods, she pointed out this local patisserie famous for their profiteroles. So, one afternoon during our stay we returned to this spot to taste the profiteroles for ourselves.
The patisserie oustide....
Upon entering the narrow patisserie, the cases display the hundreds of profiteroles in their trays. 
A man behind the counter spends his days dishing out individually sized portions of profiteroles on plates, and then he douses them in chocolate sauce. They sit on the counter waiting for customers, and the plates of sweets are quickly swooped up by customers as soon as they enter the shop. 
Once we picked up our plate, we took a seat at a small table along the side of the shop. 

Scott had about one bite of this custard filled profiterole, and I ate the rest of the entire plate. I enjoyed every last bite and then felt like I could roll out of the store!!
And then we ate quite a few appetizers and snacks along the way.....
A snack one afternoon of a Su böreği which in Turkish cuisine is boiled dough layers of phyllo dough with cheese.
Some type of phyllo dough rolls filled with ground meat....tasty. 
Turkish bread: Lavash with sesame seeds on top, served warm. Lavash is also sold in the US, although there it is a bread significantly thinner than this one.
Turkish Pizza - Lahmacun. It is basically known as meat with dough - probably some type of lamb meat. Deliciously thin and tasty
We ate dinner at a restaurant called The Han which was interesting...we sat on pillows on the floor and watched this lady in the front of the restaurant roll turkish pancakes all evening. The restaurant was packed but frankly it was probably some kind of tourist trap. None-the-less the pancakes were of interest so we tried one for an appetizer. 
If you have the chance to go to Turkey to eat their food, email me for my food order first!


LCarter said...

What a great place to travel! The pictures of the fish boats along the Balata Bridge are so neat. The baklava tower... makes me hungry... the sheep feet... not so much! We'll have to put Istanbul on our list!!!

LCarter said...

Oops I meant Galata Bridge! I think I threw that extra "B" in there bc I was thinking about the baklava!!!

Unknown said...

I have been keeping up with your blog since you left, checking it from time to time to check out your adventures! I must comment on the Turkey post. I have been to Turkey and loved it! I loved all the pictures you posted brought back such great memories! Take care, Jo-El

Unknown said...

OMG this looks fabulous! I am looking through the photos with Ihsan! We were drooling! :) Miss you guys!

Kulsum said...

I had been there 2 months back and what great memories this has bought back.
Unfortunately for me, I never came around posting my travel, which
I think I should now, as this country has become one of my favorites. Oh and I'm making my mind up on making the wet burger at home.