Kiwi food YouTubers Thomas & Sheena Southam are on an eternal quest to find the most delicious local food the world has to offer. This week, they explore the varied delights of the Turkish capital.
Romantic, energetic, colourful, generous . . . there aren't enough words to describe how exhilarating Istanbul is. Once you hit the streets of this vibrant metropolis you'll want to spend every waking moment exploring, eating and people-watching. There is so much to discover: buildings that have stood since the Middle Ages, ferries to take you from Europe to Asia in a scant 15 minutes and the cuisine - oh my god, the cuisine. It will blow your mind. Here are our top three Turkish food experiences you can't miss.
1. Turkish breakfast at Van Kahvaltı Evi
You'll be gob-smacked by the fresh produce in Turkey. Take a wander through a local market and you'll leave laden with heavy, plump figs, gleaming red tomatoes and bunches of fragrant herbs, all at a steal. It not only looks good but tastes phenomenal and you really don't need to do much to it to create a mind-blowing meal. Enter the Turkish breakfast: Basically, take all manner of delicious produce and artisanal products and pop it on a plate, provide copious amounts of cay (tea) and let 'em at it.
Eat at Van Kahvaltı Evi: this Kurdish-style breakfast salon knows how to put on a morning spread to remember. Plates - to name but a few - of fresh tomato and cucumber, piles of olives, four styles of local cheese, sour cherry jam, freshly baked bread, kavut (a wheat and walnut spread) and of course, bal kaymak (clotted cream) and runny honey. The discovery of bal kaymak has ruined us for life. It doesn't get much better than warm bread dolloped with rich cream and sweet honey fresh from the comb. It's quite simply magic.
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Van Kahvaltı Evi, Kılıcali Paşa Mahallesi, Defterdar Ykş. 52/A, 34425 Beyoglu, İstanbul. Open daily 8am-5pm.
2. Doner Kebab at Karadeniz Doner Asım Usta
Kebabs are king in Turkey and there is an array of different types on which to gorge. Just quickly, a kebab is meat fashioned on to a skewer and then grilled - often over charcoal. When you're in Istanbul, what's most familiar to Kiwis is probably the doner kebab: layer upon layer of marinated meat (lamb, beef, often both, or chicken) that's stacked on to a skewer and roasted on a vertical spit. It should be noted: what Kiwis know as a doner kebab is nothing like the doner kebab in Turkey. Forget the lashings of garlic yoghurt and sweet chilli sauce - and there's definitely no hummus nor salad - they keep it really simple here. For an impressive doner experience head to Karadeniz Doner Asım Usta. There's only one word to describe the spectacle that is the doner kebab here: behemoth. The stack of meat is quite frankly frightening in size. But they sell out every day. After one taste of this kebab you'll realise why. A house-made pide is stuffed with thin slices of juicy meat, a couple of slices of tomato, a gherkin and a chilli. No sauce, you say? It doesn't need it. The meat is flavoursome and moist, the tomato fresh and sweet and the bread pleasantly chewy. We guarantee you'll make a return visit.
Karadeniz Doner Asım Usta, Sinanpasa Mahallesi, Mumcu Bakkal Sokak No:6, 34353 Besiktaş, İstanbul. Open Monday to Saturday 10:30am-5pm.
3. Balık ekmek at Emin Usta's stall
Balık ekmek, which literally translates to fish bread, is one of Istanbul's iconic street foods. This fish sandwich can be easily found at any one of the boats moored by the Galata bridge. Don't go there, you can do so much better. Instead, hunt down Emin Usta. He sets up in front of an empty, single car park down a narrow street lined with hardware stores. You'll find him casually flipping thick fillets of mackerel while stuffing wraps full of fresh lettuce, tomato and parsley. Once ready, in goes the fish, a couple of squirts of lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. He rolls up the parcel, showers an abundance of spice on to the wrap and swipes his secret sauce with a paintbrush over the top before one final press on to the grill. We once waited an hour for this sandwich despite there being only a handful of hungry customers. Emin Usta takes his sweet time, confident that his sandwich is worth the wait. And god, is it worth the wait? One bite of this beauty and you'll be hooked. The vegetables and herbs burst with flavour, the fish is moist and meaty and the tangy sweetness of the pomegranate molasses brings it all together. Devour it down by the water as you watch the ferries come and go. It'll be one of the best things you eat in Istanbul.
Emin Usta, Arap Cami Mahallesi, Makaracılar Cd. No:17, 34421 Beyoglu, İstanbul. Open daily from midday to 11pm.