When traveling anywhere, it’s always important for me to at least try the local cuisine. In all honesty, this has always been my weakness: while I’ve always been very keen on being an adventurer, I’m not the most adventurous eater. I do enjoy a wide variety of food, but if I simply don’t think something looks appetizing, I won’t eat it. I was brought up on what I consider to be the best food in the world (thanks, Chef Mom!), and hail from a city with lots of good choices. For that reason, you’ll never stop hearing me complain about how much I dislike Spanish food in general. Turkish food, however, is delightful, and I’m not just talking about the sweets.
Before coming to Istanbul, I knew a thing or two about Turkish food. As a kid, my family and I would sometimes go to Turkish restaurants, and put simply: Turkish food is pretty similar to what I grew up with. It isn’t exactly the same, however, and my visit to Istanbul definitely solidified that. In fact, Turkish food in Turkey did very much taste different to what I’ve had outside of it, though that’s to be expected anywhere.
To anyone who’s ever lived in, or traveled to, Madrid: you’ll know that there is an abundance of “Turkish restaurants”, or kebab shops. The kebab in Madrid, in my experience, is generally good. Despite that, having eaten kebab in Istanbul now makes me never want to visit a kebab shop in Madrid ever again! I guess it’s true that you can never really beat the original, as was the case with Turkish food in Istanbul compared to what I’ve had in Madrid.
For those traveling to Istanbul in the future, I recommend everything. Really, I mean everything. Street vendors actually do sell amazing kebab in Istanbul, and are extremely cheap and well-serviced. For budget travelers, avoid major restaurants unless you want a good sit-down meal and are willing to spend a little more money on food. In general, I’d say street food in Istanbul is about one third of the cost of a restaurant imitation, although it’s true that sometimes, it’s worth it.
Something I was surprised by was how much I enjoyed “Simit”, which is Turkish bread. I’m not much of a bread lover, but Simit reminded me of bagels and pretzels all at once. The dough is covered in sesame, giving it a delicious taste that regular baguettes just don’t have. This type of bread was sold all over the city in stands and shops, becoming a cheap snack.
Istanbul had, of course, all the typical great fixings of a Middle Eastern city: a range of spices, great tea, and its wonderful desserts. Turkish Delight is, without a doubt, an amazing treat. When I was younger, I never liked it – there was something about the Turkish Delight I was tasting that didn’t seem fresh. In Istanbul, however, stands often had it shipped in recently, some making it themselves. The pomegranate Delight was my favourite flavour tasted anywhere, only if made with honey. The great thing about it is that many places make Turkish Delight with honey rather than sugar!
Should you find yourself in Istanbul in the near future, my advice is this: whether you’re on a budget or not, you’ll eat well here, so don’t fret! Try different things, and be open minded to nuts being thrown in with your food, as that isn’t always the norm everywhere. Also be sure to have dessert when you can, as it’s quite delicious here. The food in Istanbul is worth having as much as possible, and cheap enough so that younger travelers don’t have to do any dreaded grocery shopping.
In short, what I love about Istanbul is that it’s a city with different origins. Although its European side has given it many things, Asia has definitely given it its food. For a person like myself – who definitely prefers Asian cuisines as a whole – this is nothing but positive!
Are you an adventurous eater? What do you think of Turkish food?