By Willie Lebus
I’ve just come back from Istanbul and apart from Barcelona, it’s the busiest city I’ve visited in a long time.
Here are a few tips for all you foodie travellers out there.
1 - A long weekend is a perfect amount of time in Istanbul. The weekend is manic and Le Tout Istanbul’s partying.
For the Culture Vultures – I’m no expert but there’s plenty of choice. If you’re heavily into culture then you should consider a guided tour or three. Take a look at www.contexttravel.com
2. You need a nice place to stay. R&R, or whatever you want to call it, is almost as important as the food. I heartily recommend staying in Beyoglu. My friend Katie Parla is the go to person here www.parlafood.com
Meze at Ciya Sofrasi
Fish Market at Kadikoy
If you’re in the mood to bust the bank, you need to case the joint first. There’s a lot of tat in the Grand Bazaar. Don’t fool yourself that just because you reduced the price by 50% you got a bargain. You probably shouldn’t have bought it in the first place, and it’s likely to be fake anyway. Time your visit around a bite to eat at Havuzlu.
The Spice Bazaar is good fun. Lots of Turkish Delight and spices. Don’t buy too much. It goes stale. Almost everything is cheaper in the market at Kadikoy on the Asian Side. There’s an excellent restaurant near the spice market called Hamdi. Get there by Midday or 6pm for a table with a view from the rooftops. The lahmacum (Turkish Pizza without cheese) and baklava are very good here.
Good Baklava is a work of sensuous art
5. While taxis are very reasonable compared to London, where possible walking and the tram are the best ways to get around the City. The public ferries cost 1.75 Lira which is a steal!
OK it’s all about the food non? So where to eat?
6. Avoid the advice of all but trusted friends. Good food is readily available, but so is goppingly awful food. Avoid the fusion stuff and new Turkish Cuisine, ain’t what it says on the label. Stick to the basics and you’ll be fine. At its best Turkish food rocks!
Beans – the greatest food in Istanbul
Here are my recommendations – In my opinion the only reason for straying from Beyoglu, is to eat fish or to visit Kosebasi. There are plenty of good fish restaurants near the water’s edge. Two to try are Tarihi Karaköy Balikcisi and Iskele.
These are traditional restaurants that serve Raki and Wine. I am not a great Raki fan, but the wine in Turkey is much improved but hellishly expensive. The solution is to go teetotal or to drink Efes on draft.
Asmali Cavit -
This Meyhane is delightful. Worth going with a group so you can enjoy the excellent meze. Stunning Calamari, Borek (cheese filled pastry), smoked eggplant, avoid the prawns. Good red mullet.
A well established place this. Its reputation for great Meze is justified.
7. You can’t avoid Kebabs! Here’s two of the best -
Kosebasi is a group of restaurants serving the city’s best kebabs in slightly eurotrash surroundings. The meze are fine, and the kebabs sublime. Go for the Cop Sis and the lamb ribs. Avoid the lamb shish.
My personal favourite of the trip was Musa Ustam, off the Oxford Street of Istanbul called Istiklal Caddesi. At weekends this pedestrian walkway is alive with people strutting their stuff. Musa Ustam has a proper charcoal grill inside the restaurant. Choose a minimal number of Meze, the Kofte are particularly good, then wait for the arrival of spectacular kebabs with warm flat bread. You want to make sure you arrive with a good appetite!
Be warned, most food is under seasoned even by my standards. You need to ask for lemon with the kebabs.
Finally you should head for 360, a bizarre set up on the 7th and 8th floors of a building off the Istiklal Caddesi. The 360 refers to the all round views. A couple of Caipirinhas are reasonable, the crowd pretty dodgy!
8. Nightlife -
Beyoglu is teeming with clubs bars and people. It makes London seem pedestrian. The smoking ban seems to ensure that inside is safe but it gets pretty smoky dodging the crowds.
Istanbul is a truly happening city. It’s steeped in history and the food’s pretty good.
Go try it for yourself. You won’t regret it!