I’ll raise my hand up and say that my knowledge of Turkish cuisine is fuzzy at best, non-existent in reality. Is at times like these when stereotypes become particularly common place. My knowledge of Turkish cuisine could be summed up in one word – Kebab.
The kebab that is popular in Europe is made up of cheap meat on a vertical spit-roast and shaved into a thick bread, flavoured with white sauce and other savoury goodies. It is the go-to, cheap, after-party meal for youngsters after a night out. So popular that some kebab stores, in Berlin especially, have gone on to become icons on the city.
And then you come to Istanbul, and you see the vast offerings on the table, and realise there is more to Turkish meats than a kebab.
But lets start with the ubiquitous kebab. Kebabs can be found anywhere, and if I’m being honest, there didn’t seem to be as much a crazed for the best kebab in Istanbul than what I witnessed in Berlin. You would struggle to find good kebab recommendations in a travel magazine. So we went into a random store to check it out.
It was as described on the menu, bread with meat in the middle. It wasn’t as tasty as you’d expect, certainly no where near as good as what I’d manage to find in Berlin or Stockholm.
But what made the dish better in Berlin or Stockholm was the sauces. The saving grace here is perhaps the meat. While the meat from. The kebab in Berlin and Stockholm was odourless meat, the one in Istanbul had a hint of gamey flavour that comes from a lamb and therefore more flavourful.
But even a kebab was no match for what was to follow next, kokorec at Kral Kokorec. Think of all the offal and innards you have in a lamb and apply a waste not strategy.
The Scots made Haggis out of the innards and sweetbreads, here in Istanbul, the Turks made Kokorec. Innards and offal full of fat stuffed inside the animals intestine and grilled over a spitfire, letter the fats base the meat inside and delivering a crispy crust for consumption.
It was delightful, but certainly not for those unsuited to the strong gamey lamb flavour, the only way to make thi sort of meat even better would be impossible in Turkey though, use pork innards instead – that would be a taste of heaven right there.
Kral Kokorec is still a road side stall, so we went to a restaurant next. Ciya Sofrasi in Kadikoy, is an institution in Istanbul because of its history and focus on preserving traditional Turkish cuisine.
It has become a sensation, and a must try on the traditional tourist map.
It was packed when we arrived, as it turns out it always is, and to makes things easier the food is prepared and put in large plates at the counter for customers to mix and match.
We had a Kibbeh,
Red lentil soup,
And veal skewered kebap. All rather tasty dishes.
The star of the night, was rice and chicken. It doesn’t sound like much, but think of chicken with some herbs and spices wrapped in a ball of slightly sticky and crispy rice. Sounds good right?
It tasted good too.
You can’t go to Istanbul without taking a look at the social media sensation that is #SaltBae.
Nurs-Et is the restaurant chain run by the social media star, famous for his fancy salt sprinkling of roasted meats.
There is nothing traditionally Turkish about this restaurant, except its origin. And the waiting list to get into this restaurant chain is long.
We went in and ordered a few samplers of meat.
Service was dramatic and fun to watch, but I’d personally go back for the kokorec or chicken and rice ball over this.
Now meats on Istanbul was fascinating, but something else was truly delicious. I’d never thought I’d say this, but seafood in Istanbul was far better than meats.
I’ll explain why in the next post.
ON THE MAP (Kral Kokorec)
ON THE MAP (Ciya Sofrasi)
ON THE MAP (Nurs-Et)