Traditionally eaten for breakfast in Turkey, Börek is a cheese pastry made from thin sheets of phillo dough with filling. The most common fillings are cheese (mostly feta), minced meat or vegetables (mostly spinach). Usually Börek is prepared in a large pan an cut into small pieces before serving. It is one of the most significant and ancient recipes in the Turkish cuisine.

Our experience:

borek post

Actually we had Börek for the first time on the airplane flying into Istanbul, only at the time we had no idea what the little pile of crossainty dough was supposed to be. Realizing there was white cheese in between the layers we concluded that it was pretty good though.
Then on our first morning in Istanbul Omer took us to a café exclusively selling Börek. Enjoying our first real portion of this amazing dish with a strong glass of Turkish tea we already loved it.
Omer told us that any Turkish woman with respect for herself knows how to make Börek. And trust me this recipe is not a piece of cake… Cooking Börek involves creating a perfect dough smooth yet sturdy enough to be rolled out to a giant thin sheet. Using long wooden sticks they roll out small dollops of the dough onto large flat surfaces. Depending on the type of Börek cheese/meat/vegetables is applied and the dough is folded/rolled/layered before baking. Watching the process it almost seemed an art to us.

On the Northern side of the canal in Istanbul's Çengelköy area a large Börek shop by the water got especially famous. Locals flock to this place in the weekends and on holidays to enjoy famous variants of their favorite breakfast on the ‘restaurant’ patio overlooking the ‘Golden Horn’ canal. So of course Omer took us there. With him and his friend Ozlem we shared a large box of three variants of what became my personal favorite Turkish dish. Overlooking the water Ozlem read the grounds in my Turkish coffee, performing the art of ancient Turkish fortune telling. With the crusty top, soft layers and white feta-like cheese this anything but healthy pastry is a little piece of heaven.

Kumpir basically means potato in Turkish and is a fast food made of a baked potato with various fillings. Baking the potato in tinfoil, splitting it down the middle and mixing the insides with butter and cheese the potatoes are topped with piles of toppings and sold on the street. The area Ortaköy in Istanbul has become especially famous for this specific fast-food and now serve a wide range of toppings from the numerous food stalls.

Our experience:

Omer took us to Ortaköy with the sole purpose of showing us what he called “the best street-food” in Istanbul. Getting there we found a long row of food-stalls, neatly lined up appearing to be selling the exact same thing. Each stall displayed 15-20 different piles of colorful toppings; sauces, vegetables and meats. Throwing piles and piles of these toppings onto large baked potatoes these were quickly being handed over the counters. In spite of the amount of stalls there was a line in front of each; people waiting to get a topping-mountain-with-potato-underneath.
In a casual voice Omer asked: “What’s your favorite number?” Alex looked confused while I immediately answered “4”. Omer then headed towards stall number 4, saying “Well, it’s all the same, but choosing your favorite number should be good luck.”
Alex and I shared one of these giant creations, a mismatch of colors, intense flavors and indefinable textures. It was truly an experience.

Pide is a type of Turkish flatbread baked with toppings in a stone oven. Usually served with pizza-like toppings it has a great resemblance to western-style pizza.

 Chillin' at Omer's place

Chillin' at Omer's place

Our experience:

It seemed to us that Pide was a folded pizza. It also seemed that this fast-food was treated by Turks a lot like pizza is by Americans. Often being sold in pizzarias and often being brought to Omers door as a take-away dinner this was the least surprising dish we had in Turkey.
Opening the long rectangular box Omer sliced out the calzone-looking pide and told us to eat as much as we wanted. It was our first night in Istanbul and we were tired from traveling. Pide was just what we needed. With the familiar pizza-like crust and melted cheese but with tender beef instead of ham and tomato sauce it was the perfect comfort food. We loved the type stuffed with cubes of beef steak.

Cigkofte

Per definition this is a raw meat dish similar to steak tatare traditionally served as an appetizer. Çiğ means ‘raw’ and köfte means ‘meatball’. Relatively expensive and high-quality meat is essential for health reasons.
In Turkey the ciğ köfte actually served in fast food places by law can no longer contain raw meat. Instead a vegetarian version made from a mix of spices, ground walnut, vegetables and bulgur is used. As a fast-food the paste is commonly served in a durum wrap with lettuce and fresh herbs.

Our Experience:

This was a most unexpected surprise. It seemed there were far more Çiğ köfte places in Istabul than kebab places, so how come we had never heard of this fast-food? In every Çiğ köfte shop we saw a big lump of unidentifiable red paste through the window. Asking Omer he told that Çiğ köfte is indeed more popular than kebab among the locals, and it has an interesting background story. As the story goes Çiğ köfte was originally a paste made with spices and ground raw meat served in durum wraps or on its own with lettuce. It was a fancy kind of food, almost like tatar, but as it became more popular among Turks more shops opened up and the quality of the raw meat lowered. Eventually people got sick from the raw meat not always being handled with care and sanitation and the dish was completely banned by law in the country. The shops then replaced the meat-paste with a vegan version and business was back up. “So” Omer said, “I actually have no idea what it is.”
It turned out to be far better than kebab. The thick paste is spicy and intense in flavor. The best Çiğ köfte shops add pomegranate sauce, which gives the wrap an interesting sweetness, and fresh herbs that really shine through and gives it character and freshness. I loved it so much I am determined to learn how to cook it myself once we stop traveling.

his is a very popular dish all over the world originating in Turkey. Historical evidence suggests that it was invented in the kitchen of a palace in Istanbul. Baklava is a sweet pastry made from thin layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts (usually pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts) and held together by honey or syrup.

Our Experience:

Most of us know Baklava already, but never have we had it in the quantities and qualities we found in Istanbul. Soaked in honey and perfectly crunchy we tried baklava in endless varieties and flavors. It was so cheap we had it almost every day. Not only is Baklava an amazing snack and desert, it is also the one thing I ever ate with the best ability to give me an immediate and intense sugar-buzz. When we left Istanbul we were so sugared out we decided to not eat sugar at all for a while ha-ha.

The very first time we had Baklava in Istanbul we sat down in a mosque to eat it. Seconds later this little guy (picture) showed up. Although we were saying politely 'no' to his paper tissues he just kept standing there. Seconds later we were surrounded by little boys yelling and screaming, distracting us while reaching for our pockets (and Baklava). In a moment of panic Alex yelled "WHAT'S THAT?" Pointing upwards and then we grabbed the baklava and ran out of there with the screaming little heard of boys behind us. Quite an experience...

In short Kanlıca yoğurdu is a yoghurt desert famous from the area Kanlıca in Northern Istanbul. A small restaurant of the same name got the idea to serve their own brand of yoghurt, very alike greek yoghurt, with confectioners sugar on the side.
The mix of the sour plain yoghurt and sweet powder is amazingly interesting. So much that the restaurant got famous for selling thit exact combination and created a whole menu of their yoghurt served with different toppings.

 The view over the canal

The view over the canal

Our Experience:

This less-known dessert was again one we’d never heard about. This wasn’t surprising as only one place in Northern Istanbul sells it. Sitting by the water looking at boats crossing the canal ‘Golden Horn’ Omer told us the story of how that specific restaurant in Kanlıca got famous by coming up with the idea for this incredibly simple but authentic desert. When we were done marveling over the fact that no one had ever poured powdered sugar over sour yoghurt before, he walked to a random boat and told us to jump in. Paying the owner of the boat a fee each we sailed across the canal, back to the heart of Istanbul.

very popular dish in Istanbul Kokoreç is made from lamb intestines. It is usually not served in restaurants but rather in the streets. There is a certain health risk involved, as the intestines need to be cleaned properly to be sanitary.
Usually the intestines are rolled up on horizontal skewers in street vendors and cooked over a charcoal fire. Then they are chopped, mixed with spices and served in bread.

Our Experience:

Walking home from the city late in the evening with a group of Omer’s friends one of the girls said she wanted Çiğ köfte. “No.” Omer said, “We’re getting something else; a real late-night snack…” Exchanging knowing smiles the group took us down a seemingly empty road in a residential area. Right there, the only light in the night, was a tiny food stall lit up by yellow lanterns. An old man was swinging a metal spatula, chopping and turning whatever was on the pan. After ordering something in Turkish Omer told us that we were in for a treat; the only right thing to get when you’re walking home from a night out in Istanbul.
A few minutes later we were handed a sandwich; a soft loaf of bread filled with something brown. It smelled amazing. “Take a bite” Omer commanded with a smile. He and his friends had gotten sandwiches too but no one had bitten into theirs yet. Looking at Alex I shrugged and took a bite and so did he. It tasted just as good as it smelled. The brown stuff was a well-spiced meat filling with a slightly weird texture. Giggling a bit the others started eating their sandwiches too and Omer said: “Okay okay, we’ll tell you. It’s like… this... in here...” pointing to the lower part of his stomach. “Stomach?” Alex asked. “No… Intestines...” I said, realizing what the long thick strings of meat on the grill were. “Yeees, intestines, that’s the name.” Omer said smiling widely. Looking at the sandwich in my hand I laughed. “Well shit…” I said and took another bite. “These are some good intestines.”
Honestly we weren’t scared off at all. As it turned out Kokoreç places were the only ones open late at night, so often when we’d been working late we’d have a gore-sandwich for dinner.

ayrancounter

cold yoghurt beverage mixed with salt. The national drink of Turkey it is usually consumed with spicy or meaty meals. Basically made from watered-down yoghurt it is considered one of the most refreshing drinks.

Our experience:

Ayran seems to be consumed with every single meal in Turkey. In any fast-food or fancy restaurant those little cups/bottles/glasses of Ayran will be lined up in the refrigerators just as we’re used to see coke cans and bottles in western fast-food restaurants.
When we arrived on the first night and Omer served us Pide he had of course gotten Ayran to drink with it. Not telling us what it was he put it in front of us as we started eating. I guess Alex thought it was milk, because he looked extremely startled when he took the first sip. Politely pushing the cup away he didn’t drink more of his glass of “half-thick sour milk”. I, on the other hand, was used to European drinking yoghurt (watered down bottled sweet yoghurt) and enjoyed this drink, which seemed like a greek-yoghurt version of the usual drinking yoghurt from home.
As we tried more of the Turkish dishes we realized that this beverage really was perfect for anything spicy. When we left Istanbul even Alex drank Ayran with everything.

Turkish coffee is not like most coffee. The thick dark coffee is very sweet and has a distinct grainy texture. This is due to the actual grounds being served with the coffee grounds in the cup. For this reason it is best to let the coffee sit a bit before sipping it and not drinking the whole thing. Not following these pointers Turkish coffee can become a nasty affair.

Our Experience:

I knew from previous experience what Turkish coffee was and that I loved it. But when Alex got his first tiny little porcelain cup of it he was surprised. 
What I didn’t know about Turkish coffee was that there’s a whole fortune telling culture around it. After finishing my cup our friend Ozlem told me to:

  1. Place my small coffee-plate on top of the cup
  2. Swirl the cup with the plate covering it three times in a circle
  3. Turn the cup upside down onto the plate, flipping it towards myself
  4. Put something personal on top of the upside down cup
    (I put the ring Alex gave me)
  5. Make a wish
  6. Wait five minutes

Five minutes later she pulled off the cup. As she turned the little cup downside-up a stripe of brown coffee ran down the edge and she told me my wish would come true. Over the next 15 minutes she continued to look deeply into the cup, finding shapes and figures in the patterns the dried-in coffee grounds had made on the walls and bottom of the cup. Then she continued to tell Alex’s future, hitting home with a lot of observations about our current lives. 

If you want to know what our futures look like according to Ozram's predictions, read about it here...

Raki is a very popular anish flavoured liquor from Turkey. It is a bit like Sambuca, Ouzo and other alcoholic drinks served around the mediterranean area and is usually served with seafood.

Our experience:

Entering the secret little venue I immediately loved the place. With loud music and colored lights dancing on the walls it had the atmosphere of a club, but instead the music consisted of Turkish classics played live from the corner and the room was filled with chairs for lounging.
Omer shouted to us if we wanted to try Raki. I immediately answered “NO!” while Alex shrugged. Omer brought Alex the drink; a glass of milky liquor accompanied by a glass of water. “Why the water?” Alex asked. Having tried Raki already I just giggled and asked him to figure it out. After the first sip he understood why he’d need water. Also his facial expression was priceless. Over the next few hours he fought his way through the glass until it was finally empty. When Omer and his friends went to get more drinks someone asked Alex if he wanted another Raki. Over the loud music he misheard it as vodka. I almost fell of my chair laughing at his expression when another glass of milky anis liquor was placed in front of him.
He looked at me with a begging expression, mouthing “help!”
I shook my head, getting chills at the thought. Bravely he struggled with the second glass and made it all the way through before we left. He definitely got a happy buzz and proved his extreme politeness.