Thursday, July 9, 2015

12 Turkish cuisines that you should definitely try

“Omg, can you take your pictures faster? You are like the freaking third-world country government custom office whenever we eat”
A good childhood friend, 2014

For me, the most embarrassing and difficult part of travelling is trying to take pictures of food before every meal. People looked at me like I have a tail or an extra limb as I bent down, stand up, lean left and right to get a presentable picture. The other as challenging, if not more, part was to self-discipline myself to not nibble the food before taking pictures. Having said that, the pictures I will have here may not be pretty or complete, but hopefully, they will somehow give you a glimpse of Turkish cuisine.

#1 Iftar dinner

I was very fortunate to be in Istanbul during Ramadan, and had a chance to join total strangers and participate in an Iftar dinner, an evening meal where muslims end their daily fast at sunset. It was probably one of the most memorable moment sof my Istanbul trip. We were provided with an unlimited supply of soup, yoghurt drink, various salads, roasted vegetable dips and lamb liver skewers, studded with lamb fat in between. We ate until the food hit our esophagus.

Where to get: If you are in Istanbul, the most fun and affordable place for Iftar dinner is near Aksaray station. The whole is 24 lira, which is about one chipotle price.

#2 Midye Dolma (Stuffed mussels with rice)

I stumbled upon these mussels stuffed with rice while strolling along the waterfront near the Istanbul Spice Bazaar. After seeing a pile of mussels and people slurping in front of the vendor, I knew I had to have those. Surprisingly, these special mussels are stuffed with sweet, earthy and herby rice. As a voracious eater, I picked largest twelve mussels I could lay my hands on (about 3 dollars worth). The vendor shucked them open, and give them a squeeze of citrus love. I ate the delicious stuffed shellfish one after another in about 5 minutes, as the seller stared at me. 

Where to get : If you have extra time, cross the bridge to arrive at the asian side of Istanbul for better and cheaper shellfish. Alternatively, you can go to a restaurant and order on a plate (last picture). Well, of course now you have a plate and chair, but the locals will tell you that there is nothing like standing and slurping mussels on a roadside.

#3 Güveç (Turkish eggplant stew)

Güveç literally means stew in turkish, and can take any form, shape and appearance. My personally favorite is the eggplant güveç with lamb. The ingredients are thrown together in a clay pot, and stewed low and slow until the flavors to get to know each other’s secrets. The result? The eggplant becomes extremely creamy and absorbs all the gamey flavors from the lamb, spices and aromatic vegetables. I piled this glorious goop on top of all the carbs I could lay my hands on - rice, bread or naan I used them all. 

Where to get : You can find this dish in almost every turkish restaurant, that has pre-cooked food. 

#4 Balik Ekmek (Fish Sandwich)

One day, I became adventurous and decided to venture out the Asian side. After taking off from the ferry, my attention was caught by the smell of something fresh, something grilling. That was my first encounter with Istanbul’s infamous Balik (fish) Ekmek (sandwich). Freshly filleted mackerels were grilled quickly to order, and then stuffed into a soft bread, which then received a generous piling of a salad mixture of onion, and parsley tossed in lemon dressing. The sandwich looked bland initially, but when I took a bite, I realized that the fresh oceanic oil from the fillet made any creamy sauce unnecessary. 

Where to get : The best places for this sandwich are on the Asian side. Avoid the restaurants under the bridge like your crazy ex.

#5 Menemen (Turkish-style scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onion, green chilis and spices)

First of all, I am sorry that these pictures may not look appetizing (not that my previous pictures are award-winning either). But, I swear the actual menemen tastes a thousand times better than my crappy photos. As a good Southeast asian, I am an unyielding fan of bold flavors for all my meals. This mean turkish scramble egg breakfast is cooked to just set, along with green chili, oregano, and tomato. When you take a bite, you first get that almost velvety texture, and then a harmony of sweet, spicy, salty and savory notes hits the palate. This is definitely one of those recipes I will make it for myself when I get back to the States.

Where to get: Many breakfast places and cafes should have this.

#6 Adana Kebabs (Turkish Ground Lamb Kebabs)

Of course, I ate more than fair share of kebab in Turkey, but Adana kebab will take a place in my memory, just like I will always remember one of my high-school friends owes me $230. What I love about this minced-meat-in-a-skwer-form is how succulent and tender meat complements perfectly the bold flavor from the spices. The last meal I craved before I left Istanbul was none other than the Adana Kebab.

Where to get: A chain kebab place called Haylazbey makes the killer Adana Kebabs. The best part of the order is that it comes with perfectly-grilled flatbread and delicious rice pilaf.

#7 Aryan (salty yoghurt drink)

Just like any other good things in life, you will need to develop acquired taste to appreciate this salty yoghurt drink. I did develop a liking for this drink during my stay in Istanbul, and I know I am going to miss this weirdly salty, watery, tangy treat when I am back in the States.

Where to get: Instead of getting a pre-packaged aryan cups, order one from any kebab restaurant. Some of the good ones even come with tangy foams.

#8 Manti with yoghurt sauce (Turkish ravioli stuffed with meat)

If asian dumplings were somehow hit by miniature rays, you will get turkish ravioli. These raviolis are quickly simmered in yoghurt sauce with spices such as dark paprika and dried oregano. After a long day of walking, I could always count on this dish to satisfy my both carbs and meat cravings.

Where to get: Many turkish restaurant should proudly serve this dish.

#9 Tarvuk pilav (Chicken rice)

This, I believe, is a turkish street food version of Singaporean chicken rice, with the addition of chickpeas. The rice is warm, fluffy and packed with the essence of chicken broth. When you take a bite, you just know this dish will make a great post-clubbing supper. My favorite part of the dish has to be the chickpeas, which are so fresh that they almost taste like mini potatoes. 

PS: The rice dishes in Turkey are to die for. You should also try their tomato rice.

Where to get it: Try looking for road-side-stands with piles of rice behind the glass.They are not only the cheapest, but also the best.

#10 Turkish Coffee

I am really surprised that turkish coffee has not made its way to hippieCalifornia cafes. Cute tea pot, brew-to-order, and tiny cups should all attract hippies like free food attracts med students.  

Where to get it: Most cafe places.

#11 Pide

If pizza, minced meat, tomatoes and eggs have a foursome, and have a baby, you will have a pide. This meaty, eggy bread certainly hit the spot whenever I want something filling on-the-go.

Where to eat: If something that will not go extinct in Turkey, it’s pide shops. You can find them scattered throughout the country.

#12 Mongolian dumplings

During Istanbul, I met a medical student from Mongolia, and she took me to this tiny restaurant in Taksim area for these delicious soup dumplings. I know it is an odd thing to have an asian soup dumpling made by a Turkish guy. But, I just have to include these dumplings in this post because they are, in fact, one of the best meals I had in Turkey. The sweet juice in jumbo dumplings complement very well the aromatic ground lamb. If I have an extra stomach like cows, I would eat ten more of those.

Where to go: I was not able to get the address. I am sorry. But, once I find out. I will definitely upload this.

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