My memories of any place I visit is almost always intertwined with memories of its food. Mention the word ‘Istanbul’ and, automatically, I’m reminded of these street food samplings:-
There’s the döner kebab (Turkish: döner kebap or döner kebabı, literally “rotating roast”, often abbreviated as döner) which is found in almost every street corner.
This Turkish dish is made of lamb meat or chicken cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order and served wrapped in bread with salad and a dressing. Have a döner with your favourite beverage… or go Turkish all the way and have it with ayran, a type of drink that tastes like watered down slightly salted yoghurt. And by the way, döner is much cheaper on the Asian side, if you have the time to explore that area — as cheap as 2 Turkish Liras for a döner and a small bottle of ayran.
Feeling adventurous? Have a cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. The price is a bit steep — about 5 Turkish Liras for a small paper cup — but it’s 100% pure, fresh pomegranate juice, without any water or sugar added.
A word of caution: I went to Istanbul in October, which is not the season for pomegranates, so I ended up with a cup of the sourest, tartest pomegranate juice ever. But I just chose to think of it as a cup of wholesome, unadulterated antioxidants so I finished every last drop of it. (That, plus the fact that it cost me 5 Turkish Liras!!!) Whatever the case, it’s quite mesmerizing watching them lift the lever of this manual juice squeezer, put in half of a pomegranate, turn the handle from the back to the front in a circular motion, take out the pomegranate shell, then repeat the process all over again.
Walk towards Topkapi and Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) and you are bound to see these carts where they roast and sell chestnuts.
I photographed this particular cart near Sirkeci Station a.k.a. Istanbul Gar. I was shooting from a distance but the chestnut vendor knew I was taking his pic and he smiled just as I pressed the shutter!
If New York City has its pretzel carts, Turkey has simit carts. I shot this one near the Spice Bazaar.
Simit is a type of Turkish bread sprinkled with sesame seeds which looks very much like bagels. Not everyone loves simit. But I wasn’t impressed with New York’s pretzels either.
For a sweet treat, try Osmanli macunu. I felt like a child walking around Sultanahmet Park while sucking on a stick of this sticky sweet Ottoman candy.
The Osmanli macunu only cost one Turkish lira apiece. This peddler was in Sultanahmet Park, near the Blue Mosque. There was also another peddler stationed behind Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), which you’re not bound to miss on the way to Basilica Cistern or Topkapi Palace.
As for DH, he loved these fish sandwiches were are sold at the ferry docks in Eminönü.
Trivia: balik means ‘fish’ in Turkish, ‘go back’ in Malay.
The funny thing is, not of all these foods were exceptional in taste when I was in Istanbul. For instance, I found the chestnuts a bit too dry and bland in comparison to the ones sold in Malaysia which are moist and quite sweet, almost reminiscent of sweet potatoes.
But the point is, even though these foods were far from perfect, my memories of these foods form part and parcel of my memories of Istanbul, together with the sight of Marmara Sea, the Blue Mosque, the Spice Bazaar; the feel of the freezing winds at the rooftop of Hali Hotel; the clackety clack followed by the grating metal braking sound of the trams that we used to take from Sultanahmet to Zeytinburnu and back; the heat of Turkish tea in those impossibly tiny cups; the tiny bits and pieces of chicken floss in between my teeth after I chew on a piece of tavuk göğsü. These are the myriad experiences that one can only get from actually traveling to a place, as compared to reading about it or watching a documentary on TV; these are the stuff that lasting memories are made of.