My favorite way to explore new cities is through food. Food provides the pretext for venturing to neighborhoods beyond the major attractions and a medium for tapping into local culture.
The first step is to identify the typical foods for that city or region. The second step is to research the best eateries serving these foods, preferably in a wide variety of environments: bakeries, stalls in the central market, teahouses, stylish upscale restaurants, the local diner that is a favorite among cab drivers. The greater the variety of eateries, the more of the city you will see and the more likely you are to stumble upon unexpected and delightful surprises along the way.
How do you find out about these places? Tripadvisor and Yelp provide a helpful starting point. Food blogs are an even better resource, especially those written by bloggers on the ground. Another strategy is to find out whether you are connected to anyone from this place. If so, email them to ask for their preferred eateries. My own favorite approach is to see if Anthony Bourdain has been there. If so, I download the episode and take notes.
A wonderful place to do this kind of food tourism is Istanbul. Not only is Turkish food delectable and varied, there is a goldmine of information available on where to go in Istanbul to sample authentic foods. The best resource available is the Istanbul Eats food blog, which specializes in introducing readers to “the best undiscovered local eateries.” Istanbul Eats also offers enormously popular culinary tours.
During my own trip to Istanbul in 2011, I salivated over the culinary tours I had read about before arriving, but ultimately opted not to book one based on the exorbitant prices (around $125 per person for a day long tour). Instead, I crafted my own food itinerary by compiling recommendations from Istanbul Eats, an acquaintance of my father’s and by watching Anthony Bourdain’s Istanbul episode four times and taking diligent notes. The result was an exhilarating multi-day tour that took me to places I could have never found out about if I had relied solely on my guidebook.
Here are some of my favorite food finds in Istanbul:
Turkish breakfast was my favorite food discovery in Turkey and I highly recommend skipping the hotel breakfast and eating breakfast elsewhere in order to experience it at its best. The food is mainly savory (cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumber and flatbread), though the best part of it for me was the sweet kaymak (clotted cream with honey) which is used as a dip for the flatbread. Also, keep in mind it is acceptable to eat Turkish breakfast at any time of day.
1) Van Kahvalti Evi, Defterdar Yokuşu No: 52.A, Cihangir. Tel: 212-293-6437: A small, unassuming restaurant in bohemian Beyoglu run by a crew of hip, young Kurds serving breakfast from the Van region of Turkey. This was my favorite meal during my entire three weeks in Turkey. Read the complete review on Istanbul Eats.
2) Kale Cafe, Yahya Kemal Caddesi No: 16, Rumeli Hisari. Tel: 212-265-0097: This is where Anthony Bourdain goes to sample Turkish breakfast on his first morning in Istanbul. It is a simple restaurant overlooking the Bosphorous in the picturesque neighborhood of Rumeli Hisari. Ideal place to start your day with a pleasant breakfast and stroll along the Bosphorous.
For smaller meals, I recommend zeroing in on everyday staples, those easily found in the most authentic eateries of any city: markets, food stands, hole in the wall restaurants. In Istanbul, two of the most popular foods in this category are lahmacun (similar to a rolled up thin crust pizza) and kebab.
1) Halil Lahmacun, Guneşlibahçe Sokak 26, Kadıköy, Tel: 0216-337-0123: Tiny, inexpensive restaurant in bustling Kadikoy (on Asian side of Istanbul) that serves two types of lahmacun, each for only $2. I recommend getting both. Here is an article on Istanbul Eats on finding the best lahmacun in Istanbul.
2) Durumzade, Kalyoncu Küllük Caddesi 26/A, Beyoğlu, Tel: 212-249-0147: Anthony Bourdain loved this place. I enjoyed it, but not as much as he did. It’s located on a peripheral block of Beyoglu, and if you aren’t careful, you could end up lost in the neighboring red light district.
3) Fish market under the Galata Bridge: This market is comprised of numerous small stands serving full meals at small picnic tables with plastic chairs. The two favored foods are fish sandwiches and hamsi (anchovies).
The one meal for which we dressed up and splurged a little.
Antiochia, Minare Sokak, Asmalimesict, Tel: 212-292-1100. Hip restaurant in the maze of narrow alleys that make up the heart of Beyoglu. Recommended to me by a local resident for serving the best meze in town. Reservations required.