Noshing waterside at Eminönü
For 12 to 14 hours a day, the Tarihi Eminönü Balikçisi grills fresh fish quay-side, wrapped in a roll and presented for a spectacular 3TL by a gracious man in traditional costume. Grab your sandwich and step aside; the condiments are to the right on the railing.
No visit to Istanbul is complete for me without a visit to Develi. Dine on their spicy lahmacun, içli köfte, raw çig köfte, and you'll be stuffed before the pistachio kebap arrives.
Melting Kanlica yogurt in your mouth
For more than 100 years, creamy rich yogurt has been a specialty of the tiny Bosphorus-front village of Kanlica, on the upper Asian side. It's a heck of a haul for a cup of yogurt, but oh, what glorious spoonfuls they are.
Morning simit from a street vendor
I grew up on sesame bagels, so call me biased, but these doughy little morning delicacies really do hit the spot. Spread some cheese on one (or slather with butter and jam) and weep.
Eating your way through Ortaköy
This neighborhood is particularly vibrant on a summer evening, with the lights twinkling beneath the Bosphorus Bridge. The streets behind the mosque are a food fair of Turkish fast-food stalls selling such things as stuffed mussels (for the fearless) and potatoes to drown in your preferred toppings.
Dining at Asitane
Many restaurants bill themselves as "Ottoman," but few of them can actually boast of having translated the recipes from the kitchens of Topkapi.
Lunch at a lokanta
These unassuming eateries have some of the best home-style food around. Casseroles and stews such as moussaka or orman kebap (lamb stew with potatoes and carrots) are the types of labor-intensive dishes the tourist places can't be bothered to prepare. If you have time, indulge your senses at Çiya.
While some ambitious new and atmospheric restaurants are popping up in the tourist-heavy Old City, Istanbul's real food renaissance is happening elsewhere. One of the more popular dining destinations is in and around the streets of Asmalimescit, in Beyoglu, where boisterous meyhanes, bistros, and Mexican restaurants share the same stretch of real estate. Another popular option is the neighborhood of Kumkapi, on the southern tip of the historic peninsula, a year-round carnival crammed with typical tavernas, which benefits directly from the fish market across the highway. Appropriately, Kumkapi translates to "sand gate." Pick the restaurant with the most people or the freshest looking fish (reliable favorites are Kalamar tel. 0212/517-1849; and Fener tel. 0212/516-4002), and hold on to your valuables, as the dimly lit surrounding streets attract the worst petty thieves.
A good budget alternative is to descend upon one of the numerous (and hidden) lokantas (dives with steam tables), particularly along Piyer Loti Caddesi, between the Hippodrome and Cagaloglu and in the streets around the Grand Bazaar.
Best Regional Cuisine
Considered the best restaurant in Istanbul, the humble Kadiköy outpost that is Çiya Sofrasi, Caferaga Mahallesi Güneslibahçe Sok. 43 (tel. 0216/330-3190), dishes out a palate-pleasing variety of traditional home cooking from Turkey's southern region that leaves your taste buds begging for more.
Best Ottoman Cuisine
While Turkish and Ottoman cuisine seem to have merged into indistinguishable categories, a few noteworthy restaurants have gone the extra mile with dishes that were actually served from the palace kitchens. Çiragan Palace's venerated and renovated Tugra, Çiragan Palace Hotel Kempinski Istanbul, Çiragan Cad., Besiktas (tel. 0212/258-3377), creates delectable interpretations of historical menus while Asitane, Kariye Camii Sok. 18, Edirnekapi (tel. 0212/534-8414), was the first to work off of actual translations of historic recipes. The new and trendy Topaz, Inönü Cad. 50, Gümüssuyu (tel. 0212/249-1001), takes these imperial culinary concepts and reinterprets them for a modern audience.
In Turkey, a kebap is much more than a slab of meat on a stick. Kebaps refer to a range of meat dishes, be they grilled, roasted, or in a casserole. The unexpected sleeper award goes to Kösebasi Ocakbasi, which has some of the best kebaps around in a classy yet unpretentious setting in Nisantasi (Bronz Sok. 5; tel. 0212/241-3434). Not even the several outposts of Develi, Balikpazari (Samatya Fish Market), Gümüsyüzük Sok. 7, Samatya (tel. 0212/529-0833), can compete with the quality of this regional Gaziantep cuisine and of the setting of the branch in Samatya. For years a favorite of the local and expat business crowd, Borsa, Lütfi Kirdar Convention Center, Harbiye (tel. 0212/232-4201), continues to merit its crown with the expertly executed fundamentals of the Turkish kitchen.
Best Bistro Menu
As Istanbul's palate becomes more sophisticated, new dining spots appear with modern, healthy, and even intriguing flavors. New on the scene is the restaurant of the Istanbul Culinary Institute, Mesrutiyet Cad. 59 (tel. 0212/251-2214), melding the freshest ingredients into decidedly modern Turkish creations. House Café, Asmalimescit 9/1, Tünel (tel. 0212/245-9515), Atiye Sok., Iskeçe Apt. 10/1, Tesvikiye (tel. 0212/259-2377), and Salhane Sok. 1, Ortaköy (tel. 0212/227-2699), takes the freshest essential basics of the Turkish cupboard and turns them into modern and healthy dishes.
While still somewhat raucous, the traditional meyhane is no longer the eminent domain of the Turkish male species. Friends, families, couples, and large (very large) groups descend on Gedikli, Sofyali Sok. 22 (tel. 0212/245-9622), located in the buzzing nightlife bulls-eye that is Sofyali Sokak.
As a city surrounded by bountiful seas, Istanbul suffers from an embarrassment of riches of seafood. Where do Istanbullus go for their grouper? Poseidon, Çevdetpasa Cad. 58, Bebek (tel. 0212/287-9531), tends toward the card-carrying socialites, while Doga Balik, Akarsu Yokusu Cad. 44-46, Cihangir (tel. 0212/243-3656), capitalizes on masterful mezes and twinkling nighttime panoramas.
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