To travel is to listen & learn the language of a country…to perch up on the bar stool and sing aloud their local songs…to imbibe the history that lays shredded in the ruins…to capture with the heart the million alleys and bridges. To travel is to grow as a person, see the unseen and embrace the strange, new wind. To travel is all those powerful things……

…….Or to simply hop around the cafes gorging down all the Iskender Kebaps you can lay your hands on. That’s travel too. At least, for some of us with a one-track mind and are shameless about it!

During my one-week stay in Istanbul, I fell in love with three things. In this very order- their food, their jewelry, their culture. I’m no sucker for history. I’m the girl who couldn’t stifle her yawns during the great Vatican tour and embarrassed her husband. So for me, the Blue Mosque was wow. The Topkapi Palace was swell. Hagia Sophia was something to remember. But what I will think of when I lie in that bed, wrinkled at 90, will be that mindblowing Testi Kebab that I had in a sidewalk restaurant somewhere deep inside Sultan Ahmet. That’s the kind of memory I go for. And that’s the kind of memories Istanbul is capable of giving its visitors.

There were many things I truly madly deeply wanted to try. There were some things I tried just for the heck of it. And there were still more things I completely missed trying, unaware of its existence. For those things, there is always Godwilling, another trip, another story. For those that I tried, you can continue to rely on my blog, albeit it comes rather painfully late.

On our first day in Istanbul, we picked up some goodies from the bakery below our apartment, wiped it clean and headed to see the mesmerizing Blue Mosque. My first introduction to Simit, a Turkish circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds, was through a vendor walking the streets with a large box of them. I had to have one pronto, even after reading through a dozen blogs that talked about Simit stalls every 100 meters in Instanbul! No regrets, it was nice to munch on during the long walk, though I liked the Cheese stuffed Simit I had later, better.

In close competition to Simit stalls were the presence of roasted chestnuts stalls. Languidly followed by Turkish Icecream stalls. Step into a market- any market- and prepare to be enthralled by a) a plethora of Turkish sweets of all colors and flavors imaginable b) a massive spread of Turkish tea options ranging from Relax tea, Love tea, Apple tea, Pomegranate tea and hell, Viagra tea and c) a paradise of jewelry with studded sapphires, glittering emeralds and antique elegance. The Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar of Istanbul – the Chakravyuh for shopaholics. Enough said!

If the souks and the sweets don’t charm you enough, there is always the splendor that is Bosphorus. It was by happy coincidence that one of our clueless wanderings landed us in front of Seven Hills, a hotel with a rooftop restaurant that quite possibly gives the best view of Bosphorus, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque together. A ravishing view unfortunately didn’t make up for the fairly poor lunch they served. The fish was sadly bland, the prawns in butter was a tragedy (despite its gorgeous appearance) and the meats were nothing remarkable. I’d say hunt down this place for the view and a glass of wine/cup of coffee to go with it. That would be clever.

If you do the above, that would leave you hungry. In which case, listen to me carefully. Head to the Grand Bazaar, and ask somebody to guide you to the Havuzlu restaurant. After a few winding twists and turns later, you will end up in a quaint courtyard with a little fountain, creating the start of the ambience for the restaurant. From there, it’s a saga of pleasurable food. The display features the day’s specials, but without the name boards. So once you are done admiring the visual spectacle, simply ask for Mr. Huseyin Susencik. This gentleman, fluent in (broken) English can explain the dishes and expertly take down your order. I found myself requesting a plate of Iskender Kebap, Kagit Kebap, Tavuk Firin, Patlican Musakka, Ekmek Kadayfi and Trilege. Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful lunch that was!

The Iskender Kebap was a deliciousness that is forever etched in my memory. The Kagit Kebap was tricky with its paper coating that had to be meticulously removed; the taste was good nevertheless. The Tavuk Firin and Musakka were both fantastic and the desserts were one better than the other. Ekmek Kadayfi, the Turkish bread pudding dessert came served with a generous dollop of Kaymak, a kind of clotted cream, while the Trilege had the perfect syrup to drench in. The prices were not the cheapest, but certainly very decent compared to Dubai prices and worth every Lira! Highly recommended!!

On another occasion we found ourselves doing a long Bosphorus cruise that had lavish entertainments but below average dinner. Walking along the Spice Market, we tried Lokma, the Turkish pastries that are made of deep fried dough, served soaked in sugar syrup. The Turkish version of our Gulab Jamun, it was a tad too sweet for us to enjoy without inviting a truckload of guilt. Further ahead in the Spice Market, hunger struck again (no surprises there) and we walked into Nefis Miss Doner, where we gorged on a rich Iskender yet again. By then it was safe to conclude that we were getting addicted to Turkish cuisine.

Now, let me proceed to the best advice ever in this blog post. Testi Kebab from Sultan Saray Restaurant. We stumbled into this place, once again, by the handiwork of happy good luck. The restaurant had an inviting ambience with transparent sheets giving the best of the view while protecting us from the chilly winds blowing. The Testi claypots displayed in front had me intrigued and I came to ordering the Testi Kebab, which I eventually realized was one of the best decisions in my life. Testi Kebab is basically succulent meat, vegetables and local spices stuffed into the clay pot, sealed shut with dough and baked in the oven. The pot is then rolled on fire after which expert hands knock off the mouth of the clay pot to infuse the air with the brilliant aroma of the Testi Kebab. It made my whole trip to Istanbul worthwhile. So you get the drill.

You can watch my Instagram video posts of Testi Kebab “ceremony” here: Testi Kebab Video Part 1 and Testi Kebab Video Part 2

Okay so this post has officially become too long and the night, too late. So winding up for now, keeping the rest of the Turkish delicacies to another post in the (hopefully) near future! Stay FoodKissed! xx

Sultan Saray Restaurant, Alemdar Mh, Catalcesme Sk No:12, Sultanahmet- Fatih, Istanbul. Tel: +90 212 5112798.
Seven Hills Hotel, Tevkifhane Sk No:8/A 34122 Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Tel: +90 212 5169497.
Havuzlu Restaurant, Gani Celebi Sokak, PTT Yani No:3, Kapalicarsi, Eminonu- Fatih, Istanbul. Tel: +90 212 5273346.