The food in Istanbul was in a word - fabulous. Let’s just say I ate way more than I should have on this trip. But the food kept coming, and it was fantastic. I had a chance to experience historic dishes served to the sultans, like Hünkar Beğendi, a dish of stewed lamb over eggplant purée, and also taste creative uses of local ingredients like pistachios, pomegranate, chestnuts and sumac, by young chefs.
Our first evening in Istanbul, Zübeyir Ocakbaşi a traditional Turkish kebab house, introduced me tohealthful Mediterranean food. The cuisine here is perfect for sharing with a group, a mix of mezes, vegetables dressed simply in olive oil and hearty meat kebabs. I don’t consider myself a big red meat eater, but I went into a carnivorous frenzy with the juicy chunks of lamb.
For a sexy night out, try X Restaurant, with a sweeping panoramic view of the city and modern takes on Mediterranean ingredients, including a delicious roasted turbot fresh from the Black Sea dressedwith a citrus fennel vinaigrette, grilled asparagus, artichokes and tomatoes. And liver never tasted as good as the seared calf liver with arugula pesto and beetroot sauce. Even though we were stuffed, dessert was too tempting. Warm chestnut cake with an oozing caramel center was the perfect way to end the meal.
Turkish desserts tend to be very sweet, almost cloying at times, with lots of honey, nuts and simple syrup. It’s hard to differentiate between all the variations on baklava and different flavors of Turkish delight. One of my favorite desserts, however, was a simple almond cookie, Badem Kurabiyesi, that I had at Pandeli in the Spice Bazar. Dipped in Turkish coffee, this crumbly almond shortbread was divine.
I’m also a little obsessed with pistachios, so the pistachio paste cakes at NAR Lokanta were tooaddictive…subtly sweet with an intense nuttiness. I had to get an entire box to bring home. The ingredients are simply pistachios, sugar and egg whites and since no preservatives are used, this has a very short shelf life. That was no problem though, as I devoured the whole box in just a couple days. The NAR restaurant is run by Turkey’s premier gourmet food company and located in the sophisticated Armaggan boutique. Imagine if Tiffany & Co. and Dean & DeLuca joined forces, Turkish style. Armaggan’s mission is introducing Turkish culture to the world, showcasing the finest local designers of jewelry, clothing, textiles and housewares, as well as gourmet olive oils, Turkish delight and organic spices. Many NAR products are just recently available to purchase online and they are expanding their brand to the states, so be on the lookout. A few of my favorites include their raspberry Turkish delight, chili olive oil and of course my pistachio and almond pastes.