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Addicted to Döner

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Before our arrival in Istanbul, we had no idea how much döner we were about to eat… Ach, who am I kidding? We knew exactly. Scarfing down plate after heaping plate of delicious döner meat was our plan from the very beginning. It’s part of the reason we chose Istanbul in the first place.

Iskender Döner

We had become addicted to döner during the five years we lived in Berlin. Packed into a bun with salad, and slathered with sauce, the German variation of döner makes excellent hangover food. But in Istanbul, it’s served completely differently. Over the course of our 91 days here, we’ve had to open our minds and mouths to unexpected new döner horizons. Oh, how we have grown!

The vertical, spinning cone of meat is found on nearly every corner throughout Istanbul. The apron-wearing cook slicing off thin strips of meat is a beautiful sight, and just might be the quintessential image of Turkey. If you listen attentively, döner falling onto a plate sounds suspiciously like a chorus of angels. Or like the joyful laughter of children.

Usually, the meat on a döner cone is lamb, but you can also find beef and chicken. The standard plate, a porsiyon, is nothing more than slices of meat served with a bit of salad. You can also get it piled on top of rice. My favorite, though, is the İskender variation, which is a specialty of Bursa. This is döner meat served atop heavily-buttered pita bread, and then drenched in yogurt and tomato sauce. With a helping of french-fries mixed in. I just heard your stomach growl! Don’t be ashamed, mine is growling, too.

Çağ Döner

Another interesting variation is the Çağ Döner, where the meat cone has been laid on its side, and is being rotated over a pit of coals. The cook pierces the meat with long skewers, and then cuts the döner slices directly onto them. This is usually served with flatbread and salad.

For a quick bite, we frequently ordered Dürüm Döner, which is like a döner burrito. Just wrapped up meat with salad and tomato, these cost less than the porsiyon, and provide a good fix when you’re in need.

Ah, döner. I love you, but to be honest, it will be good for our relationship if we take a break for a while. It’s not you, it’s me. I can’t control myself when I’m around you, and fall into fits of violent jealousy when I see others eating you. I want you all to myself. And when I look in the mirror, I don’t like the shivering, smear-mouthed mess staring back at me. So for my own good, farewell. But despair not… I doubt it will be long before we meet again.

Turkish Cookbooks

Raw Döner
Çağ Döner Istanbul
Döner Teller
Iskender Döner Istanbul
Tourist Attraction Istanbul
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July 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm Comments (4)

Breakfast in Turkey

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During our first Turkish breakfast, I surveyed the table with fear and doubt. Every conceivable inch was occupied by a plate, bowl or cup. It was a ridiculous amount of food! Had the waitress misheard our order? When I said “breakfast for two”, had she understood “A merry feast for my hungry horde of Vikings”? Because this… this couldn’t possibly be right.

Turkish Breakfast

But no, it was a normal Turkish breakfast. Bread, olives, honey, jams, eggs, cheeses (old and new, cow and goat). Fluffy, filled pastries called börek. Omelets, sausage, tea. Everything you could possibly want. Turks really enjoy their kahvalti (literally, “before coffee”), and can sit around the table for hours. Newspapers are read, friends pass by and sit down, politics are discussed, more is ordered, and a lot is eaten.

We had a few wonderful breakfasts during our time in Istanbul. Aşşk Cafe in Nişantaşı, for example, served us a meal we’ll be fondly remembering for years. It was the first time I’d eaten chunks of sweet, chewy honeycomb. And did you know you can mix tahini and grape molasses? Well you can, and it’s delicious.

Another great experience was at Cafe Privato, where a view of the Galata Tower competes with an overflowing table of deliciousness for attention. As opposed to Aşşk Cafe, where we selected a variety from the menu, here were ordered a set breakfast, adding cigar-shaped börek filled with cheese. The jams were homemade, as were the breads and lemonade, and everything was delicious.

We had scored an excellent table near the window, and stayed for at least an hour after we’d finished, ordering cup after cup of tea. I felt a little bad about hogging one of the restaurant’s best views, but lingering seems to be the norm. Above all, Turkish breakfast is about slow, relaxed enjoyment. It’s hard to put a better start on the day.

Locations on our Istanbul Map: Aşşk Cafe | Cafe Privato

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June 29, 2013 at 11:54 am Comments (4)

Turkish Sweet Tooth: Baklava, Lokum and Dondurma

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After a couple months in Istanbul, I started avoiding my reflection. But one morning, I accidentally caught a glimpse. Yep, a little chubbier than normal. And I was thrilled! Considering the rate at which I had been shoveling Istanbul’s infamous sweets into my honey-smeared mouth, “a little chubbier than normal” was perfectly acceptable.

Turkish Baklava

Baklava is the most famous of Turkey’s desserts: a wonderful, honey-drenched concoction invented by renowned sweet-tooth Lucifer, Lord of Hell. Of course, we’re all familiar with the Biblical parable in which baklava was created by the devil to tempt Jesus from the path of righteousness. Jesus had been able to resist the first three temptations, but one whiff of baklava and he was undone.

(Maybe that’s not exactly how it went. But if the devil had thought to tempt Jesus with baklava, the Bible might have had a very different ending.)

Baklava is the quintessential Turkish treat, invented in the kitchens of the Topkap? Palace for the enjoyment of sultans. Layers of flaky dough separated by melted butter are filled with crushed nuts and baked, then drenched in honey or syrup. But such a spiritless description of this wonder-treat does it no justice. Allow me to try again. Baklava is the Beethoven’s Ninth of sweets; a perfect symphony of pleasure in which every ingredient comes together so harmoniously that upon finishing, you want to immediately experience it again. Baklava is so flawless, so beautiful, that it should be banned.

Cutting Tirkish Delight

Lokum, better known as Turkish Delight, is another popular treat Jürgen and I consumed far too much of. These flavored, powdered, gummy cubes were invented in Constantinople in 1776 (the same year, I’ll proudly note, that America was invented), and immediately became a hit around the Ottoman Empire.

It can be made in a limitless number of flavors, with rosewater the most traditional. The best (and most expensive) lokum use honey as the sweetener, flour and water to create the gel, and then a wide variety of ingredients to finish the taste and give it color. We’ve had creamy walnut lokum, orange and lemon lokum, mint lokum rolled in coconut, hazelnut lokum, swirly chocolate lokum with a pistachio coating. And a lot more.

While eating baklava and lokum, I prefer to be at a table by myself, with one arm arched protectively around my plate. So they don’t provide anywhere near the fun factor as my favorite kind of Istanbul dessert: Turkish Ice Cream, or dondurma.

Dondurma

When you order a cone of the extra-thick, extra-creamy ice cream from a street vendor, prepare yourself for some teasing. The sellers, dressed in Ottoman fashion, are experts in the art of trickery. They’ll give you your cone, swipe it away, replace it with an empty cone, spin their stick to make you grasp at air, bop you on the nose with the ice cream, prick you in the side with the cone’s point, and all you can do is play along. I never tire of watching their antics, and have never seen them fail to coax a laugh out of whomever they’re teasing.

And the ice cream? Delicious. It’s the thickest, heaviest ice cream I’ve ever tasted; the kind you can actually bite into. In fact, it might be best eaten with a fork and knife.

Buy Turkish Delight Here

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June 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm Comments (6)
Addicted to Dner Before our arrival in Istanbul, we had no idea how much döner we were about to eat... Ach, who am I kidding? We knew exactly. Scarfing down plate after heaping plate of delicious döner meat was our plan from the very beginning. It's part of the reason we chose Istanbul in the first place.
For 91 Days