Tag Archives: Turkey

Sampling Unique Turkish Food in Avon at Istanbul Grill

turkeyWe have had a lot of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food in our day, and to be honest, a lot of it tends to run together. So we are always glad to happen upon spots that serve more regional dishes beyond the ubiquitous kebabs and hummus. At an unassuming strip mall in Avon, we found a hidden Turkish gem doing just that: Istanbul Grill (35840 Chester Rd., Avon, OH). One thing that sets Istanbul Grill apart is that it serves some slightly more unusual (and authentic) Turkish dishes you won’t see elsewhere. For example you can get kebabs over diced bread, a serving style that is common in Turkey, but I haven’t really seen much in the US. They also serve Lahmacun ($13.49) on Sundays – a Turkish pizza-style flatbread topped with ground lamb. istanbulgrill

The decor at Istanbul Grill is simple but comfortable, with bright red walls and enlarged photos of Turkey hung throughout. We received a basket of fresh Turkish flatbread while we perused the substantial menu, with an assortment of meze, salads, kebabs (filet, lamb, chicken, shrimp and doner) and specialty meat dishes. Though there are some vegetarian options, the menu is very meat heavy. We started off with two distinctly Turkish starters: a riff on Tzatziki sauce – Cacik ($6.99) – which consists of yogurt with dill sauce, and Sigara Boregi ($7.99)- fried phyllo filled with cheese. Both were delicious and comforting, and we think we’d take Sigara Boregi over mozzarella sticks any day. For mains, we ordered the Iskander kebab – lamb and beef carved off a spit, like gyros, served over diced bread with a mild tomato sauce (seen below – $16.99); and the Hunkar Begendi (aka Sultan’s Delight – $17.99) – which was lamb with bell peppers in a tomato sauce, served over pureed eggplant and cheese. We haven’t seen either of these mains on a menu before – so we were excited to try something new.

iskanderkebab

For dessert we finished up with Kunefe ($6.99), a hot dessert with shredded wheat topped with cheese and sugar syrup, which goes perfectly with a hot cup of Turkish coffee. Both main courses were perfectly spiced, and we enjoyed the eggplant and bread as alternative sides to the more common rice. Though the prices seemed a little high, you make up for it in portions, and we were left with enough for the leftovers for the next day. A final plus, the service was friendly and attentive throughout. We highly enjoyed everything we sampled at Istanbul Grill and we look forward to working our way through the Turkish menu and coming back for some Lahmacun!

 

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Kunefe, Baklava and other Turkish treats for the end of Ramadan

turkeyThe end of Ramadan is right around the corner, which means it is time for Eid-Al Fitr feasts! Every country has it fair share of festive foods, and Turkey pulls out all the stops when it comes to desserts for holidays. Ozlem’s Turkish Table has a variety of delicious Turkish desserts that would be perfect at any Eid Al-Fitr (known as Ramazan Bayramı in Turkey) celebration, including the well-known baklava as well as lesser-known but still delicious treats like Kunefe and Revani.

Ozlem's Baklava

Ozlem’s Baklava

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Cheap Eats in Istanbul

turkeyWe had heard from an acquaintance that there was no good cheap food in Istanbul. That could not be less true! Much like Rome, there are a lot of tourist trap places with overpriced low-quality menus, aiming to make a buck on tired tourists by providing sub-par food. However, on the whole, we probably had better luck finding good, cheap food in Istanbul than Rome. One such example of the good options available is Melekler (113 Ipek Sok, off Küçük Parmakkapi Sok). Located in the bustling Taksim district of Istanbul, this place is blink-and-you’ll miss it small. However, the enticing menu of BBQed meats keeps it pretty packed.
MelekerIstanbul
M ordered a plate of Spicy Urfa kebabs, delicious grilled pita and roasted tomatoes. As you can see above, the portions were more than generous. L had a broiled chicken durum wrap that was even cheaper! Durum flatbread wraps are the specialty of the house here, and are definitely worth a try. Dinner was less than 12 Lira, and the tasty BBQ spread certainly fed the two of us. Melekler is open for lunch and dinner –  cash only (though you won’t need to bring much). If you are looking for another quick place for a cheap eats even closer to the touristic center, we also recommend Sultanahmet Köftecisi (Divanyolu Caddesi 12A, Sultanahmet) for amazing, cheap quick kebabs right in the heart of town.

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The Magical World of Turkish Osmanlı Macunu

turkeyWe absolutely love the culture of street food in Turkey, and we were completely intrigued by Zester’s videos of the Turkish candy, Osmanlı Macunu, being made on the street. Macun (which means “paste” in Turkish) is basically a colorful sugar lollipop that comes in a variety of flavors, made to order. Each lollipop is composed of several flavors, twirled on a stick in succession and then cured by lemon. You just have to watch!

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Exploring the Camden Lock Global Food Market

united_kingdom Many visitors to London, so we are told, cap their trip with a leisurely boat ride along the Thames – a journey which, surely, will take you to some fine culinary destinations. But – and this knowledge is thanks to a trip from our well-traveled friend Robin – London also possesses a series of small navigable canals in the central and northern parts of the city. You can ride, as we did, a British longboat from the back of Paddington Station to the Camden Lock, a leisurely ride through London’s “Little Venice” that took us by grand estates, leafy parks and an assortment of floating homes and cafes. And, prize of prizes, the boat will drop you off at what may be one of our favorite food markets ever: Camden Lock Market.

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Camden Lock Market is large, with a wide range of stores, restaurants, and shops that can get very crowded and touristy. But at this end, nearest to the boat dock, you find “Global Kitchen,” which features a plethora of appealing and appetizing food stalls around a gridded series of walkways. Even at the odd hour of 3 pm, this place was jam packed (the market is open 10am-6pm most days). Our first reaction? Overwhelming. It took half an hour just to find all the options available: Japanese noodles, Argentine grilled meats, Peruvian snacks, West African meals, kielbasa, vegan wraps, paella, cookies, piadina, and more. Everything- and we mean everything- looked good!???????????????????????????????

Choices, choices. L finally opted for South African bunny chow at Boerie en Bunny (£5.5). Operated by a woman who wins the award for genuinely nicest person we have ever met, Boerie en Bunny serves South African curries and fish stews over your choice of rice or “Bunny Chow” – a hollowed out roll (bun – get it?), stuffed with your order. We went with a rich and deeply flavorful spicy goat curry, topped with yogurt and fresh cilantro – a choice that was only made after our amiable friend forced us to try all the options she had available, and then asked us to stay just to taste a her seafood stew (fantastic, and very reminiscent of a Brazilian moqueca).

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Next, we opted to reminisce about our 2011 Istanbul trip with a Turkish lahmacun at Istanbul lahmacun (£5), a pizza-esque dish topped with ground lamb. Lahmacun are a very popular street snack in Istanbul, and we had the good fortune to try a few while were there. The stall owner, from Istanbul herself (authenticity points!) was very happy to learn we enjoyed her hometown, and eager to talk about her life experiences and food in London. The good food matched the owner’s ambiability: our lahmacun was huge, covered in ground lamb, yogurt and veggies, which made for a filling and delicious main course.

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Finally, for dessert we had one dozen Dutch poffertjes (aka “Dutch Pancakes”; £3.5) from a stall of the same name. These little puffs have the appearance of mini dough UFOs or slightly flattened donut holes. The gentleman manning the stall (see photo below) was a complete pro: flipping the poffertjes in the special pan at a lightning speed with a pair of chopsticks. Of course we could not resist topping them with Nutella.

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We ate a lot of street food in London, but the Camden Lock Market was our hands-down favorite! If you are looking for cheap, good food in London you absolutely must go. You can get there by tube, but the boat is even more fun.

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The Design of the Turkish Tea Experience

turkeyWe write a lot about food on this blog, but we don’t often touch on the design experience related to dining. When it comes down to it – there is a lot of design involved in every step of the eating experience – from the restaurant/kitchen, the table setting, right down to the shape of a teacup. Fast Company has an interesting piece by John Brownlee about what role design plays in the Turkish tea experience in particular.

Turkishtea

Turkish tea by Estorde

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A Quick Guide to Street Food in Istanbul

turkeyThe street food in Istanbul is amazing, and there is a whole lot more than Döner on offer. Though of course the ubiquitous cone of meat is available, we found some options for street food that were completely unique. When we were in Istanbul, we ate as much street food as possible, and we really enjoyed the ubiquitous culture of street stalls and carts. Here are our favorite street eats, but if you’re looking for more, Witt Hotels and Atdaa have great rundowns of the myriad different types of street food in Istanbul. We wish we were enjoying these munchies by the Bosporus right now.

Mısır – One thing we never expected to see for sale in Istanbul was something distinctly “new world” – grilled corn on the cob! Much like Mexican elote, misir is served with salt and spices (though there is no butter). This was absolutely one of the most popular street foods, and is surprisingly tasty and filling.

Misir / Kestane Cart in Istanbul

Misir / Kestane Cart in Istanbul

Kestane – Delicious roast chestnuts often sold alongside corn, or alone after corn has gone out of season. Chestnuts are a popular fall food throughout Europe, as we saw in Lisbon, and are a great warm-up in chilly weather.
Simit – One of the many ring-shaped carb-y options available as street food in Istanbul, simit is a savory bagel-esque bread ring covered in sesame seeds. For breakfast simit, is often accompanied with yogurt and jam.
Açma – This similar to Simit, but is sweet and fried. Think of a Turkish doughnut.

Halka Tatlisi Istanbul Cart

Halka Tatlisi cart in Istabul

Halka Tatlisi – If Açma is not sweet enough for you, you graduate to the Turkish churro: Halka Tatlisi. This street food staple consists of fried dough with a glossy sugar glaze. For the sweet tooth only.
Dondurma – Turkish ice cream – which has a much denser, pliable consistency. Half the fun is watching the ice cream cone being prepared.
Pide and Lahmacun – Thin flatbreads topped with cheese and/or meat, perfect if you are feeling like more of a meal. There are also full restaurants dedicated to these foods, though you can get them on the street.
Mussels – Down by the docks we also saw buckets of Mussels for sale (and ready consumption). This particular street food we did not partake in, but we were just about the only ones. We imagine the high turnover keeps everything pretty fresh.

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“Bean Everywhere”: A video ode to Scandinavian and Turkish Coffee


denmark_flagsweden_flagturkeynorwayWe recently wrote about the vibrant coffee culture in Scandinavia, particularly Norway. Adding credence the near-mythic status of Scandinavian coffee is “Bean Everywhere” a wordless video tribute to Scandinavian coffee by the South African Coffee publication, The Coffee Mag, with the much different Turkish coffee in the mix as well. If you are a coffee lover it is definitely worth a watch.

Shops featured in the video:

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September 5, 2013 · 8:25 AM

Tracking down Turkish Breakfast in Chicago

Turkish Breakfast

Turkish Breakfast by Massimiliano Trevisan

turkeyAfter writing our recent post on Asitane restaurant in Istanbul, it got us hankering for some Turkish food. We had excellent food in Istanbul, and even some particularly good breakfasts. We enjoyed the hearty spread of baked goods, cheeses, halva, fruit, yogurt & honey and excellent coffee (naturally). While we have attempted to recreate our Turkish breakfasts on a smaller scale, it turns out there are even some places in Chicago that turn out a Turkish breakfast/brunch. Serious Eats Chicago recently had a feature on what was deemed the best place to catch a Turkish brunch, Pide ve Lahmacun (1812 W Irving Park Rd.). It was already on our list, but with this additional news, we definitely have to go!

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Asitane: Eating your way through Turkish history

Asitane
Kariye Camii Sokak No: 6
34240 Edirnekapi
Istanbul – Turkey

turkeyEvery once in a while a restaurant comes along that has a concept so intriguing, you have to try it. Asitane has come up with such a concept: using authentic, historical Turkish dishes spanning nearly 1000 years. Each dish has either been re-created from original Ottoman menus, or re-created from descriptions of dishes served at the time. Each dish on the extensive menu is given a date, which may seem gimmicky at first, but really works. The setting of Asitane is quaint and beautiful, and is located on the ground floor of a renovated old building. We were lucky enough to arrive on a pleasant day, so we decided to eat outdoors, though there is also extensive indoor seating.Asitane To start with, we got a sampler plate, which like all of the other items on the menu, was very reasonably priced. We were surprised that it was such a good deal for such a fine dining experience. The sampler plate included four dips (20 Turkish Lira, about $10): Ottoman Hums (1469/1471), Lor Cheese Blend (1898), Fava (no date on this), and a pounded cucumber salad (1844). The Hums was what we might consider hummus, with currants and pine nuts, the Lor was a spreadable mild cheese (much like ricotta) mixed with rosemary, peppers and tomatoes, and the fava bean dip was seasoned with dill. We also received a basket of bread to sop everything up.

AsitaneDip

We then tried what was perhaps our favorite dish of the day: ‘Toyga Aşı’ Summer Soup with Yogurt (14th century). The soup was served cool, with mint and olive oil drizzled on top. It was phenomenal! For an entree we chose “Mahmudiyye” with Dane-i Sarı (1539), stewed chicken with cinnamon, cloves and apricots garnished with Rezaki raisins and almonds. The dish was extremely flavorful, with a pleasing sweet taste that went with the saffron pilaf accompaniment.

AsitaneChicken

We highly enjoyed our meal at Asitane, adding even more to our opinion that Turkey has amazing food. To top it off, the setting was lovely, the service was pleasant and the price was extremely reasonable. We also forgot to mention that in addition to your server you will be attended to by the restaurant cat (see below) who likes to visit. To top it off, Asitane is right next to one of the major sights in Istanbul, the Chora Church (Kariye Kilisesi), even though it is a little bit outside of the historical center. If you visit Asitane you are sure to have an extremely unique dining experience you can not get anywhere else (unless you are a time traveler, of course).

AsitaneCat

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Turkey: Pide at Karadeniz in Istanbul

Karadeniz
Haci Tahsinbey Sokak, Sultanahmet
(Off of Divan Yolu)
Istanbul, Turkey

turkeyWhen lookign for cheap eats in Istanbul, we got this recommendation from the lovely blog Istanbul Eats. Karedeniz is located on one of the many pedestrian side-streets off of the major thoroughfare Divan Yolu, right at the Sultanahmet tram stop. There are picturesque outdoor tables, though as in other places in Istanbul, you may be joined by a feline friend looking for a few scraps (we sure were!). The specialty of Karedeniz is Pide – though they also sell other Turkish favorites like kebabs.

Karedeniz

Pide is sometimes called “Turkish Pizza” but is in reality a canoe shaped piece of flat leavened dough with a variety of toppings. Pide are not usually a street food, and are often sold in Pide restaurants called “pideci.” This was our first experience with Pide in Turkey, and it was one food we were really looking forward to. The one we got below was cheese – and it was excellent, simple lunch fare, not to mention, easy on the wallet. Other pide varieties available included various combinations of meat and vegetables. M got a generous salad topped with a chicken kebab, which was flavorful and fresh off the grill. If you are in the Sultanahmet, Karedeniz is a great place for great food at a good price. Don’t be lured into the tourist traps!

Pide

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Portugal: Ali Baba Kebab Haus

Ali Baba Kebab 
Rua Palma, just south of Martim Moniz Square
Lisbon

We love Middle Eastern food, so we were definitely excited to find a few options in Lisbon (more reviews to come). Walking down Martim Moniz square, M’s eye was immediately drawn to the döner spinning in the window. In the words of Ron Swanson, a character from one of our favorite shows, Parks and Recreation, “There’s a hot spinning cone of meat in that Greek restaurant next door. I don’t know what it is, but, I’d like to eat the whole thing.” That was pretty much our reaction upon seeing the Ali Baba Kebab Haus.

Unfortunately, we had just had dinner, so we vowed to return on another day. About a week later, before a night performance at the Dona Maria II National Theater in Rossio Square, we headed over to Ali Baba for a quick bite. When we arrived, the spot was filled with a fast-moving crowd composed of the local middle eastern community and a strong local/German tourist contingent (let us not forget the stunning popularity of döner kebabs in Germany).

Ali Baba serves Turkish food, and there are only three things on the menu: chicken döner, beef döner and falafel. You can get each filling option in a pita or a durum wrap, along with a side of salad or french fries. We each opted for a durum – M picked the chicken and L went with the falafel. All of these options are between only 3.5-6€. Once you pick your filling, you tell the sandwich maker what sorts of toppings you want, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, hot sauce (fantastic!) and garlic sauce (similarly awesome).

Fair warning – there are no tables, just a tiny stand-up counter in the very tiny store. No surprise, many people take the orders to go. M enjoyed his chicken döner, but found it a little greasy for his tastes. The Turkish-style falafel was tasty, and completely complemented by the garlic sauce. Though we had a little trouble eating the overstuffed durums at the stand-up counter you will definitely be hard-pressed to find a better cheap meal near Rossio Square.

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Turkey: Dining Under the Galata Bridge in Istanbul

Some destinations have “must-do” experiences, visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc., but our favorite requisites tend to be food-related. One quintessential Turkish dining experience is enjoying a meal under the Galata Bridge that spans the Golden Horn in Istanbul. In terms of natural and architectural beauty, Istanbul is a grand city, and the Bosphorus plays a huge part in its history and the landscape. Though we found plenty of awesome cheap food in Istanbul, you can hardly beat the panoramic setting of the Galata bridge. It’s also the perfect place to take in some of the city and its people. The bridge is always bustling, full of pedestrians and fishermen. If you’re craving a Galata dining experience, there are two ways you can go, dining under the bridge itself, or dining on the neon-bedecked fishing boats docked on the Eminonu side of the river.

We chose to eat underneath the bridge, (partially because we ended up on the side of the river opposite of the neon boats). There we found a range of eateries serving seafood, from dirt cheap to more expensive, packing in both crowds of tourists and locals. The cuisine is not the draw though, the views are. We found a restaurant serving simple fish sandwiches for 5 Lire and a particularly potent Turkish coffee. Next time around we would love to try the neon fish boats, which were literally jumping and rollicking and blasting music as the sun set.

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Dondurma (Turkish Ice Cream) on a Hot Day

On a hot summer’s day there is nothing better than some ice cream, and given this current heat wave (seems like Brazil in Chicago here today with the humidity) we could use a LOT of ice cream. One of our favorite ice cream permutations is Dondurma, a stretchy and pliable ice cream from Turkey. Dondurma has a texture unlike any commerical American ice cream (almost like taffy), and is flavored with mastic and thickened with salep, a type of flour made from orchids. If you have an ice cream maker, here is a recipe for DIY dondurma. However, part of the fun of dondurma is watching the dondurma sellers prepare the ice cream – we saw them all over Istanbul – check out the video of a seller below.

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Finding Turkish Helva in Chicago

One of the things that we most loved about Turkey were the extraordinary breakfasts we had everyday: yogurt with fresh honeycomb, fresh fruit, cheese and olives, Turkish pastries, the whole works. At one such breakfast we were also introduced to the enigmatic helva, a sweet treat made with sesame seed paste. I have a lot of trouble trying to describe helva since its texture is so unusual – it’s sugary and crumbly, but with the creaminess of peanut butter. The specific variety of helva we had in Istanbul was Tahin Helvası (as in tahini), and we enjoyed varieties with chocolate swirls and pistachio. Helva or helva-like products are widespread throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but it was the first time we had ever tried any other nut butter candies like this. Fortunately, we found Turkish helva in a few middle eastern grocery stores in Chicago.

Where to get your Helva Fix in Chicago:

Pita Inn Market & Bakery (Next to Pita Inn Restaurant)
3924 Dempster
Skokie, IL

Middle East Bakery and Grocery
1512 W. Foster
Chicago, IL

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Our Favorite Place for Middle Eastern in the Chicago Suburbs: Pita Inn

turkey.png Pita Inn
New Location: 4700 Dempster St.
Skokie , IL

If you see that a restaurant is packed full at 3 PM on Sunday, you know it’s probably pretty decent. In the case of Pita Inn, It was more than decent. Talk about bang for your buck! From the outside, the Pita Inn just looks like a typical fast food operation. Same on the inside – there is a counter where you place your order and get a number. One word: Amazing. The menu features a variety of pitas and platters: Chicken and Beef Shewarma, Kifta, Beef and Chicken Kabobs and Falafel sandwiches. There are also all of the classic appetizers: Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, Tabouleh and Dolmeh.

Our table ordered 2 falafel sandwiches and 1 each of the chicken and beef shewarma pitas. Each sandwich came in a chewy, obviously-fresh pita at the bargain price of less than $4.50 each. The shewarma sandwiches were tasty and well-seasoned. However, the stars of the show were the falafel. These are some serious falafel – good texture, crispy outside, even better drenched with tahini. Yum!

The best part, however, was the fact that the Pita Inn factory was located in a strip mall that shared a parking lot with the restaurant. There was a little window that connected the pita factory to a Middle-Eastern grocery store by a pass-through window. You could buy bags of fresh pitas in the grocery store for less than 4 bucks to take home. Here’s our fresh-out-of-the-oven purchase. As you can see, the bag is full of steam! These pitas were absolutely delicious. Pita Inn doesn’t have a Zagat rating of 24 for nothing.

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