How do you make a person fall in love with a city you adore? When it comes to Istanbul, some might head directly to Hagia Sofia, while others would book a Bosphorus tour. And they wouldn’t be wrong. The city’s monuments and waterways are beyond beguiling. But on a recent trip to Istanbul with my boyfriend Chris (his first time in Turkey!), I organized one glorious week of savoring and sipping our way from Balat on the Golden Horn to Tarabya up the Bosphorus. I was dead set on making him love Istanbul and I knew the city would seduce him dish by dish. These were our highlights:
Set in the busy Beşiktaş shopping district, Kaymakçı Pando is a popular breakfast spot. We skipped the full spread and went straight for the bal kaymak (clotted buffalo’s cream with honey) served with sliced bread. We ate our weight in kaymak daily and, though we never had room or felt remotely hungry, would head directly across the street for döner at Asım Usta anyway.
For breakfast #2 we would Order Asım Usta’s döner on pide. You should do this, too. You might be full of Pando’s rich offerings, but it’s impossible to resist Asım Usta’s imposing roasting meat pile. Trust us.
While most food tourists make the pilgrimage across the Bosphorus to eat at profoundly overrated Çiya in Kadıköy, it was a cup of bright pickles in spicy brine at Özcan Turşuları that left the ‘hood’s biggest impression.
Newcomer Petra Coffee, which is set in a bizarre speedboat showroom/antique shop/art gallery made quite a good coffee. It received high marks, particularly given that the place is brand new and the space is so strange.
Şehzade Erzurum Cağ Kebabı near Sirkeci Station served delectable wood roasted lamb sliced off a horizontal spit, a perfect snack between meals.
Tarihi Karaköy Balıkçısı, a hole-in-the-wall fish joint in an unsightly part of the Karaköy port, is a must for fish lovers–or those just looking for a light, exquisitely simple meal. The place owes its reputation to Muharrem Usta, a master on the grill whose charcoal-grilled fish is second to none. The dil şiş (skewered sole) was perfect.
After a subpar version of fried mussels at a famous fry stall in Beyoğlu, I was determined to share Istanbul’s best version with Chris. So we made the long but worthwhile trip up the Bosphorus to Kıyı for the city’s best midye tava.
Kantin‘s seasonal menu was gorgeous and, devoted pizza lovers that we are, we adored the crispy flatbread topped with thinly sliced pears.
But by far the best meal we had was with our friend Şemsa at Balat Sahil Restoran, a meyhane next to Balat Parkı where superb mezes and triple-distilled rakı were followed by gorgeous pan fried liver. That thinly sliced, perfectly seasoned dish is worth a flight on its own and the memory of its flavor and texture will linger until our next trip.