The most widely consumed desert and sweet snack is this light and fluffy phyllo pastry, filled with nuts and pistachios that are soaked in honey and is called baklava. Originating in Turkey, it can be found almost anywhere in the world.
There are a couple of shops with a window display of types of Baklava on the main street of Sultanahmet. And it is very difficult to not stop and stare at these heavenly pieces of delicacy.
As a matter of fact, there are many countries who claim that the Baklava originated in their country. Countries like Lebanon, Armenia, Greece, Israel, and Jordan. Well, I don’t know the truth behind it. So I am gonna treat it as a Turkish Treat.
Quick Tip: If you are looking for a place with good baklava and other Turkish specialties, head to the Cigdem Patisserie. I chose it because it was highly recommended by the locals and also some of my friends.
Turkish Delight – Lokum
Next on my list is yet another popular sweet item, the Turkish Delight; locally knows as the Lokum. You will find it anywhere easily in Istanbul. The airports, the souvenir shops, local shops, and also in cafes/restaurants.
The Turkish Delight is a real Turkish treat to the gustatory senses. It is a chewy, soft and gel-like dessert dusted with sugar and has the most delectable taste. Lokum comes in a variety of flavors and styles. The traditional Turkish delight is soft and has pistachios, almonds or nuts in it.
The other flavors are coconut, hazelnut, coffee, cinnamon or clove, and mint. It is mostly served with coffee in many restaurants and is a great choice for the aftertaste.
The Turkish Delight is definitely a treat to take back home. To pick up the right place to buy it in bunches, you should head straight to the sweets shop. The shopkeepers will let you taste the many flavors and let you choose your favorites; you can also mix flavors for an assorted treat back home.
Turkey is also home to the scrumptious and succulent koftes and kebabs. You can just not miss the elongated-looking meat stick. Kofte is made by mixing minced meat with spices and herbs and then grilled on charcoal. They are juicy and tender; mostly served with pita bread, baby spinach and grilled tomatoes. They make a perfect combination when had with ayran. (Turkish version of buttermilk).
Then there are kebabs. Most of us have heard about kebabs being popular in the Middle-eastern countries; Turkey is one of them. Kebabs are nothing but thin shreds of meat (mostly lamb or chicken) placed in a bread topped with yogurt sauce (or mayo or ketchup), onions and tomatoes (sometimes grilled), and melted butter. This is a classic Doner kebab or kebap as they call it in Turkey.
Doner in Turkey means rotating and kebap is the seasoned meat. The meat used is cut from the giant loaf of seasoned and spiced meat that is inserted on a long metal vertical rotisserie. This rotisserie rotates and cooks the meat. Grill or charcoal options are used to cook this type of meat.
You are not doing your trip to Turkey right if you haven’t yet had the Turkish tea. Turkish tea is one item you must not miss. It is served after every meal in a tulip shaped curvy cup. This tea tastes bitter.
I was tempted to try when I was served this aromatic tea, right after my meal, in a curvy transparent cup. Though the tea was toastier and bitter than I expected, it came as a surprise to me when the taste started growing on my palate.
Like in India and China, this tea is a part of routine too and it is had on a regular basis.
“This tea is not everyone’s cup of tea.”
While the tea makes for a routine meal, the Turkish coffee cannot be missed too. When roaming the streets, if you spot a coffee stall, make sure to stop and try this textured flavor hot drink. I had to add honey to my coffee because it was strongly roasted.
The process of making coffee on the hot sand is an interesting one to look at. It’s like an art. The hot gravel or charcoal brews the cup of coffee and you are served the deep-roasted drink that will need a bitter approving palate to have it.
The Turks enjoy this cup of coffee in the evenings and the local stall-owner who served me coffee told me I had to sit and enjoy it to get the real taste of Istanbul. It is served in silverware or painted cups that are also among my favorite picks for souvenirs.
I brought home three pairs of coffee mugs and they make an amazing display on my crockery cupboard.
Quick Look at the Street Food
Like any other, middle-eastern country, Turkey is renowned for its street food too. The first one to try is a pretzel-like bread called the Simit.
Simit is a warm bread topped with sesame seeds and it tastes like a bagel. It is sold around in carts everywhere around the city. This can make a good snack while you are gawking at the Blue Mosque or taking a walk around the cobbled streets of Istanbul.
Similarly, corn is another snack that is sold on carts and found everywhere. This corn on the cob is roasted on charcoal or boiled and garnished with lemon juice and little spices. The aroma of corn being roasted on the coal will drag you to one of the carts.
Balik Ekmek, meaning fish on bread is one street snack you cannot afford to miss. It is a favorite local snack and comes at a cheaper price. The fish is fried and served with onions, tomatoes, and bread. This may sound simple; however, when you try the fish you know you have had the best snack of the day.
Dondurma or the Turkish Ice cream is yet another popular street food. This is not your regular gelatin or custard ice cream; the Dondurma is a syrupy, chewy and thick ice cream that has flour in it. The best part of having a Dondurma is not only the taste but the 3-minute show that the vendor will perform for you while making the ice cream.
Yes, you heard it right!! The vendor does little tricks and fools around with a long metal spatula that will hand you the cone this minute and take away the next minute. It’s fun watching people blushing and laughing while they get their ice-creams.
Lastly, try some freshly squeezed juices from local vendors. From the regular orange and pineapple juices, you also have the option to try the kiwi or pomegranate juice for 2-3 liras.