In this new episode of Explore Türkiye, we visit Istanbul - a city famous for its vibrant dynamism. But it is the food in this ‘gastrocity’ that will be the focus of this episode as we explore its gastronomical offering.
Istanbul, the largest city in Türkiye, is well known all over the world for its history and culture. But we can say it’s a paradise for food lovers too. Tradition and the classical go hand in hand with innovation and creativity in Turkish cuisine.
There’s no better place to start this culinary journey than the famous Kadıköy market, situated on the Asian side of Istanbul. Colours and smells assail you as you step inside this market, made by stands, shops, bars and restaurants.
Here you can pop into family-run grocery stores, historical pickle shops, spice and fish stands. Or you can try sweets famous across the city, such as baklava, lokum and many more.
Kadıköy market perfectly reflects the direction Istanbul is taking: towards becoming a paradise for food lovers. With one peculiarity, as Sevtap Baş Şengil, deputy head of gastronomy, TÜRSAB, explains to us: “This city is one of the oldest cities in the entire world. And we’re very lucky that, you know, here in Istanbul we have this Byzantine and Greek heritage. And we have Anatolian and Turkish heritage. We have minorities... All these come together and make our unique Ottoman cuisine”.
It’s really hard to choose what to taste here. We’d like to go home with our bags filled up! As Istanbulites do. “People come here to buy fish and vegetables and also spices”, Sevtap tells us “I’m also going to show you some breakfast items here. These olives come from all over Türkiye. And it's very traditional Turkish to eat olives at breakfast”.
Breakfast fit for a Sultan
The “ritual” Turkish breakfast, or kahvaltı - which literally means “before coffee” in Turkish - is the most important meal for the Turkish.The flavours of Turkish breakfast include sweet, spicy and salty. This unique concept consists of small dishes with different products and tastes, spread across the entire table.
Cemil Topal, owner of the MAA Lounge explains that breakfast now is a proper ritual in the country: “Nowadays, Turkish breakfast isn’t just a matter of eating, it’s also very colourful and harmonised, as you can see here. You could say that it’s a ritual that brings friends and families together, lasts for hours and takes place in a ceremonial mood”.
There are different variations, depending on the region you are, but some things are a must, such as olives, cheese, seasonal vegetables, eggs, black tea and pastries. And once you’ve finished eating, you can finally have your strong Turkish coffee, to aid digestion.
A city under the (Michelin) stars
Istanbul’s culinary scene offers a unique experience for international gourmets, thanks to its diversity and traditions and the openness of the local culinary landscape. There are five restaurants here with at least one Michelin star, the prestigious acknowledgment in the culinary world. Among them, “Nicole”. Chef Serkan Aksoy revamps traditional recipes, using international techniques. Creativity is employed with respect and a sense of purpose.
“Some of the products, the little greens and flowers that we use to add the finishing touch, we get from our garden. I go out to pick mushrooms with my team, with friends from my team. I pick herbs to serve them. As I was born and raised in a village, I know these kinds of products too”, tells the executive chef of “Nicole”.
Turkish cuisine has evolved in the recent decades and is still doing so. But in which direction is it going? “There are a lot of young chefs who are very talented, looking forward to improving themselves in terms of innovation and quality. The number of Michelin starred restaurants will definitely increase, especially when Michelin extends its guide to different locations. And inevitably the race will escalate”, chef Aksoy says.