Photos and Words by Cat Lau
Images of mesmerizing mosques, palaces on the Bosphorus and magical rugs dance in my mind constantly when I’m away from Istanbul. The pulsating city has captured the hearts of travelers since the beginning of time, making it a hub for trade, culture and, most importantly, food.
After my first trip to Turkey, it is surprising that Turkish cuisine is still largely untapped by the outside world. Luckily, on my most recent visit to Istanbul, I found Istanbul Eats, a tour that would guide me through the culinary backstreets of this enchanting city. From Istanbul to Boston, I present to you my own two-stop Turkish walking tour in Allston.
While others woke up for Morning Prayer, I woke up to my rumbling stomach. Thirteen street vendors and restaurants to visit in six hours; it sounded like an adventure only for die hard food lovers. Ansel, our food guide waited for us at a junction of restaurants and hustled us into a breakfast place for our first meal of the day. Our crash course on Turkish food started with a typical Turkish breakfast of fresh tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, olives, bread and of course Turkish tea. My favorite: the light bread spread of clotted cream called Kaymak and local honey.
You can find Kaymak at the Turkuaz market in Allston--owner, Arif, also recommended trying the Tamek Sour Cherry Jam and the Koska Halva Pistachio, a sweet and nutty spread both of which are very popular in Turkey.
I’m a pastry basket sort of girl, so if you’re like me, I found just the thing! While in Turkey, I noticed many street vendors selling what looked a lot like a sesame bagel, the Turks call it Simit (a cheap snack found everywhere in Istanbul). While I expected a chewy and soft bread I was surprised to find that the bagel shaped snack had the texture of a scone: crumbly, salty and completely mouth watering. You can find frozen Simit at the Turkuaz Market, or you can buy the fresh savory cookies called Kurupasta (cookies with a shortbread texture). Borek is another fresh pastry sold at the market, made of Philo dough, with a filling of feta cheese and herbs.
After venturing through more backstreets, Ansel carefully revealed what was next on the menu and tried to entice us with a anecdote: Iskembe or Tripe Soup, is believed to repair your stomach after a late night out partying and drinking. “The pieces of cow stomach repair the part of your holey stomach,” he said jokingly. The soup was served with garlic and chili water along with vinegar; a pinch of salt, black pepper and paprika were sprinkled on top to hide what was under it. I couldn’t fathom the idea of Tripe soup at 8 am in the morning but before I could change my mind, I swallowed a spoonful. The soup was sour and salty and the tripe had a fatty texture with a slight crunchiness to it. If you are curious, you can order it at Saray Restaurant right across the street from Turkuaz Market or buy the just-add-water version from Turkuaz market.
After the Tripe soup I was in need of a palate cleanse. The answer to my prayers was waiting behind a corner of a street. Crackling and sizzling echoed from a street vendor's oil pan while Ansel gave us the low down on Hamsi (fried, fresh sardines). The crackling grew louder when the lightly battered fish-dipped in water and baking soda-were thrown in the pan. Served fresh and hot, the dish was delicate but with a slight crunch. It almost tasted like fish ‘n chips, except with a dipping sauce made of breadcrumbs, garlic, and vinegar that complemented the subtle flavors. Thought you couldn’t find Turkish sardines in Boston? Think again, Turkuaz sells them frozen, ready to be dipped in batter and deep fried at home just the way they do it in Istanbul.
As we continued further down the cobblestone streets, we arrived at a modest Kebab place. Humble, yes, but this place had Anthony Bourdain gush all over its tasty wraps. We ordered the Adana Kebab (spicy hand-minced meat grilled on a charcoal fire). The beef was grilled on skewers and placed atop a piece of lavash previously smeared with tomatoes, spices and meat grease; then parsley, onions, tomatoes and Sumac (a lemony flavored red spice) were added to the wrap. The dish was served with lemons and baby arugula. As you can imagine, the wrap was a burst of peppery, sour, spicy and salty flavors; the juicy and fragrant meat was perfected with the freshness of parsley. Want to experience a moment of pure delight as I did? Order from the selection of Kebab wraps Saray Restaurant has to offer, they won’t disappoint.
With a belly full of food, I found myself fighting to stay awake, my motivation of course being dessert. No matter what the circumstances, the day isn’t over until after dessert. In Turkey, dessert means the buttery, sweet, nuttiness of Baklava. But this time I found something even better, Burma Kadayif. It is like a reverse Baklava: a light crunchy casing holding together bountiful sugared pistachios. While Baklava has taken the international limelight, Burma Kadayif tends to remain overshadowed, but it still won over my heart. A pound of Burma Kadayif will set you back $13.99 at Turkuaz Market but it is very much worth a try!