It’s the tail end of our holiday, and our eating takes on the kind of frenzied single-mindedness one would associate with sailors on Shore Leave. Our first meal in Istanbul is spent with a platter of beefsteaks, chicken wings, lamb tenderloin and kidneys, courtesy of the remarkable teppanyaki-like indoor grills at Zubeyir Ocakbasi & Restaurant. This, coupled with a skewer of freshly-grilled garlic cloves coated in a sauce of reduced vinegar, leavened with a generous slick of olive oil that should accompany everything, everywhere from now on.
At Turkish confectionary Hafiz Mustafa we get menu fright (the food-ordering version of stage fright) and end up with a strange milk pudding and syrupy quince showered with pulverized pistachios instead of the Turkish delight and baklava one is supposed to order at this place. At Meze by Lemon Tree (who are these Lemon Tree people? What a name), we feast on a salad of nettles, glasswort, and spinach roots scattered with cubes of beetroot, curried shredded chicken and pickled cherries and plums. We eat so much that I think, briefly and fondly, of the vomitoriums that Romans supposedly threw up in to save room in their stomachs for more food.
But there’s even better food to be had. Under the Bosphorus Bridge on the Asian side sits the neighborhood of Beylerbeyi, known as one of the oldest seashore settlements in Istanbul. There, Inciralti (which means “under the fig tree”) churns out a miss-mash of Turkish, Armenian, Jewish and Greek dishes meant to reflect the “melting pot” that is Istanbul. This shows most clearly in the vast selection of mezze that number more than 20 every day.
There are so many things to choose from that, to avoid menu fright, we just order everything. We get seabass pickled in 14 types of herbs, based on an 18th century court recipe; mackerel in walnuts and lemon juice (19th-century Ottoman palace recipe); sweet onions, blackcurrants and pine nuts in a paste of chickpea and potato (Armenian); and smashed cucumbers with cream cheese and pistachio (the Ottoman court again, 17th-century). We get deep-fried lamb’s brains and veal spleen stuffed with currants, rice and pine nuts (old Armenian, and so fiddly to make that the dish is practically extinct). And then there are the sardines, wrapped in vine leaves and grilled, enlivened with a squeeze of lemon, a handful of fresh arugula and a thick slab of red onion.
It’s basically food for food nerds, and a great send-off from a great city.
Arabacilar Sok no. 4, Beylerbeyi
+90 216 557 6686