A few weeks ago, Jacques and I traveled to Greece for two and a half weeks to finally celebrate our honeymoon. Before venturing through a majority of the more popular Greek islands, and eventually spending a week on the mainland in Athens, we spent one jam packed day in Istanbul.
Let me start by saying that a day in Istanbul was not nearly enough. We had an amazing time, but even with as much as we crammed into 24 hours, there was so much more we wanted to see and much, much more we wanted to eat. Seriously, I feel like we did not eat nearly enough!
Before we left for our trip, I put together a list of places and things we wanted to eat, but time and location got the better of us and we didn’t even hit up half our list. However, we ended up eating a lot of really good, quick, grab and go street food. We were a little afraid that it would be difficult to eat vegan in Istanbul, but it was actually much easier than we’d expected.
First, let’s start with breakfast at our hotel. We stayed at the lovely Sokullu Pasa Hotel which offers a wonderful spread every morning. Unlike an American continental breakfast, which is laden with sugary cereals and donuts, the Turkish breakfast offered lots of fresh fruits and freshly prepared salads. Fruit jams and olives are also abundant.
After touring some of the sites, including Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sofia, we were ready for a snack. The smell of roasting chestnuts was so enticing, that we had to stop and purchase a small bag to share.
We also grabbed a simit from one of the many vendors selling them; simit is the Turkish version of a pretzel or bagel (look for the seeded variety without the egg wash on top).
I couldn’t resist the lure of fresh pomegranates I saw getting squeezed into juice everywhere I turned, so we decided to stop for a cup to wash down our snacks.
We finished up our snacks, visited a few more sites, including the Blue Mosque (didn’t get to go inside due to Friday prayers) and the Basilica Cistern, nearly got abducted by a friendly gentleman trying to sell us his carpets, then made our way over to the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Bazaar.
At the spice bazaar, we were greeted by the tantalizing aroma of all different kinds of spices, herbs and teas. Each shop had someone trying to aggressively sell us their Turkish Delight, but we were just browsing and taking it all in before shopping. We stopped in front of a shop called Cikita so that I could admire the saffron, skeptically telling Jacques that something is up for it to be so yellow and so cheap. The salesman overheard and said, “That’s not real saffron, I’ll show you the real saffron.” He took us inside and told us, in a very informative and non-pushy way (a very different experience and vibe than with every other shop), about the different types of saffron they carry. We really liked him, and liked that we didn’t feel like we were being sold to, so we asked him questions about some of the teas, and about their Turkish Delight, also known as lokum.
Up to this point, my experience with Turkish Delight had been way to sweet, gummy candy that tasted like eating roses. He assured us that his were higher quality and offered us samples. Their lokum is made with mastic gum from the Greek island of Chios, lightly sweetened with honey, filled with pistachios, and some of it infused with pure pomegranate juice.We were blown away! This was unlike, and so much better than, any other lokum we’d had. We bought a box to bring to our family in Greece, along with a couple of teas and some pure, top quality Iranian saffron to bring home – red gold at a great price!
Egypt Bazaar, No 18
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All stocked up on spices and Turkish Delight, we decided to take a walk across the Galata Bridge to the new city, into Taksim Square. Along the way, we stumbled upon a cafe selling Cig Kofte (pronounced chee koftah), which I had read about before our trip and was eager to try.
In a word Cig Kofte is amazing! That is, if you like spicy, which we both love. And thankfully, my stomach has been in good shape and I was able to handle it. We asked over and over to make sure this was vegan because it is listed on the menu as “raw meatball”. This is because it used to be made with raw meat, but the government put a stop to that because of health code regulations. Instead, it’s now a flavorful paste made with bulgur and a blend of tomato and spices. We opted to order it durum style (in a wrap), filled with lettuce and a deliciously sweet and tart pomegranate sauce.
Late in the evening, we finally made it back our hotel in the Sultanahmet district via funicular and metro after about a 3 mile walk through the new city. Thoroughly exhausted from a full day of walking, sight seeing and eating, we decided on a light dinner at a cafe down the street from our hotel. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but there was truthfully nothing all that special about it anyway. We just enjoyed a nice, simple mezze platter to tide us over for the night and get us ready for the next leg of our journey the following day.