Friday, November 7, 2008

Eat in peace at Istanbul



Indians love to travel. Indian tourists form a sizeable chunk of tourists worldwide these days. One area where many face a problem though is when it comes to food. Some typical problems are:


- Where to get vegetarian food?
- How does one avoid meats like beef or pork which are taboos for Many Hindus and Muslims?
- How does one get used to sharp and alien tastes, food textures, smells?

The preferred antidote to this are packaged tours. The deal is that you get Indian meals every day cooked by Indian chefs who go along with the group. Doesn’t make sense to people like me who love to try out new dishes. I do understand that religious taboos could be a constraint for some who might be open to trying out new cuisines. Well, at least Turkey or Istanbul won’t be a problem for them.

The concept of ‘vegetarianism’ is quite understood there. The moment the heard that we were Indian or Hindistani they would offer us vegetarian options. And here I am speaking of the basic delis and not the up market restaurants. I remember once someone was asking a cart lady at the Sum Lum night market in Bangkok whether a dish was vegetarian and all she got in reply was ‘no pork’. That is unlikely to happen in Istanbul.



You also get a range of vegetarian dishes made with chick peas, kidney beans, beans and of course the ubiquitous green salads. I do not understand vegetarians and share Anthony Bourdain’s impatience with them. Still, I thought I must make this point for those who would like to travel by themselves but join the packaged tour circus of food fears.

The restaurant folks will even tell you what meat has been used. Chicken is obvious. But there are people who don’t eat beef for example. In Istanbul they will tell you whether it is mutton or beef or the more rare pork.

I remember that we had once ordered ‘kokerece (?)’ which was a dish made with intestines. This was in a restaurant in upscale Cisek Padesi. The waiter checked with us at least thrice before finally asking whether we had sany idea what we were ordering. We had to spend some time assuring him that we know and like our organs. Thank God that we convinced him as this chilly powder based, buttery, dish was heavenly and quite unique from most of the fare there.




For breakfast you won’t get the Indian dosas, idlis and parathas which you get in the Far East. But you do get loads of bread, an unbelievable array of cheese which I stuffed myself with every morning, salads, cereals, fruits, the works and of course cold cuts and eggs.





A lot of the dishes have fried onion, tomato, red chillies, Indian spices and the taste is different without being miles apart from (North) Indian food. You also get local breads which are similar to tandoori rotis, naans, parathas (called pide there) and rumali rotis. So you won’t miss home food as much as if you were depending on Chinese noodle soups, Thai coconut milk and fish oil based curries, bland fish and chips or Italian cheese and tomato dumps.

So drop your inhibitions and explore Istanbul. You won’t regret it.


if nothing else you have the American saviours there in most tourist spots. I am not sepaking of Rambo or Obama but of the fast food joints. Mc Donalds (apprently more popular than Mc Cain), Burger King, Starbucks, KFC... name it and its there.

You can read more on restaurants in turkey in my food blog, finely chopped.

Notes;

1. The beauty at the top of the post is a lovely mutton kaba dish that I had the day we landed

2. The average price for a dinner for two in a street deli costs about 15 Turkish Lira or 8-10 euros

3. Most meals are served with complimentary bread, rice. So unlike in India you don't have to order rice or bread separately with the main dish

4. Try the local butter milk which is called Ayran very similar to lassi

5. Curd is quite popular in Turkey and you can get pachaged curds to go with your meals

6. Cheese is called 'peynir' but is rarely like the Indian 'paneer'

7. Turkey is big in fried, roasted chillies. These are served with kebabs but you can ask for it separately too. They are not very hot though

2 comments:

renaye said...

i like turkish/ middle eastern food because it has a mixture of vegetarian and not vegetarian food. a wide choice for people.

The knife said...

@Renaye: Thanks for dropping in. Turkey is one of the most well balance countries that I have seen. They seem to have maintained the best of both worlds when it comes to food, culture, customs, looks of the city...they are a model for the rest of the world and I hope they can maintain this through the ages

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