During the spring break, I found myself falling in love with Istanbul. The chaos connected with my soul, and the coffee cult and continuous backgammon in the cafes struck a chord with me. I was pretty sure that I was never going to come back to St. Andrews. My friend Olivia and I lost ourselves in the hustle and bustle of the streets, the call to prayer five times a day, the tiny cups of tea, the rich history and architecture, and the fresh Turkish cuisine.
Istanbul is often used as a layover on the way to Africa, and thus, here are two dinners not to miss.
Ficcin, located in Beyoglu just off Istiklal CD, is a local Turkish restaurant. It has five restaurants, all located on the same small side street. All of them are filled with both tourists and locals. We saw four Turkish men taking a photo at their table, and if Turkish men think Ficcin is great, then it must be great. The menu was printed on a plain A4 piece of paper in English and Turkish, and consisted of traditional Turkish dishes. We had grape leaves (we’re obsessed), Circassian meat ravioli in a yogurt sauce, and meatballs on a zucchini mash, a specialty. Everything was fantastic. The grape leaves were delicious, albeit a little narrow. They were filled with rice and had a nice cinnamon and mint flavor to them. The meat ravioli in a yogurt sauce came with three bowls of spices to be mixed into the sauce.
I enjoyed testing out the spices until the flavor was just right (not that I know anything about Turkish spices). The ravioli was cooked perfectly and the yogurt sauce created a very Turkish feel to a traditional Italian dish. And if you are vegetarian, they also had a potato ravioli which we heard was incredible. The meatballs with zucchini mash were a pleasant surprise, as we had never had zucchini mash. It was both buttery and flavorful, and we both decided that we had underestimated the zucchini. We were so taken by the food that we even ordered dessert. I had a quince, topped with milk pudding, which was fruity and sweet. Everything was fresh and local, and on top of that, the price was very reasonable.
Another unmissable restaurant is Dalti Maya. A small, three-floor Turkish restaurant in Cihangir with a creative vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free friendly menu, Dalti Maya is a beautiful hole-in-the-wall with personality. The restaurant’s front is very small, just a large window, a cash register, and an oven with a selection of baked goods. We ordered from the menu, written in Turkish on the chalkboard and in small printed menus in English, and headed up the stairs (there was no seating on the ground floor).
We passed through the kitchen on the second floor — the chefs smiled at us on our way to the seating area. The seating area had lovely windows looking out over a square, filled with large pale wood tables with golden lighting and bookshelves. It had a home-y, hippie vibe, which was characterised by the tea bar. On the wall, there were shelves filled with loose leaf tea and reusable tea strainers with a handwritten note: ‘Make your own loose-leaf tea, just ask us for a larger mug.' Just next to this beauty was a self-service Turkish tea station, with free refills. We sat there in absolute paradise, discussing our perfect dinner party. The food arrived, and it was very fresh and interesting. We had ordered an Armenian specialty; a garbanzo bean paste with very interesting flavors and spicy kebabs which felt alive on our tongues. Although they forgot to bring our salad, we forgave them for the quality of what they did bring.
The way to someone's heart is through their stomach. If Istanbul hadn't won over our hearts with its fantastic culture and knockout scenery, it did so by winning over our stomachs.
Image Credits: Sammy Evans