2 Days 2 Dinners in Istanbul
This past spring break, I found myself falling in love with Istanbul. The chaoticness connected with my soul, and the coffee cult playing backgammon in the cafes hit a chord within me. I was pretty sure that I was never going to come back to St. Andrews. We, 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, and all are filled with people, 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, all 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. While 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 had a potato ravioli that we heard was also incredible. The meatballs with zucchini mash were quite a surprise, as we had never had zucchini mash. It was both buttery and flavorful, and we both decided that had underestimated the zucchini. We were so taken by the food, that we decided to order dessert. I had a quince with milk pudding on top that was fruity and sweet. Everything was so fresh and local, and the price on top of that, made this meal one of our favorites.
Another restaurant not to miss is Dalti Maya. A small, three-floor turkish restaurant in Cihangir with a creative vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free friendly menu, Dalti Maya was a beautiful hole-in-the-wall with such personality. The restaurant front was very small, just a large window, a cash register, 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 to the seating area. The seating area had lovely windows looking out over a square, large pale wood tables with golden lighting and bookshelves. It had a homey, hippie vibe that was emphasized 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 so very fresh and interesting. We ordered an Armenian specialty that was a garbanzo bean paste with flavors that was very interesting and spicy kebabs that were alive on our tongues. They forgot to bring our salad, but we forgave them. The whole experience had been just too magical, and we left happy knowing that a place like Datli Maya existed in the world.
After these two very different, yet divine, Turkish dining experiences, Istanbul had won over our hearts, by winning over our stomachs.