Istanbul is an enormous city. Seriously. It's twice the size of New York.
While nothing could prepare me for it, I came as prepared as possible. Pinpoints on maps and advice and a huge list of restaurants to check out. Istanbul Eats was invaluable- they really have their shit together when it comes to food and restaurant recommendations and did not steer us wrong.
After a rather hairy experience trying to find a friend at the overcrowded airport, and an even hairier cab ride into the city to our temporary home near the Galata Tower, we set out immediately to our the first dining destination that had been dancing in our heads since we heard about it- Siirt Seref Buryan, whose specialty is pit BBQ lamb.
First, getting there. After consulting a few maps, we decided to walk from Galata. As we wound our way down the hill, we tried to cross the Golden Horn via the Alaturka bridge. Despite there being tons of people fishing off the bridge, it ended up not being a pedestrian bridge at all, with no way to actually get onto the bridge without dodging highway traffic on the on-ramp and jumping over knee-high fences to get to it, and getting off was just as bad. It was stressful, but we kept seeing locals do it and there was no other real way to get across where we needed to.
Finally, we found the old city Aqueduct, and nestled in the shadow, our destination.
Oh, it was good. Smokey, fatty, lamby goodness.
The walk home we decided to take a different route home, and we ended up down some really dark alleyways behind the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was an adventure!
But we did wisely choose to pick our way home over the more pedestrian-friendly Galata Bridge.
The next day was what we were all so excited for. We thought that a good way to get our bearings around such a huge city with such amazing culinary discoveries to pick our way around, a highly recommended Istanbul Eats tour was booked. While I'm normally loathe to book a tour, a full day of exploring and eating our way through the Beyoğlu neighborhood sounded like a wonderful way to really dive into such a culturally rich city.
We met our lovely expat guide, Megan, after navigating some of the wicked hills of Beyoğlu. Like Rome, Istanbul is built upon seven hills. And what hills they were.
We started out our day at a small hole-in the wall local joint that had a reputation for amazing, homemade food.
An incredibly indulgent spread of sweet buffalo milk cheese drizzled with honey and a spicy dish of baked eggs got things started. I was determined to pace myself for this epic day of eating and it took quite a bit of willpower to keep myself from cleaning all the plates right away.
The cooks, while they didn't speak English, were gracious and let us peer in the kitchen. They were incredibly proud of the work they did. In fact, everyone we met on the tour was insanely proud of what they did.
This guy did speak a bit of French, so I was able to at least convey how much we loved everything. I think it was totally unnecessary as I think that when you really love a bit of cooking, you don't really need words in any language to let the chefs know they are doing their jobs.
The other dish we tried here was odd, but addictive:
A pudding made out of chicken breast.
More walking, more eating.
Hot fresh simit, so buttery. Like croissants in Paris, they are the default pastry here.
A stop at the pickle shot was next. Turks will pickle anything.
I will venture to say I've never seen such a variety of pickles. They only brine things in season, and when they run out, they close down shop and take a nice summer vacation. Depending on what time of year you are in Istanbul, you might have a variety or you might be licking the bottoms of the pickle barrels.
One mystery solved: the small, bitter green plums we kept trying to eat fresh were much better pickled.