Our First Day in Istanbul, a Feast!

We left Minneapolis at 10am and arrived in what felt like anther world at 10am the next morning. After a flight that was anything but conducive to sleeping, we stepped out into the city of Istanbul. The air, smells, people, language, colors, sounds and cab driver were all clearly not from our Midwestern town. Despite our sleep deprived state we were excited to take this place on, but where to begin. The city is a maze of winding roads that lead away from the Bosphorus up into tangled branches of neighborhoods. Our cab driver drove onto what seemed a sidewalk width of a street, which turned out to be two way traffic, to our hotel. We checked in, went to our room to splash water on our faces and were immediately summoned back to the lobby by the receptionist who said we had a “friend” waiting for us. He whispered into the phone that we should be very careful of “friends” in this city especially since we didn’t have any!?

Oh, but we did, we just didn’t realize it. Standing in the lobby was Serap and Fatos, who we call our Istanbul Angels. It was like a surreal dream to see a familiar face in a foreign land that I was not at all expecting. Serap owns Depot 62, a Turkish restaurant in Vermont, one of those rare places I’ve been in my life that has left a mark on my soul. I know this sounds like rather extreme endorsement, but the food was so wonderful and unexpected, and Serap and the rest of the staff so warm and inviting that it made me wish I lived in Manchester. They love what they do and you can taste it and feel it. But I digress …there she was standing in the lobby of my hotel in Istanbul. She was visiting her sister and family. During my planning for the trip I had mentioned to her that I was coming and asked for some culinary connections, but despite her attempts to connect me with people, it just didn’t seem it was going to work out, so I thought. What a tremendous surprise and gift to see her smiling face.

The next several hours were spent in her care. She and Fatos gave us a tour of the Asian side of Istanbul, where they grew up.

At a blazing speed, because that is the speed everyone seems to move, she took us from the top of our hill to the ferry dock, ready to cross from Europe to Asia.

On the way we picked up a simit from one of the many street vendors. It is the like getting a soft pretzel on the streets of NYC. But, as you can see they wear them on their heads.

From the ferry we could see the city clearly and all of the wonderful mosques and palaces that would be our neighbors for the next few days. The landscape alone is worth the trip.

But, it was the food that we’d come for and Serap and her sister knew exact where to go and how to order.

We started at a restaurant called Ciya, which I had just read about in the New Yorker of all places. The chef may be credited with returning Turks to the their culinary roots. He prepares a couple dozen pots of stews, meats, greens and other hot dishes, then there is the hummos and other cold plates. It is a bit overwhelming and you definitely want to arrive hungry and with as many people as possible so you can try it ALL!

We started with fresh pide (pita) and lavash to dip in the spreads of eggplant and hummos and then to soak up the sauces from our several kebaps.

This is a “pizza” made with a paper thin pide, spread with ground meats and herbs and cumin. They serve it with a sqeeze of lemon and parsley. Roll it up like a crepe and devour. We had to order two, because it is Serap’s favorite and she wasn’t going to share this one! 😉

Kebaps are served as stews and on a stick, as I am accustomed to seeing them in the States. There seems to be as many variations as there are chefs, each with their own combination of spices.

Then there is dessert. The Turks love sweets, which meant I had to sample, despite being full beyond belief. This is a slice of candied pumpkin, which has the texture of jicama, crunchy and juicy, but very sweet. I can’t for the life of my figure out how they got that texture from a pumpkin, but I will certainly find out. It is drizzled in tahini and then sprinkled with pistachios.

This bowl of loveliness is like eating a custard made with shredded wheat, which is soaked in a delicate honey. I can only faintly recall the one bite I had, because next thing I knew my son had eaten the whole thing. This too I will make when I get home. Oh, the inspiration and it is only our first meal.

On just about every corner is a candy shop that is filled with hard candies and the local Turkish Delight.

The fruits were ripe and fragrant. The little green plums were just picked from the trees and everyone’s favorite.

Floating, cleaned artichokes.


The fish market. This is how everyone in Turkey treated the boys. Everywhere we went they rubbed their heads, or hugged them or pinched their cheeks. They absolutely love children and are very affectionate.

After we left our Istanbul Angels on the Asian side of Istanbul we made our way back to the neighborhood of our hotel, found a restaurant around the corner with a view

of the minarettes from the Blue Mosque. The restaurant had no roof, great food and music that soothed us all to sleep.

After our journey from Minneapolis, a full day in Istanbul and our first glass of apple tea, we were all ready for a good night sleep. What a start to our month of travel. A day of marvel that never would have been without the arrival of our two Istanbul Angles. Thank you Serap and Fatos!

Turkish Delight Day 2 – Candy and more!

Turkish Spice Market Day 3 – roosters make bad neighbors!

Naples – pizza, pizza and more pizza.

Our Roman Holiday – The Pope, Gladiator School and Smokin’ Gelato

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33 thoughts to “Our First Day in Istanbul, a Feast!”

  1. Ohhhh, what a wonderful post! I absolutely love this. 🙂 Thank you for making Instanbul come to life with your fabulous pictures and wonderful descriptions. I’m so glad you had a friend to help you ease into your trip. 🙂

  2. Oh, how beautiful! I can’t even begin to imagine the culture shock–but so happy that you had such wonderful friends to show you the way. I’m so intrigued by the candied pumpkin and that custardy shredded wheat dessert. Everything’s stunning!

  3. What a wonderful and enchanting place. The food and scenery look fabulous, and what a treat it must be to enjoy all of that! Have a great adventure.

  4. We know Serap too. That is, we discovered her restaurant this past year in Manchester and have enjoyed two wonderful meals there. Great blog post. I am forwarding it to my whole family. Everyone’s mouths will water when they think back to the food, the tea, the spice market.

  5. Your post caught my eye, because my colleague and friend is currently there as well, on a trip to that part of the world. I look forward to seeing the recipes for us to try when you get a chance. Bon Appetit!

  6. Thanks for taking us to Istanbul. All that we are missing is the taste of the food. The pictures make my mouth water.

  7. Hi Zoe: Have to tell you – your pics are just fab~!! What a wonderful trip for you and your family~! Are you getting any recipes~? The foods in the pics were ‘mouth-droolingly’ yummie~! Have a super time~!!

  8. *Clapping with joy*
    Oh what a wonderful first day, your family is so blessed!
    THANK YOU for sharing your family vacation with us. The photos are awesome. Keep them big, so we can feel like we’re there, too. 😀

    I look forward to reading the next adventure and seeing more food photos.

  9. Lovely, lovely, lovely!! Can’t get the pictures out of my mind….would love to see some Turkish recipes too!

  10. Ohhhhh…. I am soooooooooooo envious!

    What luck to have had Serap there! I was just eating at Depot 62 and missing her, and you. LOL. I was regaling our guests with tales of pita making technique and our gorging ourselves on all things yummy. What a time you will have in Istanbul!

    I look forward to hearing – and tasting! – all about it. Have fun!


  11. What a lovely bunch of pictures, and hope you can find a Turkish Delight recipe that doesn’t have corn syrup! I am sure that the original didn’t have corn syrup since that is a relatively recent thing. I have a think against it, and would love to have a chance at making some without the syrup and with the delicate flavouring I remember from my childhood. Before corn syrup and solids appeared in everything under the sun.

  12. Oh Zoe, you guys looks like you are having a blast. What a wonderful family trip!!! You will remember this forever.

  13. Hi Zoe – Thanks for the delightful post on your trip to Istanbul! It felt as though I was there with you 🙂

  14. Such short hair on those beautiful boys. We miss having them next door to play with the Morningside boys. Your trip looks wonderful. I want to fast for three weeks and go to Turkey to eat!

  15. Hi Zoe, I love cumin…can you develop a recipe for the one with ground meats, cumin and herbs and put it on your website? Great pictures BTW…who’s the photographer?

    1. Hi Marvyl,

      The reason I am on this trip is to discover recipes for our next bread book. Be sure a version of that flatbread will appear! 🙂

      Thanks, Zoe

  16. Zoe, what a fabulous telling of a great first vacation day! The food and sights are so wonderful. I’m so jealous of your month of travel. I had to bargain for a full two weeks! Can’t wait to see the next installment. 🙂

  17. Zoe did you try one of those Turkish Pide’s yet? oh they are so yummy, the ones filled with sausage and egg are the best!

  18. Thanks for sharing your experiences from the first day. Makes me want to go back.

    I recall a Turkish friend remarking that he felt like parents in Canada would be very nervous about a stranger talking to their kids, whereas this was common in Turkey.

  19. Hi Zoe,

    It was a chance to find your site for me tonight. And its nice to see that you are in Istanbul now. I’m sure your friends may already recommend you to eat ‘iskender kebap’, if they didn’t please try it. And you should visit the Topkapi Palace, Yerebatan Sarnici, Dolmabahce Palace and Kiz Kulesi.

  20. I’ll be in Istanbul in September, but only for one day as it’s part of a cruise. I’ve been looking forward to all of the sites but hadn’t given any thought to the food. I loved this post! Now I know what delicious eats to look forward to and seek out.

  21. What a wonderful first day in Turkey! Seems like it was all magical.

    I’ve had candied pumpkin/squash before and I think it’s made by gently cooking the squash on the stove top in a really thick sugar syrup (double the amount of sugar to water I believe). Not sure for how long definitely until the water evaporates. This is se—weet!

    I look forward to the wheat and honey recipe. It is a bit similar to a kind of vermicelli that is cooked in Pakistan which is also very lovely (mixture of middle eastern vermicelli, honey or sugar, cream and spices). Yum!!!

    Awesome. Lucky you :o)

  22. Hi,
    I found your blog whle researching Istanbul restaurants for a friend. By any chance, do you know which Ciya restaurant you ate at…there are 3 of them.
    Your blog is delightful!
    [email protected]

    1. Hi Leslie,

      Luckily they are all on the same block. We ate at one and ordered from the menu of the others. If you tell them you want to order from both they will let you. It is a must, because only one makes the fresh pita.

      I am so jealous of your friend. I hope they will bring you too! 🙂


  23. how’d I miss this? looks like you had a lovely time. I especially like those floating artichokes, wish they were available like that around here

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