Navigating the unique street food of Turkey

kebapOne of the best ways to get to know a country and a culture is through its food. While restaurants often serve delicious local and international meals in a pleasing ambiance, the best way to taste authentic regional and budget-friendly cuisine is by sampling the street food. One great destination that can give your palate an adventure is Turkey.

Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, is the only metropolis in the world that resides on two continents, in this case, Europe and Asia. Because of Turkey’s unique location, the cuisine is influenced by various cultures including: Western Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Although the food differs from city to city, there are still certain street food staples that you are likely to find all over the country.

To learn more about the unique street food of Turkey, check out the gallery below.

[flickr image via nayrb7]

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Expat fusion cuisine: combining foreign foods with favorites from home

expat fusionPart of the fun of traveling is trying new and exotic foods. Many travelers try to eat only locally and eschew the familiar, though eating at American chain restaurants abroad can be its own experience. But when you make a foreign country your home, you have to adapt your tastes and cooking to what’s available locally while craving your favorites from home. I’m lucky enough to live in Istanbul with an amazing food culture heavy on roasted meats and grilled fish, fragrant spices, and fresh produce. Some foreign foods like pizza and sushi have been embraced in Istanbul, but Turkish food has remained largely uncompromised by outside influences and passing trends. Convenience foods are still a new concept in Turkey but you can always grab a quick doner kebab or fish sandwich on the street if you aren’t up to cooking.
In my own kitchen, I’m learning to work with Turkish ingredients and dishes and mix in some favorites from home, creating some “expat fusion” cuisine. Meat-filled manti ravioli gets an extra zing with some Louisiana hot sauce. In the hottest days of my pregnancy this summer, I craved pudding pops from my childhood, making them more adult with some tangy Turkish yogurt. One ingredient I miss here is maple syrup, which is generally only produced in North America, and hard to find and expensive in the rest of the world (a small bottle in Turkey costs about $20!). One of my American friends brought me a bottle this summer and I poured it over pancakes (surprisingly easy to make from scratch when you can’t get a mix) and my favorite Turkish treat, kaymak. Kaymak is a clotted cream popular on the breakfast table, served with a crusty loaf of bread and honey, available in most local supermarkets but best eaten fresh in a cafe like Pando’s Kaymakci in Istanbul’s Besiktas neighborhood. I draw a lot of inspiration from my friend and fellow expat Joy, who was a professional pastry chef back in Baltimore and now chronicles her mouth-watering cooking in her Istanbul kitchen on her blog, My Turkish Joys. She posts beautiful food photos and recipes with both American and European measurements to help US and Turkish readers recreate her dishes such as sour cherry pie. Afiyet Olsun (that’s Turkish for bon appetit)!

Gadling readers, have you created any expat fusion foods with ingredients from your travels? Make us hungry and leave us a comment below!

An open love letter to Ä°skender kebab

Dear İskender kebab,

I know we only recently met, but, well, I love you. Whoa, whoa, don’t freak out. I’m sure you get this a lot. I mean, you’re pretty lovable. Turkish Delight might be more famous (and have better PR people), but you’re my own personal Turkish treasure. Don’t get freaked out. I just really enjoyed our time together and wanted to let you know why I think you’re the best-tasting, least-known Turkish food out there.Sure, almost everyone knows your cousin, the simple döner kebab. But, you were the first kebab made of vertical meat. That makes you special. An innovator. But, much like Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow in hip hop, you don’t get the credit you deserve amongst the mainstream.

Made of shaved lamb basted and covered in a tomato broth, you’re served over pide bread with a heaping helping of yogurt. That alone would merit this declaration of my love. However, you add one more sensual ingredient that lubes things up perfectly: a luxurious amount of hot, melted butter is poured over your meat and bread immediately after you have been placed on the table. At that moment, as you glisten and sizzle, you look more desirable than anyone else in the room. That was when I fell in love with you…at first sight.

You originated in Bursa, the fourth-largest city in Turkey. That makes Bursa the Houston of Turkey. Houston is a town known for meat and you certainly do not lack for meat, İskender kebab. Bursa has some interesting sister cities (Houston is not one of them). Tiffin, Ohio, USA. Oulu, Finland. Two towns in Bulgaria! I haven’t been to any of your “twin towns,” but I don’t see my own sister that often, either, so don’t worry.

Bursa was a key center in the ancient silk trade because of its location on the Silk Road. To this day, it is Turkey’s silk capital and perhaps the best place in the country to buy both raw and handmade silk items. It’s fitting, then, that you, İskender kebab, with your silky smooth buttery coating, were created in the city the known for silk.

Bursa’s futbol team, Bursaspor, won the Süper Lig in 2010. How exciting! They were the first team not based in Istanbul to win the Süper Lig championship since 1984. Istanbul, of course, is Turkey’s tourist hub, but is not the only place worth visiting in Turkey. Heck, it’s not even the capital! Bursa’s champions are called the Green Crocodiles, but İskender kebab most certainly should be made with lamb.

Your name comes from İskender Efendi, who created you. How I wish I could have asked for his approval before I professed my love to you. Alas, he lived in Bursa in the late 19th Century and must be presumed dead.

Baklava is sweeter. Köfte is healthier. Döner kebab is more widely available. But, dear, succulent İskender kebab, you are unique. You are an innovator. You are my own personal Turkish delight.

Love always,
Mike Barish

Mike Barish’s trip to Turkey was sponsored by Intrepid Travel. While everyone should agree that İskender kebab is amazing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly his own. You can read more about his trip to Turkey here.