So Istanbul Cafe is now “ABA Turkish Restaurant.” The menu is pretty similar to what it has been with some slight (better) alterations to the dishes. Take the manti for instance:
The dumplings are little smaller, but they added more spices and no longer just dump a messy dollop of yogurt on top. I think it’s the first time I’ve had their chicken yogurt kebaab, but it was also much better than the kebaabs alone that I had when they first opened (which a lot more dry):
Yogurt chicken shish
The good thing is they still kept the Turkish decor, and friendly service. The meat is also halaal in case you’re wondering! The prices increased a tad, but they also now serve Turkish Breakfast which I’m looking forward to trying now. I never had Turkish food for brunch but the authentic Turkish Breakfast I had in Istanbul (with fried halloumi cheese, mixed vegetables, and olives) is something I crave pretty often! We’ll keep you posted on how it compares…
When I was in Turkey, I saw little carts on the streets near where my sister was living with signs for something called salep but I never knew what it was. My friend Bunny, who was awesome at giving me a ton of suggestions of what to do and where to eat (she did live there for a few months after all), told me I had to try it while I was there. I didn’t know what was it in, all I was told was it was a yummy drink to have when it was cold. So I listened.
IST Cafe in Taksim
Coffee + salep
When I was there, I asked the waitress what salep is exactly. She was having trouble explaining it to me, only mentioning milk and sugar and that it was “OHhh so good.” I may have cheated a little and ordered a coffee/salep combination. The coffee on top was thinner than what I think was the actual salep on the bottom, which was thicker consistency and tasted (and forgive me, this is the only way I think I can describe it) kind of like egg nog? It was REALLY good though, and I tried looking up a more detailed explanation of what I just had.
I found out the hot drink is made from crushed tapioca root extract. Apparently, it has been noted not only for his health benefits (treating such conditions as dysentery, tuberculosis, and typhoid), but also for its aphrodisiac effects. In Greece, they flavor it with honey and eat it for breakfast; in India, it’s mixed with milk and spices and served to the sick; even in France, it’s served as soup or jelly. In Turkey though, it’s mainly served during the cold seasons. The tubers are collected in the summer and hung to dry. Apparently, the popularity of salep has led to a decline in the population of wild orchids so it’s now illegal to transport it out of the country. So if you want it, you’ll have to make a trip to Istanbul!
At Tatseven -- and yes, all of my pictures from Turkey are of me drinking tea
This is my little sister Haji -- she's too cool to have tea.
Ok, so when you go to Istanbul (and you have to go at least once in your life), you will probably make a trip to the Spice Bazaar, one of the oldest bazaars in the city. It’s right off the Eminönü stop on the tram, next to the Yeni Camii mosque aka the New Mosque. Right near that mosque is a place I still dream about: Tatseven.
It’s nothing fancy. The first thing you’ll see is probably the rotisserie chicken being cooked out in front. I randomly get really intimidated when there’s rotisserie displays at any restaurant…something about it seems really…brutish to me? Is that weird? But my little sister insisted the chicken here is one of the best. She discovered it when my aunt and uncle came to visit her in Turkey right before I did. They needed directions and the owner (who was actually a Turkish guy who lived in Ohio for many years if memory serves me right) was so nice, my uncle insisted that they go back to eat there.
There are so many things I miss about Istanbul, and one of them is that there was never a shortage of tea to be had
. It’s a big part of Turkish culture. I love that it’s always served piping hot, fresh, and totally appropriate for any time of day. I still remember certain times when I could smell the aromatic, full-bodied drink in the air from people scurrying around on the streets, holding a metal tray with freshly-brewed Turkish tea. I was eating at Divane restaurant in Sultanahmet my second day there and after a delicious brunch, I got up to use the restroom. When I came back, this was waiting for me at the table:
Our waiter, I think his name was Mohsen, said we were his guests and wanted us to have some complimentary tea…a sweet reflection of the hospitality and friendliness we ran into so often during our visit there. This was the first time I’ve ever tried apple tea (Elma Çay). It’s so fragrant — I think my first reaction was that it reminded me of apple Jolly Ranchers if you could liquify it. I don’t know if that’s a good description or not, but I loved it. The way people drink and enjoy their tea there reminds me of life’s little luxuries — moments to bond with people or savor your drink. It’s the calmness after a meal or during the day that I feel we don’t get enough of in a bustling city like NYC.
Lighter apple tea
One thing I also learned while I was there was, if you notice, the tea glasses are shaped like a tulip. The intentional shape represents Turkey’s national flower. If you ever have a chance to visit, you have to pick up some fresh tea leaves from their bazaars. The Spice Bazaar is a good place to load up on tea. I bought a few packets from there, and they seal it air-tight for you to ensure it stays fresh until you get back home.
Most people know I’m not really big on seafood. The thing is, I want to like it, so I’ll always give it a try. Throughout Istanbul, there are street vendors selling stuffed mussels, which never looked particularly appetizing to me. I was a bit horrified when my sister told me she was craving when we passed them by one night. It just seemed like an odd thing to be sold off the street.
Mussel Stand in Turkey
Her roommate later told me I had to try it when she brought a bag of it home. I figured, they’re being sold all over the place for a reason and I should at least try it. It’s mixed with rice, and you use one side of the shell to scoop it out of the other. They also give you a fresh lemon so you can squeeze the juice over it.
So I’m in Istanbul. And it’s wonderful.
And more than that, the food has been so so good to me. I was going to ease into all my Turkish food-finds, but with limited time to be online here, I’m just jumping the gun to probably my favorite meal so far, and that’s from Bodrum Manti & Cafe.
Bodrum Manti and Cafe
Bodrum is located in a pretty upscale area, Arnavutköy (or “Albanian village”), but this place is deceivingly affordable and open 24 hours. I couldn’t imagine anything being better than the traditional boiled manti (manti are like like little pasta dumplings, usually with a spicy minced lamb filling, and topped with yogurt and red pepper/butter sauce). But Bodrum offers something arguably better: fried manti. Sigh. I was told by a Turkish friend that fried manti has more of a Bosnian influence, which could be true since I haven’t seen it anywhere else in Turkey so far.