If your idea of paradise is finding an out-of-the-way bakery serving outrageous pastries or eating a homemade lunch you can’t pronounce in a no-frills canteen, take time to peruse the archives of Culinary Backstreets, a terrific website offering recommendations for real-deal delicacies in far-off places. Co-founder Yigal Schleifer shares a handful of gastronomic gems found around his old stomping grounds of Istanbul.
ISTANBUL, Turkey – Istanbul sinks its magical claws into you and won’t let go in a way that few other cities do. I lived there for eight years between 2002 and 2010, but there really isn’t such a thing as leaving Istanbul. The city keeps calling me back, especially its old-school food spots and the people running them. The city’s history and humble nobility sustain Istanbul through its sizable ups and downs. When I touch down in Istanbul, these are the places I make a beeline for.
Kaymak, clotted cream made from buffalo milk, is probably the most blissfully delicious Turkish creation, the kind of thing that will eternally haunt your food memory dreams. It does mine. This spot is one of the last traditional kaymak purveyors in Istanbul, serving it with a drizzle of honey and a side of crusty fresh bread. Stepping through the doors here feels like stepping back in time.
A Turkish version of a greasy-spoon diner, this cozy place specializes in all things fowl, from chicken soup to a variety of egg dishes and even a dessert that weds a thick, milky pudding with almost microscopic strands of poached and shredded breast, served with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. The eggs — scrambled with tomatoes and peppers (AKA menemen) or fried with your choice of different cured meats, are uniformly outstanding. But it’s their soul comforting tavuk göğsü, the chicken pudding, that remains a revelation every time I taste it.
It may no longer be a hidden treasure — the founder has been profiled in the New Yorker and René Redzepi, and other celebrity chefs have sung its praises — but no matter, there are few other restaurants like Çiya in this world. Owner/chef Musa Dağdeviren’s vision — to document and serve traditional Turkish regional recipes before they disappear — is both compelling and lovingly executed. Come here in spring, when the cooks do wicked things with bracingly tart early fruits, adding them to savory stews or grilling them with kebabs.