Cook like a local: Istanbul
From chargilled kebaps to spicy pide bread and köfte, Turkey’s rich culinary heritage makes a visit to the country’s capital a treat
Veal meatballs with white bean and tahini salad, chicken kebaps and thin-crust pide with spicy lamb topping
With a big smile, Turkish cooks are likely to tell you that theirs is the first great cuisine of the world: ‘ The French got their creamy sauces from our yogurt and the Chinese based their dumplings on our manti, which also gave the Italians their ravioli’. Pushing their tongues further into their cheeks, the Turks might go on to claim that the Americans picked up their obsession with barbecues from Turkey’s chargrilled kebaps, the Italians developed their pizza from pide, the Greeks stole baklava from the Ottomans, Hungarians’ goulash came from the beef stew called kul asi, New Yorkers’ pastrami is a rip- off of the meat- drying process called pastirma and the Indians’ tandoori ovens are a copy of the ancient Anatolian custom of baking in a hole in the ground, called a tandir. It is true that most Turkish dishes have ancient origins. About 8,000 years ago, the Hittites of south- eastern Anatolia were the first humans to cultivate figs, apricots, cherries, almonds, pistachios, sheep ( for cheese and meat), and grapes for wine. Later the Greeks, Romans, crusaders, Ottomans and 20th- century modernisers each added their own tastes, techniques and mythology to the regional repertoire. All of these influences can be found in Istanbul’s eating places, though each tends to specialise in one or two types of cooking. Go to a kebap house if you want chargrilled meat ( with soups and tomato salads), or a köfte house to sample spicy meatballs ( served with white bean salad), or a börek house to try savoury pastries, then to a baklava house or a rice pudding house ( look for the sign ‘ muhallebi’) for dessert. If you’re after a variety of meze dishes after 6pm, go to a meyhane.