24 Hours To Dine: Zeehan Zahari's Guide To Eating In Istanbul
One-half of the dynamic duo behind Copper, a modern European restaurant with Mediterranean flourishes, Zeehan Zahari spearheads strategic management and finances while specialising in Halal gastronomy.
"As my passion lies in flavours, aromas and textures, my team and I work closely to come up with unique drinks offerings and are hoping to elevate the experiences of the teetotalist society," states Zeehan in her professional manifesto. *Note that Copper is the one restaurant where T.Dining thoroughly enjoyed sipping on a slew of mocktails without missing the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
"The following itinerary is for business persons who love food but have little time," said the chef half-jokingly. In the 1-day itinerary that follows, Zeehan prioritises the best of the best eating and drinking experiences in Turkey's most populous city:
BREAKFAST – Namli Gurme
Start your day here. You can order anything from the display or get a recommendation from the friendly chefs behind the bar. Whatever you decide on, don't miss out on the kaymak (turkish clotted cream) with wild honey, cold cuts, and regional cheeses. If you have space, order a menamen (turkish scrambled egg) with sucuk (turkish sausages).
ELEVENSES – Konyali
After breakfast, take a tram or a taxi to Topkapi Palace. Enjoy the first part of the tour (get a headphone guide to fully appreciate the palace's history), before taking a break at Konyali, Topkapi's restaurant by the cliff. Enjoy Turkish sherbet (not the frozen dessert but a drink) and the breath-taking views while soaking in the sun. Continue with your tour.
LUNCH – Emrigan Sutis
Walk towards the exit facing the Blue Mosque and make a pit-stop at Emrigan Sutis for a quick lunch. If you're sharing your meal with another, order the manti (Turkish nomadic lamb dumplings) with garlic yogurt, dried mint and melted butter as your main, and the kazandibi (the Ottoman Empire's signature chicken pudding) for dessert — yes, chicken in dessert! Tea or turkish coffee completes the meal.
MIDDAY SNACKS – SWEETS
During your walk around the old city, check out Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern and so on, but make sure to trail in the direction of the spice market. If peckish, grab a simit (turkish bagel) with cream cheese, some kadir halva (thin water cracker with a layer of condensed milk), kestane (roasted chestnuts) or misir (corn).
You may find yourself being drawn to sweet shops like Hafiz Mustafa, where you can go crazy over the variety of baklava, lokum (Turkish delight) and puddings. A word of advice: share your snacks or have small morsels; you're only half-way through the day!
At the spice market, you'll be charmed into trying more spices, teas, and lokum. This is normal; don't feel pressured to buy things. Enjoy the overall experience! While prices are very competitive, I'd recommend going to stall number 51, where the seller is knowledgeable and fair bargaining is welcomed. If you are there during winter, don't miss out on salep, an iconic Turkish beverage made from orchid tubers and milk.
MIDDAY SNACKS – SAVOURY
By 4-5pm, you may well be hungry from all the shopping and walking. This is the best time for you to walk over to Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebab, which is a mere 10 minutes from the Spice Market. My personal favourite kind of kebab, cag kebabs are juicy and tender on the inside but crusty and charred on the outer layer. Being basted in its own fat from the constantly rotating pit adds unrivalled flavour.
Leave room for dinner! If your hotel is nearby, I'd suggest dropping off your shopping and freshening up before making a move for Eminonu Pier — you're headed to the Asian side of Istanbul for dinner!
DINNER – Ciya Sofrasi
Ciya Sofrasi, a World's 50 Best Restaurant, is in Kadikoy, the Asian side of Istanbul. It takes about half an hour to get there by ferry. Ciya is a homestyle regional Turkish restaurant made up of 3 stores next to one another. Not only do you get to taste authentic Turkish regional cuisine; you'll also taste forgotten recipes. The best part is it won't burn a hole in your wallet as at most award-winning restaurants. Ciya is simple and far from luxurious, yet delivers a rich atmosphere.
After dinner, I'm sure you'll be stuffed. It may have been a tiring day, but you can smile knowing that you've experienced so much of Turkey in just one day.