Istanbul for Foodies with Alana Lowes

Hamdi Restaurant serves a feast fit for a Sultan, with views out over the Bosphorus River.

Fresh seafoodtick, meat on stickstick, sweet sticky dessertstick, creamy cheese for breakfastdouble tick… Istanbul is a ‘ticks-all-the-boxes’ culinary wonderland.  Join me as I unearth the cultural capital’s exotic and intoxicating flavours.

Best Breakfast Spot

Start your day with a real Turkish breakfast amid the bustling alleys of the Spice Bazaar in Eminönü.  I love to sample before I buy, and in Turkey it is encouraged.  

There are fresh slabs of beyaz peynir (mild, white cheese) or if you are game tulum peynir (goat’s milk cheese ripened in a goat skin casing), which despite its confronting appearance is absolutely delicious. Use large hunks of simit (sesame crusted pretzel) to attack the cheese, and follow with spicy salami and olives.  No breakfast in Istanbul is complete without a rich, strong Turkish coffee.

Sweet Mid-morning Treat

If you visit during summer, like I always have, an ice-cream is the perfect combatant to a warm Istanbul day.  In Turkey, dondurma (ice-cream) is generally bought from street performers. It is always a game of cat and mouse… I try to grab my ice-cream cone only to have it whipped away from under my nose time and time again. It is great for a laugh, mostly for the street performer, and for the crowd who gather to watch your misfortune.  

In the end it is worth the wait as Turkish ice-cream has a unique chewy texture and can be stretched without the fear of it breaking.  And as an added bonus, it does not melt as quickly as normal ice-cream, so you will not end up wearing it. 

Lunch Fit for a Sultan

When thoughts turn to lunch you need not look too far from the Spice Bazaar. In fact, just around the corner, my favourite restaurant in all of Istanbul, Hamdi Restaurant serves a feast fit for a Sultan, with views out over the Bosphorus River.  

I do not usually recommend a banquet menu, but this is the exception. Choose your own mezze selection, and make sure it includes ezme  a spicy tomato and pepper salad, from which I found inspiration for my Alana’s Pantry Spicy Turkey sauce.  Plunge pieces of bread into dip, savour the flavours of lamachun (Turkish pizza), and indulge in the jewel of the experience, a kebab platter with lamb and pistachio and spiced beef.  Trust me you will not be disappointed!

Another Sweet Snack

If you are lucky enough to be visiting during the holy month of Ramadan, you will be privy to special seasonal sweet treats. My favourite is the Tulumber  it is crunchy, syrup-coated, soft and fluffy all at the same time. Wait for the sun to set and join locals to indulge in the delicacy. 

Dinner like the Locals

Mix with local workers, feasting on grilled fish and sipping raki, at one of Sultanahmet’s best kept dining secrets, Ahirikapi Balikçisi (Keresteci Hakki Sokak 46, Cankurtaran/Ahırkapı).  Think rickety tables, colourful service, grilled calamari, buttered chilli prawns, cold beers, and the obligatory endless baskets of freshly baked Turkish bread.  

Skills to Take Home

I always do a cooking class while overseas. It is a fantastic way to learn about a culture and to collect new recipes to impress your friends back home.  

Selin from Turkish Flavours showed me through to her cosy kitchen in her apartment. Brimming with jars of marinating olives and plates of kaymak (creamy Turkish cheese) it looked like the set of a cooking show. Turkish cuisine involves hidden surprises  stuffed eggplants, stuffed figs etc  and one item on the menu that caught my eye was kaymakli kuru kayisi (stuffed apricots).  Selin walked me through her recipes step-by-step.  It was a real treat to hear her nostalgic stories about watching her mother cook dinner parties in kitchen in which we stood.  

Plan Your Istanbul Gourmand Getaway

Flights to Istanbul: Together with partner Etihad Airways, Virgin Australia operates flights to Istanbul, from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Istanbul Hotels: Establish a great base from which to experience the splendour of Istanbul. Select from a wide choice of hotels with Agoda.

More about Alana

Alana Lowes is a celebrity cook of MasterChef pedigree, and has travelled the world co-hosting the television show ‘A Taste of Travel’ on Channel Ten.

Alana has recently embarked on a new adventure with the launch of her own Alana’s Pantry Spicy Sauce range available at Coles Supermarkets nationally.  Inspired by her travels globally, she has bottled up the flavours of the world into her range of gourmet hot sauces.  

To see where Alana is jetting off to next or what is on her dinner plate, follow her on Instagram and Twitter @AlanaLowes. 

Words by Alana Lowes - Published 2 December 2013
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 12,782,960
Time Zone UTC +3
Languages Turkish (official), Kurdish, Arabic
Currency Turkish Lira
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A millenniums-old bridge between Europe and Asia, at the gateway to the Middle East, Istanbul swells with culture, history and unique experiences.
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