Street Food and Strange Food, Part One
chicken dessert, fresh fish, mint leaves

Street Food and Strange Food, Part One

After 22 months here, I still have list of sights I want to see, either for the first time, or again. The city offers so much that I find my list growing rather than slimming down.  I also have a list of Istanbul foods not to miss, and, hoping to at least get that list under control, a few weeks ago, I got to work.

The first is rather tame, simply the fish sandwich offered down by the Karaköy fish market. You cross the Galata Bridge from the Old City, or get off the tram at the Karaköy stop, and walk west of the bridge and down to where fresh fish markets line the shore of the Golden Horn. You can’t miss the fish sandwich vendor, but you often have to get in line.

The fish is mackerel, and a half dozen filets are frying on the open grill as you approach. The proprietor of this little restaurant reaches under the grill and produces a small loaf of fresh bread sliced open, then chooses a filet, meticulously plucking some tiny, stray bones from it. Sandwich begun, he reaches for garnishes, first some leafy greens, then a pile of chopped onions. (The greens turn out to contain fresh mint, which neutralizes the onions.) He sprinkles some salt on the sandwich (is that necessary? I wonder) and finally squeezes a half a fresh lemon over the whole thing. Then, for five lira, the sandwich is mine.
Mackerel is not a beauty fish. Its filets are thin, and its meat can be dark in color. You never see mackerel on a restaurant menu. But in a sandwich eaten out al fresco, it is delicious: savory and tangy and satisfying. I sit down a few yards away, on the edge of the quay, and dig in.
The next food is one I hear about from my beginning Turkish teacher. First, let me back up. Turks love milky puddings. This is partly a result of centuries of not having ovens to bake in. Desserts needed to be made on top of a stove, or assembled like baklava.  Naturally, a great number of pudding recipes were developed over the years, all involving milk and sugar. Some added rice, others fruit and nuts, still others were flavored with rose or topped with cinnamon.

Somewhere along the line, incredibly, somebody got the idea of putting shreds of white meat chicken into pudding. When I first heard of this, I was horrified. Meat in a dessert? Some Turks actually assured me that these “tavuklu” (chicken-ish) puddings were thus in name only; no chicken was actually used. Others insisted that meat was present.

The other night I joined some fellow knitters at a popular restaurant just up the Bosphorus. The restaurant is called Sütiș, which means milky, and it features a wide array of dessert puddings. When I looked at the menu, indeed there was a tavuklu pudding on it, and a fellow knitter assured me that the next item on the menu also contained chicken. I ordered it, kazandibi, a dish I’ve had before, albeit in vegetarian form. Kazandibi means “bottom of the pan.” Turks, particularly in their humble past, didn’t typically waste anything in a pan, and this pudding remnant was over-cooked to the extent that it could be shaped into a neat cylinder and served on a plate. A heavy coating of cinnamon covered it. Here is a photo:

I could faintly taste the chicken, and see its pale strings. That was not a problem. But what I didn’t particularly relish was the rubberiness of the dessert; it sprang back from my spoon when I tried to cut it, and I needed a knife to show it who was boss. But it wasn’t bad, this milky, cinnamony, chickeny treat!

Coming up: sheep’s intestines and dove-shaped sandwiches. 

2 thoughts on “Street Food and Strange Food, Part One

  1. MMMM…I do love balik ekmek, but I don’t really like the pudding desserts here. I have a major problem with textures esp. when it comes to desserts. I want a pudding to be smooth and silky not cutable and rubbery. Be sure to add boza and the cig kofte street food sandwich to your list! =)

  2. Now I really like the consistency of tavuk göğüsü, that chicken-based pudding! Admittedly I have had time to get used to it! Apparently that and kazandibi are one and the same pudding, just one is upside down!

    Joy, I hate çiğ köfte though!!

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