Stoke Newington has a thriving Turkish community, and with its grand domed mosques, it’s coffee shops selling freshly baked Anatolian delicacies, and it’s traditional Turkish Hamaam tucked away in a side street, I sometimes feel as if I’ve been transported to Turkey itself.
I’ve been to Istanbul once before, and during the Autumn half term Team Haloodiefoodie decided to revisit the land where East meets West; the land of the Sultans and the Ottomans. Istanbul is a short 3.5 hour flight from London, so if you catch an early morning flight, you’ll still have plenty to explore on your first day.
The Sultan Ahmed area is the cultural heart of the city. It’s only a 30 minute taxi drive from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, and has many hotels. I would suggest you stay in a 3-star hotel, which usually serves a simple but hearty Turkish style breakfast of cheese, sour cherry jam, honey, eggs and bread.
The hotels in Sultan Ahmed are within walking distance of the main Istanbul attractions: Topkapi Palace, Sultan Ahmed Camii (the Blue Mosque) and the Hagia Sophia.
I recommend getting a Muze Card for 85TL (£20), which gives you access to a range of attractions including Topkapi and Hagia Sophia. More information can be found here:
Topkapi Palace housed the Ottoman Sultan, his family and various service personnel. It is by far the most popular attraction with beautiful Ottoman Architecture and ornate furnishings. I recommend starting your tour of Istanbul here. I was in the ticket queue for 2 hours during my first visit!! This time, I avoided the queues by reaching the palace at 9am, and I was one of the first to purchase our Muze cards. Topkapi contains 4 main courtyards, various receiving rooms, and the Sultans private quarters. It also contained mosques, kitchens, the Treasury, bathing pools and a hospital!
The views overlooking the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus are breathtakingly beautiful!
The Palace also houses the Sacred Relics which include the cloak and Sword of Rasullah SAW, as well as other relics such as the Staff of Musa AS and the Turban of Yusuf (AS). No photography is allowed in the Sacred Relics section.
There’s so much to more see, you can easily spend a few hours in Topkapi, soaking up life in Ottoman Times!!!
Hagia Sofia was originally a Greek Orthodox cathedral with Byzantine architecture. It was converted into a Mosque and is now a museum. It has high domed ceilings, marble pillars and Mosaics depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and other nobles.
Sultan Ahmed Camii (The Blue Mosque).
The Blue Mosque is also in the same vicinity, I suggest you visit at a prayer time to hear the call to prayer echoing around the high domed ceilings. Stay after the prayer for the impressive recitation of the Imaam.
Sunset Bosphorus Cruise
The sunset tour of the Bosphorus was another highlight of our trip. The most picturesque time to start the tour is about an hour before sunset. We boarded from Eminonu (A few stops on the tram from Sultan Ahmed). Eminonu is a busy transport hub, with ferries to the Asian Side of Istanbul and a bus station. (You can also take the 99A bus to Eyup Sultan from Eminonu).
Eminonu is very busy, with many sellers of Hamsi (Fried Anchovy Sandwiches). You can also buy freshly fried Lokma, (Turkish doughnuts).
Other notable places:
Eyup Sultan Mosque
The Mosque is built next to the grave of the famous companion of Rasullah Muhammed SAW
The Grand Bazaar is the perfect place for retail therapy. You can buy almost anything within its winding streets!!
The Spice Bazaar is where you can pick up all manner of spices, teas and the occasional love potion! You can get Urfa Pepper for your adana kebabs here! See my recipe for further details. http://haloodiefoodie.com/haloodiefoodies-adana-kebab-live/
Istanbul Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art
The museum contains many ancient Quran manuscripts and relics of the Kabah
Places to eat
You are spoilt for places to eat in Istanbul, with all manner of cuisines available. We made a conscious effort to sample both the traditional and modern cuisine. Here are some of our highlights.
Tarihi SultanAhmet Koftecisi
Situated near Sultan Ahmed’s tram stop is the famous Tarihi Sultan Ahmet Koftecisi which was established in 1920 and is, therefore one of the oldest Kofte houses in Istanbul.
These beef kebabs were cooked over charcoal, the lack of spice was substituted by the super succulent and unctuous kebabs!
Virginia Angus, Burgers and Steaks
I found out about Virginia Angus during my internet trawl for steak places in Istanbul. So after reading Isha prayer in Sulaymani Mosque, we walked through some narrow roads to finally get to the burger eatery. I was surprised to see what looked like takeaway from the EastEnd of London (no disrespect to the EastEnd!!). Nevertheless, the promised lure of Black Angus beef took us inside. As soon as I saw the aged meat on display, any doubts about the eatery soon disappeared. Virgina Angus is not your usual steak and burger joint, they farm their own Black Angus in the lush fields of Eastern Anatolia.
We ordered The Leave it to the Chef Platter, which started with thinly sliced subtly smoked beef. Served with soft and buttery bread rolls.
The burger and steaks were cooked over charcoal and were served medium, the steaks juicy and succulent. The french fries were a little underdone and lacked seasoning. The beef served on the platter wasn’t aged, although the quality of the black Angus beef was apparent.
As part of the platter we were also supplied with a cute mini Virginia burger, with smoked veal, double cheese and caramelised onions!! Totally luscious!!
After eating half of my the mini burger!! I just had to order another one!!
The Virginia burger came sliced in two, with grill marks on the inside of the patty! This patty was cooked rare and juicy. The smoked veal added a salty, smokiness to the juicy beef and the subtle sweetness of the caramelised onions came through in every bite. Mrs HF had a bite and commented that the patty texture was too rare for her liking. That was good news for me, as she concentrated her attention on the french fries while I enjoyed the burger!!
Sehzede Cag Kebab
Cag Kebab is a horizontally rotating Lamb kebab cooked over a wood fire. The marinated lamb slices are stacked with layers of lamb tail fat, which help maintain the kebabs juiciness.
Kasab Osman is along the road from Sehzade. Established as a Butcher ‘Kasab’ in 1964, Kasab Osman opened as a restaurant in 1990. The doner kebab uses good quality lamb and is cooked over a wood fire! It’s nothing like the doner found in most takeaways in the UK, utilising lamb shoulder. Also try the amazing Iskinder Kebab here!!
Hafiz Mustafa is Istanbul’s premium dessert parlour. Established for over 150 years, Hafiz Mustafa serves a variety of Turkish sweets including Baklava, Kunefe, Turkish Delight, Creamy Rice puddings and all manner of sweet treats!
The quality of the Baklava was outstanding, and they don’t compromise on the quality (or quantity) of the nuts. The vividly green pistachio Baklava is a must.
Fine Dining: Mikla
If you prefer a more refined meal, then make your way across the Bosphorus to Chef Mehmet Gurs’ acclaimed Mikla Resturant. Situated on the rooftop floors of The Marmara Pera Hotel.
A modern take on Hamsi (Fried Anchovy Sandwiches) found in Eminonu. This was a creative dish which married the intense flavour of the anchovies, with the texture of crispy olive oil bread and the subtle coolness of the lemon dip. Very clever!!
Bonito served with Salicornia, Fennel, Sunchoke, Caper and Apple vinegar. The Bonito was firm and its taste was highlighted by the sharp vinegar dressing.
For my second course, I ordered the Pistachio crusted Grilled Lamb, served with Liver, Mushroom, bulgar and cornelian cherry. The presentation of the dish blew me away. The lamb was cooked medium rare, as requested, succulent and well seasoned. The pistachio crust gave the dish much need texture and the liver added a subtle earthiness.
Mrs Haloodiefoodie went for the fish dish as her second course. The monkfish was perfectly cooked and really meaty. The sauce with the red beans perfectly complimented the fish.
I wasn’t expecting this dessert to look so stunning, amazing colours and textures. I’m glad it tasted as good as it looked. The buffalo yoghurt was sweet and had a Khoya/Mava type of creamy smoothness. The sharp strawberry sorbet gave the contrasting freshness to the rich yoghurt. The fennel sauce added a hint of liquorice flavour to the dish.. I was a happy diner!!
The sharpness of the blackberry sorbet contrasted and cut through the richness of the bittersweet chocolate. This dessert was thoroughly enjoyed, and one of the best I’ve ever had.
The night ended with breathtaking 360° views of Istanbul from the Rooftop terrace!
Istanbul Food and Sights Map
I have uploaded some key places that we visited during our trip. I hope you find it useful!
We really enjoy our short trip to Istanbul. It’s the first time Mrs Haloodiefoodie has been away from all the children for an extended period of time! Don’t worry we have set a firm resolution to bring the Junior members of Team Haloodiefoodie to sample the cultural and culinary delights of this wonderful and unique city!