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Culinary Wonders of Istanbul

By Cenk Sonmezsoy

Cenk Sönmezsoy is a 31-year-old food writer, photographer, baker and chocoholic from İstanbul, Turkey. He shares his kitchen adventures, recipes and photographs at his food blog Distinguished as Turkey's "Best Blog" in 2008, Cafe Fernando has been featured in magazines, newspapers and websites internationally, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. In his post for WWB, Cenk takes a ferry to the other side—of bi-continental İstanbul—and gives us the scoop on two sublime meals on the Asian side of the city.—Editors

İstanbul is the only city in the world bridging two continents, Europe and Asia. It is as old as civilization itself and home to many wonders. In the culinary arena, the Asian side hosts two spectacular establishments. And if you happen to live on the European side of the city, the feast begins before you even set foot into these places. A 15-minute ferry ride across the two continents will not only bypass the chaotic traffic, but also give you a chance to enjoy the scenery and feed the hungry seagulls accompanying the ferry during its journey.

The first stop is Çiya, a restaurant known for its authentic Anatolian dishes. Among the three branches on the same street, the smallest and coziest is the one to go to. On your right, a salad bar full of aromatic herbs and mezes, representatives of the southwestern part of Turkey, will greet you. Dolmas rolled as thin as a pencil, dried eggplants stuffed with a spicy rice mixture, mini balls of red lentils and a creamy humus are just the beginning.

When you turn around, you will see the cook stirring huge clay pots with local vegetables and slow-braised meat dishes inside. After you breathe in the heavenly smells, you start examining the dishes. The chef starts to name all the vegetables that you've never heard of before and you just nod and pick a few, feeling confident because you know you can never go wrong. If meatballs with sour cherries or red lentil patties with caramelized onions happen to be on the menu that day, you definitely order them too.

When the feast finishes, you feel stuffed. But that is just your stomach playing a trick on you. You're not done—at all. A meal at Çiya is never complete without a dessert. Among the many tasty desserts, Kerebić is the wisest choice. It is a doughy dessert filled with pistachios and served with a foam that is extracted from the root of a tree that grows in Antakya, a city in the southern part of Turkey renowned for its creative cuisine. The foam aids digestion and makes you feel like you've eaten nothing at all! If that is not a culinary wonder, I don't know what is.

Your next stop is Baylan, one of the oldest patisseries in İstanbul. Philip Lenas, a Greek from Epirus, founded the Baylan patisseries when he was just 15 after coming to Turkey from Albania. Baylan gained fame through its high-quality array of around 200 types of pastries and sweets. The only branch standing today, Baylan Kadiköy, was established in 1961. It is owned by Philip Lenas' elder son Harry Lenas. His new creations along with the established favorites continue to draw crowds into the beautiful and relaxing environment of the Kadiköy Baylan's ivy-covered garden.

His most prized creation, the "Kup Griye" is out of this world. It is made with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, toasted almonds, pistachios, crème chantilly and served with cat's tongue biscuits. A feast for the eyes and stomach. But keep in mind that İstanbul is much more than an epicurean wonderland.

Now, it is time to stroll through the Kadiköy Food Market, which starts right after you step out of Baylan. Burn those calories while you discover many more unique tastes and let the sellers charm you with their hospitality. If you're adventurous, dive right into the back streets and explore the antique shops. Who knows, you might just find a hundred-year-old brass bowl that will remind you of İstanbul in many more years to come.

Çiya Sofrası

Caferağa Mah. Güneşlibahçe Sk. No:43 Kadıköy / İstanbul

+90 (216) 330 31 90

Baylan Patisserie

Muvakkithane Caddesi No:19 Kadıköy / İstanbul

+ (90) 216 346 63 50 - 336 28 81 - 346 89 19

Images used with permission of Cenk Sönmezsoy, all rights reserved

Published Jun 3, 2008   Copyright 2008 Cenk Sonmezsoy

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