Israeli-born chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi sets the scene for food lovers and spice hunters in the "magical city" of Istanbul. He shares where to find pomegranate mohitos and meatballs with soured cherries. Yep, it's a feast for every one of the senses in this Turkish metropolis of mystique, markets and minarets.
Yotam Ottolenghi

12 Feb 2013 - 12:14 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Why go?

It’s a magical city with unbelievably delicious food. So much to love, but it’s the markets which make my heart sing and tummy rumble. Mountains of bright spices, fresh fish laid bare awaiting a sale, more varieties of chilli than I knew existed, neat piles of ripe vegetables bursting with colour: huge aubergines, tomatoes like footballs, shining cherries.


Must eats

Lokanta Maya A creative, vibrant modern Turkish restaurant. Rightly famous for their courgette fritters, there are so many more dishes vying to be the palate’s best friend: slow-cooked lamb, tahini ice cream with puréed pumpkin, pomegranate mojitos. Kemankes caddesi no: 35A, Karakoy, Istanbul, +90 212 252 6884,

Ciya Sofrasi Though no longer the city’s best kept secret, the restaurant retains all of its unpretentious charm. Focused on serving a wide range of tapas-style food, owner-chef Musa Dagdeviren collects inspiration from his extensive travels all over Anatolia. The seasonal menu features unusual regional dishes that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. Lamb meatballs with soured cherries; springtime meat stews cooked with bracingly tart green plums; sweet pistachio flaky pastries served with clotted cream: all washed down with a sumac sherbet, the experience of eating under Musa’s roof is one that will delight and more than satisfy. It’s 20 minutes by ferry from old Byzantium, on the Asian side of the city in the district of Kadikoy. Güneşlibahçe Sokak 43, Kadıköy,+90 216 330 3190,


Must visits

Wander any of the food markets you stumble across, but it’s worth seeking out Hasanpaá¹£a market, in Kadikoy. Located on the Asian side of the city, it’s a 25-minute boat journey from the piers at Beşiktaş, Kabataş and Eminönü and then a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal. There is not an inch of vertical space left yawning in this bustling trading hub. Open on Tuesdays and Fridays.


Best food souvenir

For something a little more original than the ubiquitous apple tea or kilim rugs, pick up a sachet of the biber salcasi red chilli paste. You can find it in most markets but I found mine in the Eminonu Egyptian spice bazaar, a short walk from the grand bazaar. A spoonful added to cooking back home will transform the simplest of dishes and take you straight back to the smells and tastes of the city.


Recommended books

Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Basan. Packed full of recipes that, pleasantly, always work, this is a fantastic and inspiring introduction to one of the world’s most accomplished cuisines. It manages to both evoke the vibrancy and depth of the country at the same time as demystifying the spices and techniques which can daunt the uninitiated. Must-try, must-eat, must-have. 


Read our cookbook review of Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem.