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A few general observations on Turkish food. It helps if you like dill a lot, because it's everywhere. Efes Pilsner is also everywhere, and just about the only drinkable beer in the country (not surprising, when you consider that the majority of the country are teetotalers). After having many variations of eggy börek pastries in different parts of the country, all delicious, I can't understand why it's so hard to find a half-decent one in the US. Try the pides and the lahmaçun, both distant cousins of pizza. They raise and eat a lot of lamb in Turkey, so grilled lamb ribs are ubiquitous and delicious. Among the kebaps, the spicy style from Adana was my favorite. And finally, there are many variations on mantı (meat dumplings) but the Kayseri style is particularly interesting. They're tiny, each one a stamp-sized flap of dough laboriously pinched around a pea-sized dollop of meat, and you're served a bowl containing dozens of these in a yogurt sauce. I don't know of a more labor-intensive dish anywhere, to be honest, so think of the hands at work when you enjoy a serving.

You'll be offered tea (çay, pron. chai) almost everywhere. It's normally taken hot with sugar. Apple-flavored tea (artificially flavored) is also commonly offered, but mockingly nicknamed turist çay among the Turks.

Avoid the restaurants lining the underside of the Galata bridge; these are overpriced tourist traps for the most part. Along the riverfront to the east of the bridge though, the shopkeepers peddling fish sandwiches out of absurd miniature galleons that they roll vigorously from gunwale to gunwale are at least entertaining.

Cibalikapı fish restaurant, facing the Golden Horn, serves utterly fresh seafood, prepared simply. Even the meze are unusually good here, with the advantage that the choices are presented on a tray so you can see while you select. We had some incredible calamari here too.


In the vicinity of the Hagia Sofia, the Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi is the lone landmark in an area otherwise full of tourist traps to be avoided. Go for their namesake köfte - juicy grilled nuggets of seasoned ground meat.

Also around the Hagia Sofia, you'll see street vendors selling ears of corn from portable carts. Avoid. I think maize must still be a novelty in this part of the world, because otherwise I would have mistaken the texture for livestock feed.

While in Istanbul, we stayed in the Sultanahmet district and ended up dining several times at Tamara, a neighborhood restaurant which was convenient to our hotel, but dished out very good Turkish standards.

Have fun!

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Oh heck, I forgot to write about Asitane until I noticed it on Bourdain's map. It's located adjacent to the Church of St. Savior in Chora on the north side of town, which is now a museum and tourist destination for its incredible set of late Byzantine gilded mosaics. But as to the food next door...

Asitane serves reconstructions of Ottoman court cuisine. It's one of the few actual fine dining restaurants we visited, albeit al fresco. The flavors are still unmistakably Turkish, although execution is quite a bit more refined than what you'll find at local spots.

Some pics follow (l-r: an app of spiced soft cheeses; Scorpionfish soup; "Arefe" kofte being served; baked quince stuffed with lamb and veal; lamb chuck with apricots and plums)

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One of the most food-focused episodes that I've ever seen and it made me want to go to Turkey even more. I just have to figure out when.

That is exactly how I felt after catching the rerun last night, right after the one on Cairo which was not bad either.

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I'm in the should-I-or-shouldn't-I stage of planning a trip to Istanbul with a gastronome friend.

Any additions to this thread would be warmly welcomed.

If wine is your thing, there is good, inexpensive wine to be had. Sorry I can't offer more than that, I went 10 years ago.

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If wine is your thing, there is good, inexpensive wine to be had. Sorry I can't offer more than that, I went 10 years ago.

I'm going to offer an opposing opinion: Turkish wine is a mess. Following the tragic population "exchanges" of the 1920s, most of the skills departed with the ethnic Greeks who had brought winemaking to the region two-and-a-half millennia ago. Away from the Mediterranean coast, most of the rest of the country doesn't drink, and although grape cultivation continues nearly everywhere, it's principally for raisin production.

What you have left can mostly be categorized into the fruit wine tradition of the area surrounding Şirince in the west, and modern production of a bunch of overpriced wines. The former are popular with tourists, inexpensive ($10-ish) and sweet...the sort of novelty wines you probably swore off during college. The latter, particularly the wineries in Cappadocia, reminded me of a lot of Loudoun county wineries: somebody's newly-constructed private plaything, cranking out plonk priced at 2-3x what might be considered a fair amount. And with an influx of European investment and training in recent years, there are suddenly a lot of barrique bombs. The one label you'll see nearly everywhere is Kavaklıdere, which is something of a national institution as it was reputedly Atatürk's personal favorite. I didn't care for it, and definitely not at the prices they were asking.

The method by which they grow grapes in the barren interior (trained into self-supporting circular "nests", as the ancient Greeks did) is probably more interesting than the resulting wines. That said, if you're going to be there, there are a couple of really obscure grape varietals that are worth a taste. At least you can check them off of your lifelong varietal list. Kalecik Karası is supposed to make Turkey's best red wines, but I was more fascinated by Öküzgözü (oh-kooz-go-zoo), which was rather unlike any of the well-known western European varietals, but in a still-drinkable way.

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When we were in Morocco, we had no real issue getting beer in 4 and 5 star hotels (most hotels have minibars stocked with booze and a bar). Is that the case in Turkey as well?

I had no problem finding beer. Effes is plentiful, as is Tuborg and some other offerings. Not too much variety, though.

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I agree with Dave, wine in Turkey is not that good. You should stick with beer or Raki.

There is no problem finding any kind of booze on the streets, restaurants or hotels. Plus, there is no time restriction which means you can buy it 24 hours, 7 days.

I will be going to Istanbul this Sunday and stay for 2 weeks. I was born and raised in Istanbul so I used to know a ton of good, small family run places to eat. Nowadays, my friends take me to those places since I kind of forgot most of them but there is an absolute visit to the original `Sultanahmet Koftecisi` and to the street carts which they serve charcoal tripe. There are many restaurants as well they serve the tripe soup. They are called `Iskembeci`. It is a must. You should also visit the spice bazaar and score some saffron for very cheap. Good luck during your visit.

Also, don`t forget to negotiate if you are planning to buy any kind of carpet.

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Inci. The people who introduced `profiterole` to Istanbul and rest of the country in 1940`s. They are on the historic `Istiklal Caddesi` in Taksim and they have been at the same location.post-51-1266409030_thumb.jpg


On a cold day, hot chestnuts smell and taste great.post-51-12664091388_thumb.jpg

In the spice bazaar you will notice some funny signs such as this ;):P:)post-51-126640924309_thumb.jpg

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Just back from a week in Istanbul. Here's our brief report:

Tourism: The highlights are highlights. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are very impressive, as is Topkapi. The underground cistern was okay. The Grand Bazaar was fine, but we weren't really shopping so it was more spectacle than interest.

Food Tourism: The Egyptian Spice Market was not as impressive as we'd hoped. The spice stalls were very repetitive, with some price differences. That said, we bought quite a bit: dried mint, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, curry powder, cinnamon, and a few other things that I forget about at the moment. The kitchen supply area (to the right and behind the spice market, if you are looking at the front from the Bosphorus) was very interesting to walk through--many wooden kitchen utensils, juicers, grinders, etc. The coal cooking stoves were very nice, but really designed for a kitchen and not luggage-able.

Food: Fantastic. We used Istanbuleats.com as a rough guideline, to find some of the more interesting kebab and seafood choices, and it didn't steer us wrong. The first night we had dinner at Musa Ustam, just off of the Istiklal Caddesi, and really enjoyed it. The Alinazi kebab was fantastic, and this place was a simple kebab house. Service was efficient. Dinner the next night at Antiochia (down by the Pera Palace) was perhaps the highlight of the trip, a late-night, 2.5 hour meal where we tried most of the mezes, did a few kebabs, and finished out with a candied eggplant dessert. Dinner at Tugra ($$$$), in the Hotel Kempinski, was also very good, but I think we began to realize that there was not a huge difference between the 'high' end turkish restaurant food and the less expensive dishes we would get at Antiochia, or Musa Ustam. Balikci Sabahattin (in a quiet neighborhood behind the Blue Mosque) was marvelous, seafood meze (including a monkfish meze that I'm still thinking about) made with such a delicate touch and very rich flavors.

Two other meals, one touristy, the other not: dinner at Hamdi was fine--this is just off of the spice market, and is a huge tourist destination for kebab and meze. The other was the 'No Reservations' featured Durumzade, a few blocks off of the Istiklal Caddesi. This was street food at its finest, and I could eat this kebab every day for the rest of my life without tiring of it.

All in all, a great trip, and we look forward to going back to eat more!

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Have you read Istanbul by the city's Orhan Pamuk? He was here this weekend and quite entertaining.

I read it a few years ago, and actually saw a line of his books in a very interesting fairly large bookshop on the Istiklal Caddesi (I think it was called Mephisto). Without a frame of reference, it was hard for me to see evidence of Istanbul losing its past--in one of my guidebooks there was some discussion of how the Grand Bazaar has become one large tourist shopping stall, and that was fairly evident.

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the evening we arrived at my parents house my dad prepared this dish. Baked several hours in the oven in a clay pot. Top is covered with dough to make it air tight. I actually did not know my dad can cook but it was great.Beef, tomatoes, green peppers all combined..post-51-0-43688900-1327369355_thumb.jpgpost-51-0-43524400-1327369367_thumb.jpgpost-51-0-97110100-1327369379_thumb.jpg

a trip could not be completed without eating original `balik ekmek` post-51-0-26851500-1327369560_thumb.jpg

post-51-0-52062700-1327369539_thumb.jpg and drinking pickled cabbage juice and cornishons is a classicpost-51-0-52394300-1327369660_thumb.jpg

my parents house is right at the beach. enjoying a relaxing day post-51-0-11131200-1327369756_thumb.jpg

and Turkish coffee at its best with a great view post-51-0-79264000-1327369877_thumb.jpg

I am hiding from my wife because I did not want to get on that plane post-51-0-16257300-1327370003_thumb.jpg

My friends took me to few different places that they were new to me. Enjoyed the food so much and the company. I loved it very much that I am planning my next trip sometime again in this year.

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Now Istanbul is a place to eat. And eat and eat some more.  I just got back from about a week there and had a tremendous amount of fantastic meals.

First things first, IstanbulEats.com is a wonderful resource.  Their blog is really helpful and had a post for just about anything I wanted.  For example, kaymak (clotted cream from water buffalo) served with honey and bread is now in my pantheon of revered breakfasts, so when I wanted to find the best places to get it, they had a post pointing the way.  (I went to Karakoy Ozut, right near the Karakoy tram stop--very friendly staff, very creamy kaymak, I heartily recommend it.)  They also have a book that is very handy to keep on you while exploring the city.

Also, I went on one of their food tours (the same one Tom Sietsema wrote about) and it was well worth the price because they took us to places that were a bit difficult to find or that wouldn't have necessarily stood out to an unknowledgeable passerby like myself.  The döner kebab stand they took us to, Bereket Döner, was revolutionary to a person like me who has devoured döners throughout Deutschland but hadn't ever experienced the döner on its home turf.  It was like spending years looking at a copy of a copy of a sketch of Le Corbusier's Notre Dame du Haut and then finally one day walking up to the actual building.  Or, another thought, while I have so much love for German döners, eating at Bereket was like catching up to the original sound after so many echos.  I imagine most döner places in Istanbul, just like other countries, are getting their doner meat from just a few different suppliers, but Bereket makes it in-house every day, layering the lamb with tomatoes, peppers, and onions.  It was juicy, perfectly cooked, and beautiful.


The tour was just a fraction of the outstanding food, though.  Another outstanding kebab was at, of course, Durumzade.  It deserves every ounce of ink or megabyte of electrons it inspires.  I went a couple of times but got the same thing--a double-chicken durum.  Really good quality meat, really tender, and the onions and peppers pack a ton of flavor.  It's a meal made for a cup of aryan (too bad they only have the mass-produced stuff in the shop).  

I really liked all the simit street vendors everywhere I went--cheap, tasty, and easy to eat while walking to another meal!  There were also lots of street vendors serving grilled (or boiled) corn and they looked and smelled delicious, but the one corn cob I tried was chewy and not very sweet...that's something Maryland may be better at.

Finally, I had a couple of incredible, more upscale meals.  Lokanta Maya would be right at home on 14th street--very chic, modern, and hip with a seasonal selection of mezes.  I went for lunch so I kept it light, splitting four mezes with my wife.  Each one was very well balanced, with elements of sweet and savory.  The real standouts were the wheat salad with peaches, almonds, and lemon and the figs with a burrata-like cheese.  Really

clean and bright dishes all around.

Meze by Lemon Tree was equally modern and impressive. We got the tasting menu (halfway through the fourth dish I remembered why we never do tasting menus...so much food!) which was four cold mezes, a hot meze, a main dish each, and a dessert.  The mezes were the real stars--one with eggplant, yogurt, and tomatoes was a dish worth embarrassing yourself over, trying in vain to scrape up every last bit from the bowl.  I'm struggling to remember any meze dishes here in town that have so thoroughly impressed me like they did at this place.  The main dishes were very good but honestly, that much grilled meat was just overkill after all the meze.  The dessert was kaymak with bananas, walnuts, almonds, and pistachios, which would have been perfect on its own but they added some chili syrup on top that, while I understand the appeal of the heat, just didn't work completely for me.  I'd go back and just stick to the mezes.

And there was so much more to the week (the baklava!  the coffee!  the iskender kebabs!)--so much that I have little doubt that Istanbul deserves to be ranked as one of the best food towns in the world.  

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We enjoyed the food in Istanbul. Most of the restaurants we walked by cooked Turkish staples (grilled meat, vegetarian mezzes and salads, Ottoman era casseroles) that all have basically the same menus although slightly different preparations and quality. Of this genre, Gulhane Kebab House was our favorite. We had two relatively upscale meals, lunch at Nar Lokanta and dinner at Lokanta Maya. Nar Lokanta had a very nice mezze and dessert buffet for the great bargain of 28 Turkish Lira (about $14). The food was good. I enjoyed the experience at Lokanta Maya, and I agree with the person above that it could fit right in on 14th St, but I did not love the food. Surprising, because the chef was trained at the French Culinary Institute in NYC and Eleven Madison Park. My fried anchovies were fresh and lightly breaded and well fried, but the portion was way too large. A bowl with dozens of these fried fishes came out, much more appropriate for sharing (wish I had known). I ate as many as I could and felt bad about sending half the batch to waste. My lamb shank with polenta I had for dinner there could have used some sauce, it was dry. The polenta was an unfamiliar texture, dry and stiff. I don't remember what we had for dessert.

After a week there, a few things about the restaurants in general started to annoy me. One was the solicitation. You can't stop at a menu outside a restaurant without "My friend, my friend, come in! Oh nice couple, table for two" etc. I know it's like this in many tourist destinations, but it was more intense here. Also the music in most of the restaurants in the main tourist areas are either cover songs of American standards (Billy Joel, Sinatra, etc) or 1990s era love song with women singing their hearts out (Toni Braxton, Whitney, Celine Dion). It was sort of funny at first, but I would much prefer that the restaurant owners played the music that they like rather than cater to tourists with romantic American ballads. I also was puzzled that although most restaurants do serve alcohol, they only serve Turkish wine and beer. If they are going to serve alcohol, and especially in the tourist centers, they should import some of the good stuff.

However, US restaurants could learn a thing or two about bread service by going to Istanbul. Warm flat breads with spicy tomato chutneys or yogurts were an always welcome start to our meals. We also enjoyed the street food carts - the simit, roasted chestnuts, a hot drink that tasted remarkably like rice pudding, fresh pomegranate juice. Also loved the Turkish coffee and tea and desserts.

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The story starts with credit card fraud a few days before my trip.  I got a new card and tried to remember all the places that I used that card online.  I got most of them but forgot that I charged a food tour reservation to it.

So Thursday, we get to the airport and we cheerily started drinking champagne at the Polaris lounge (Lanson).  Clouds roll in, our 5 pm flight ended up taking off after midnight.  We arrive in Frankfurt in the afternoon on Friday, wait in a long line to figure out our next step.  United had boarding passes for us for another flight to Istanbul that day but by the time we get to the head of the line, we didn’t have time to catch the replacement flight.  And I was told I could catch a later flight that day but Steve has to wait until the next day.  So I waited at the airport only to find out the flight that they put me on is oversold.  Now I go find Steve, who had already booked a room at the Hilton, and book a room for myself at the Hilton for 369 Euros.  We ended up flying to Istanbul on Saturday afternoon – a full day later than planned.  

The ATM at the Istanbul airport charges a 10% commission.  So we said screw that and found a taxi that supposedly takes credit card.  We get to the hotel and the taxi driver says his credit card machine ran out of battery.  So we run around to find an ATM to pay the taxi driver.  We had a food tour on Saturday that’s prepaid but I managed to reschedule it by e-mail.  After getting situated, we explore the hill that is the new district of Istanbul.  The main street, Istiklal, seems to be mobbed all the time (with stores open until midnight or maybe 24 hrs).  For dinner, we decided to take in the sunset from the lower level of the Galata Bridge.  All those restaurants cater to tourists so they all have cold beer.  So I googled to find out which one is the best – Vezenan has the highest rating.  They have a display case of fresh fish - our waiter recommended a seabass that’s big enough for 2, and he offered to prepare it 2 ways, grilled and fried.  We also had some mezes of octopus (rubbery), hummus (good), mussels with rice and fried calamari.  The fried foods were nicely breaded and fried but not seasoned - this could be custom as the locals may be drinking something salty to accompany the food (according to our food tour guide from Culinary Backstreet).  The mussels and rice is really a rice dish as the mussel has been destomached and thus there's very little mussel in the shell.  Which is why this thing can be served on the streets of Istanbul by illegal vendors at highly trafficked areas.  I still wouldn't risk eating one from a street vendor though.  

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In the meantime, the AC in my room (Hotel DeCamondo Galata) wasn’t on.  I woke up in the middle of the night to adjust the temperature but that did nothing.  There’s an on-off switch on the top of the thermostat that I missed.  Also, guests are banging around upstairs at 3 am and cats are meowing.  All these became non-issues once I turned on the AC and put in my earplugs for the rest of the trip.  It's actually quite a nice location, really close to Galata Bridge and Galata Tower. 

Sunday we hit the mosques, starting with the baddest one - the Hag.  I thought it would be open except during prayer time but it was closed when we arrived.  We waited from 9:30ish until 10.  Then everyone rushed into the courtyard and took off their shoes to go inside.  I thought I was going to gag on the smell of stinky feet.  That and they covered up all the Christian decorations and closed the second floor made our stay short-lived.  The Blue Mosque was scaffolded inside and out, so we stayed even shorter.  Slightly disappointed, we had brunch at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi.  We had the mince (kofte) and lamb shish.  Both were undersalted - we ate the kofte but generally left the lamb shish as it just wasn't very exciting. 

That afternoon we hit the Topkapi Palace.  Buy the ticket that includes the harem - definitely worth checking out.   As mentioned earlier, our Sunday night food tour was canceled because they couldn’t charge my credit card.  That evening, we had some snacks at a wine bar that only serves Turkish wines.  As it turns out, the tariff is so high, you can't get imported wine except at fancy places like Four Seasons.  We then hit Zubeyir Ocakbasi, just off of Istiklal, a place recommended by our server at the wine bar.  Again we had mince (kofte) and lamb shish.  These were wonderful.  You really need those onions to complement the  kebabs.  Best kebabs of the trip.

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Monday was more schlepping around the city - Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent.  The Suleymaniye Mosque is itself magnificent - well ventilated, fewer visitors, and superb architectural design. We had brunch at Havuzlu in the Grand Bazaar.  According to Rick Steves, this is supposed to be Ottoman Imperial cuisine but for lunch it was bland food served cafeteria style.  We tried a bunch of things, didn't finish any and left.  We had some random pide (football shaped pizza) in the warrens around the Spice Market, then Şehzade Çağ Kebap, a trip to Four Seasons because Steve wants to waste money, finishing with dinner at Yeni Lokanta.  The pide is great, and very cheap.  We saw some hole in the wall that's very crowded so we squeezed in there to try it out.  Sehzade does one thing and does it very well, and it's cheap.  Yeni Lokanta is the best food we had in Istanbul.  The starters were a kofte tartar and prawn and grape leaves tempura.  The tempura was like an eggroll but made with grape leaves - delicious and different.  The entrees were beef ribs and lamb neck.  The beef ribs were especially delicious - moist and tender and incredibly tasty with mint leaves.



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On Tuesday, we took the Culinary Backstreet tour that was originally scheduled for Saturday.  We chose the Two Markets Two Continents tour because a round trip ferry to Asia is included.  This tour really is 6.5 hrs long, starting at 10 am (or 9:30 am, depending on the day of the tour).  The walk may be around 3-4 miles.  We walked much more the prior 2 days (most of the attractions are walkable - we only took a cab to Four Seasons).  

We had some simit to start, it's a tasty bread that is sold everywhere by street vendors.  Next we had a full breakfast including more bread, cheeses, olives, Turkish shakshouka, olives, tomato/spice paste (pictured).  Knowing there're lots more food, I barely ate any of the breakfast items.  We then go to a restaurant for borek, which counts as the third breakfast.  We had dry borek and wet borek (tastes like noodles, pictured).  Next we had a street snack called tantuni  - spiced ground beef in a wrap.  We had some salty yogurt drink as well, which is popular among Turks.   At this point we ferry from Karakoy to Kadikoy.  The first stop on the Asian side is for some kind of soup which didn't leave me with much of an impression.  Then we tried a sandwich made with intestines and fat (the whole thing is grilled  on a spit and the chopped up, pictured) - I actually found it kind of bland.  After all that, we went to 3 restaurants.  Restaurant #1 (Balikci Lokantasi) dished up some seafood.  The first dish is fried horse mackerel (pictured), which is what people fish for on Galata Bridge.  The next dish is somewhat unique - the preparation is generally made with skorpion fish (pictured).  It looks and tastes like a Sichuan dish - I loved it.  Next we went to a place that specialized in rice, beans and stewed beef (pictured).  It's all they do and they do it well although it's not really something that I crave.  The last place we had some mezzes and raki, or beer in my case.  I also took a Culinary Backstreet tour when I was in Athens.  They're really good - maybe a little on the expensive side.

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For dinner, we went to Karakoy Lokantasi.  We weren't really hungry so we ordered 4 mezes.  First two were fried lamb liver and an avocado salad.  Next two were fried dumplings and sauteed shrimp.  Everything was pretty good but we didn't love the food, perhaps because we just weren't hungry after the food tour. 

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On Wednesday, Steve went home and I explored the city on my own.  I ended up sleeping in because I finally got over jet lag (the day before I was due to fly home).  So the first thing was to find lunch and I wanted to see the Roman walls so I head in that direction.  Rick Steves recommended Siirt Şeref Buryan, a place famous for buryan, or whole lamb cooked in the ground.  I remember having such succulent whole lamb in Marrakesh that I really had to try the buryan.  Unfortunately, this restaurant's staff isn't very English friendly and I was confused by the menu.  So I pointed to my guidebook and the server then asked if I wanted 100 grams or 200 grams.  Thinking this is going to be one of many meals for me for the day, I just asked for 100 grams.  He then asked if I wanted to order a salad, which I declined.  So the buryan came on some bread and nothing else.  Perhaps I should've ordered some salad (most kebab houses have a few salads and then the meats).  I imagine it would be really delicious if I just know how to eat it properly.  

Many of the sights around the Theodosian Wall were closed for rehab.  The Chora Church was closed, the dungeon was closed and the tower next to it was closed.  The walk there and back probably broke my personal record for distanced walked in a day.  It definitely set a new record for calories burned according to my Apple watch.  I saw a conservative and non-touristy part of Istanbul including streets and streets packed full of vendors and shoppers for everything other than food.

That evening, after one last meal at Zubeyir, I went to the Galata Tower.  It sounds cheesy but the view is fantastic (I was told the bar at Mikla has a similar view).  You don't even have to climb stairs, an elevator zips you up to the 6th floor and you only have to climb a few steps after that.  

I saw few Asians other than tourists and there weren't that many Asian tourists.  I didn't see a single Chinese restaurant but I saw a couple of Thai restaurants.  Many people go to Istanbul for cosmetic surgeries such as nose jobs and hair transplants.  People are struggling there to survive with official inflation rate at 75% but more like 160% in reality according to locals.  Compared to the U.S., Istanbul is cheap to visit - just don't go to Four Seasons for French wine.  The city is densely populated but we never felt unsafe.  



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