That title long enough for you? I considered not finishing the Istanbul posts of our 2011 trip, but thought I should probably do them because they influenced our most recent trip. Of course, probably the most serious omission in our posts was not mentioning the Grand Bazaar, spread over nine acres, with over 60 streets, and over 550 years old, of course we had to check it out, if only for a couple of hours. We decided to enter through the main gate of the Bazaar......
Depending on what your source is, it is said that there are somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 shops in the Grand Bazaar. That's a lot of stuff......stuff that was also more expensive than elsewhere. I guess the overhead must be pretty high here. since we travel pretty light there wasn't much room for "stuff". So of course we were here in search of something to eat! I'd read a post on Istanbul Eats about a kebab shop in the Bazaar area. The Bazaar itself contains many "Hans", which used to be inns which is where travelers would stay. If you're interested in more about the Grand Bazaar as well as a walking tour, you might want to get this book. And while walking navigating the bazaar might seem a bit of a task, we had little trouble finding CebiciHan....you walk through a short, low ceilinged, passageway and find yourself there......just a few yards in distance, but seemingly a universe away from the bustle of the Grand Bazaar.
In a tranquil courtyard, next to a tea shop with a large group of older men were socializing and playing cards was the shop I was looking for called Kara Mehmet Kebab.
It was a peaceful and relaxing place, the guys running the show were friendly....and quite mischievous. When the borek vendor came by, hands filled with a pile of borek above his head, they started tickling him and slapping his behind....trying to get him to drop all his profits. Funny thing, we later saw a photo of the borek guy in the book I mentioned above!
I started with a refreshing glass of Ayran.
Ordering for me was pretty easy....I just went with the Karisik Izgara...the mixed grill. The Missus wanted to try the Adana Kebab. Things started off with a nice Coban Salatasi, shepherd's salad, which was quite good as it was dressed with what tasted like balsamic vinegar.
The Missus enjoyed Her Adana Kebab. Though it was milder than She expected, it was very moist and tender........which is where many of the kebab places here in the states fall short.
My mixed grill turned out to be quite a bit of food (duh!).
This turned out to be the best meal of our time in Istanbul.
Kara Mehmet Kebap Salonuu
Iç Cebeci Han No: 92
Grand Bazaar, Old City, Istanbul
It was also a lot of fun watching the old men argue over a game of cards......one gentleman slammed his cards down and started to walk away in a huff while all the other guys tried to get him back. Some things are universal and we couldn't help but laugh. The other men were cracking up and pointed at us saying something in Turkish......the guy sheepishly smiled, waved at us, and went back to the table where his smiled disappeared, pointing to another gentleman, the one who probably beat his rear end off, and the game resumed.
Soon enough it was time to hit the bustling streets of Istanbul again.
We still needed to pick up some small gifts to bring back to us. One of the guys back at the hotel told us to get Turkish Delight from Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir.
According to the story, back in 1777 Bekir Effendi created Turkish Delight and this shop has been in existence since then. We were told that it was the oldest continuously run business in Istanbul at over 230 years. I'm not a big fan of lokum, but heck, if you're going to get it, it might as well be from the originators, right?
By the time we were headed back to our hotel the heat and crowds were starting to wear us down. The Missus noticed a shop with a second floor dining area and decided that it would be a great time for a break.
It turns out that the name of the place was Hafiz Mustafa 1864....I guess for when it was established. This was the perfect little break we needed.
While looking at the photo of the street below, I recalled how crowded and busy things seemed.
And yet, when we returned home, we missed the lively, vibrant, and very social environment......much like we missed China when we got back from our trip there.
Of course, right at that moment, I could more clearly empathize with this fellow we passed on the way back to our hotel room.
This was nothing a nice shower and a short nap couldn't cure and I was ready to go. The front desk folks had recommended at restaurant called Rami to us earlier. It was called very nice and classy...well, we had been travelling with just backpacks and really weren't in the position of visiting anyplace too fancy. We were assured that we'd have no problems with the restaurant which is located in a charming little house a few blocks away.
Well, the house may be charming, but the gentleman who seated us was far from that. The pace was empty, but he was quick to tell us where we couldn't sit....nothing on the second floor, no tables with a view....all reserved, even though the place was totally empty and would remain so during our entire meal.
It did seemed like the spacing of tables were a bit cramped, but of course that didn't bother us since no one else was there.
Our Server promptly dealt us our menus and proceeded to disappear for a good long time. No water, no nothing....... When he returned, I think we made our second "mistake"........we'd had a good amount of food for lunch. To us, it seemed that just have a combination of starters for dinner would just be the perfect thing. His response, "humph......."
We went with the cold starters combination (TRY 29 - about $18 at the time).
All I remember after tasting this was how bland and ice cold this stuff was. It was like cafeteria food.
We also ordered the "Hot" Starters Plate (also TRY 29)......hot was just being used in the broadest of terms I suppose as most of this was also cold and somewhat greasy.
That lahmacun was plain nasty and we quit after one bite each.
Believe me when I say it was far from what as written on the menu.
As we were almost(thankfully) through our meal the Server plunked down some bread at our table......I mean really, if you're going to get all stuffy and pretentious on us, at least show me that you know how to time things and do your job. After all the great experiences we had in Istanbul, this was a rather sad way to end our trip.
As I sat at the window of our hotel room and listened to the last call to prayer for the evening I realized something. I usually work a little harder when researching places to eat when we travel. All the sites and history of Istanbul had taken over and we had stayed with places close to the Old City. I would have to fix that next time we were here. And based on how much we loved Istanbul, there would be a next time.