Istanbul is a must. It’s the beating heart of Turkey where you find both ancient dishes and exciting modern interpretations. In the Grand Bazaar you find produce sourced from every region around the country. And there’s a fantastic variety of street food, such as tripe soup, stuffed mussels, fish sandwiches, pide and gozleme. You can eat mezze dishes and drink raki in the meyhanes (sort of Turkish tapas bars), or soups and stews in the lokantas (sort of workmen’s cafés) or buy creamy milk puddings in milk pudding shops! There are upmarket restaurants serving amazing seafood fresh from the Bosphorus or sophisticated and lavish Ottoman dishes. And nowadays there are loads of chic bars and cafés and contemporary restaurants doing their own interpretations of classic recipes.
Gaziantep is a city in the south-east of Turkey where the food is quite different from what you find in Istanbul as there are Arabic, Armenian, Kurdish and Anatolian influences. The city is famous for its shish kebabs and for its pastries. Antep baklava is usually made from locally grown pistachios, and the quality is outstanding. If you’re an early riser you must sample offal kebabs, made from liver, heart or kidneys, which are a popular breakfast meal – especially in the bitter winters. The kebabs at Imam Cagdas are famous around Turkey but I also love the more humble Halil Usta kebab house. This is a local institution and the place is always packed. I’ve never eaten kebabs like them!
It’s hard to pick another specific place, but almost anywhere along the coastline – whether it’s the Bosphorus or Black Sea, the Aegean or Mediterranean – you’ll find amazing fish and seafood. You can watch the fishermen bringing in their catch and then enjoy eating it at waterfront cafés and restaurants. I’ve got memories of wonderful chargrilled sardines, octopus and prawns, fried mussels, delicate sea urchins, red mullet, sole and one of my favourites, turbot.