On trips there are always some specialties I don’t have time to try and passing them on the last day en route to the airport I feel the sting of a million tiny heartbreaks. I promise to myself or whoever is by my side that I will be back for those things but so often that has not been true. Most places I’ve been to I’ve been to only once and there’s so much more to see before returning anywhere. I enjoyed my time in Istanbul and there’s so much left there for me to experience before I can really understand a city so complex and different. But the next one will be somewhere else. I can only hope that one day I will have a specific reason to return.I’d know right where to go, too. I’d hop on a ferry and cross over to Asia and I’d spend another day in Kadıköy Market. I would come hungry too. No hotel-adjacent börek for breakfast. No hotel pizza the night before. I’d get a bit of everything that looked good and save the rest in a bag or box that I would bring with me in my purse. I’d eat the leftovers later or bring them home with me in check-in if not perishable. Or I’d suck it up and get full. Very full.
I’d try many of the desserts and snacks I ended up passing on because they seemed too similar to something I’ve had before. I’d stop at a tatlı lokma stand and ask for a bowlful of the deep-fried dough balls soaked in honey and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. I suspect they’d be crispy and sticky sweet, yet airy and light inside. I’d also get honey in its many other forms, including a bowl of Turkish yogurt topped with honey and nuts.
I’d try more types of baklava, cevizli with walnuts and fistikli with pistachios. I’d try the bright green logs of ground pistachio wrapped in a thin phyllo shell called fistikli dürüm. I’d also get a vişneli baklava with sour cherries and a plump round kestaneli baklava with candied chestnut inside. I’d try the cheesy and honey-soaked künefe with a side of freshly clotted cream.
I’d also go for a big old bowl of revani, a kind of pound cake I encountered on several occasions. It’s made with semolina flour and ground almonds, which gives it a grainy, cornmeal-type texture. It’s soaked in honey or orange blossom flavored syrup and served with a scoop of ice cream or sweet cheese.
I’d also get kaymakli kayisi, or dried apricots soaked in syrup, stuffed with clotted cream and rolled in ground pistachios. Maybe I’d get a whole sleeve of those.
If I were there for longer I’d make my own sarma by buying the grape leaves at a market and rolling them myself. It just seems like it would feel rewarding to take a few sheets of the salted leaves and put them in a plastic bag, wash them out in a kitchen at home, stuff them and line them up on a tray to serve. I’d get them from out front a pickle shop called a turşucu and I’d also get jars of pickle and şalgam suyu to take home with me.
I’d also get istiridye mantarı, which my friend pointed out were her favorite mushrooms. They happen to be my favorite mushrooms too, although I grew up knowing them as laska gomba in Hungarian. My mother would make a soup with them, that she would season with lemon and a tiny bit of cream. They are angelically soft and become super tender, melting like butter from the heat of the broth.
I’d also try the fish whose bright red gills loudly boast freshness and whose plump little bodies would make for perfect individual meals. Perhaps I would make my own balık ekmek and perhaps I’d even add the sauce I missed before.
I’d enter more pastry shops and get one of everything. I’d try the syrup-soaked cakes and the different types of bread. I’d get a sesame simit, the skinny Turkish bagel. I’d get a mound of ayva tatlısı, the neon red candied quince with a side of clotted cream and pistachios. I’d eat more börek in all of its forms. I’d get su börek layered and baked with feta cheese and parsley every day. At this shop I’d get one of Yanya’s house böreks, a torpedo-shaped sigara böreği filled with spinach, herbs and feta. It’s 22 lira per kilo, so maybe I’d get two.
And I’d sure as hell get one of those devastatingly creamy and sweet looking kazandibi that my Turkish friend pointed out were her favorite dessert in the market. I could tell from her expression that this is a deeply sentimental thing, like grandma’s rice pudding or a festive apple pie. The name means something like “the bottom of the pan” and it resembles a kind of crème brûlée with a pillow-soft interior. They look like plump and soft rolls of custard. I suspect they feel like pudding on the tongue, eggy and thick but light in consistency. I’d leave this for a special occasion and share it. Or perhaps I’d have it when I’m hungry for breakfast with coffee.