What happens when you get bored of Turkish food?
Say what you will about Turkish nationalism, Turks have plenty of reasons to be nationalistic about their food. Turkish food is wonderful. Forget greasy döner kebab. Real Turkish food is delicious, healthy and dizzyingly diverse.
But what happens when you get sick of it? I’ve been living in Istanbul for 7 months now and, although I never thought I’d utter these words, I’m slightly bored. My taste buds are craving fresh coriander. My stomach is rumbling for hoi sin. I long for a carbonara with depth (and not ‘beef bacon’).
I’m craving, for want of a better catchall, “world food,” that is readily available, doesn’t cost the earth, and tastes good. Recognising that saying this qualifies me for spoiled brat status, I want to be able to think biryani, and know where to go for a great one. I want to picture a proper chicken katsu, and be eating one in under an hour. I want to grab a burrito as I run to catch the train.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, Istanbul does not seem to be delivering. Perhaps because Turkish food is already so diverse. There are so many different regional variations, with influences from Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond, that lumping the national cuisine under the word “Turkish” is almost a misnomer. But the upshot of all this glory seems to be that there isn’t a huge amount of demand for non-Turkish food.
Take my in-laws, for example. Generally, they’re not too interested in foreign food. Whenever I’ve served up something non-Turkish – sesame ginger chicken, or a fiery lamb dopiaza perhaps – they look slightly alarmed. The dish in question has always been eaten politely enough (there was no retching at the table, for example), but I’ve never seen much enthusiasm for unusual food. This could just be lack of exposure, of course. But even people like M, who’ve travelled widely and tried all kinds of cuisines, don’t seem all that excited about multicultural cuisine.
And this trend seems to be reflected in the Istanbul restaurant scene. You can get okay-ish American, French and Italian cuisine pretty easily (although I’ve yet to sample anything that blows my mind). But when it comes to the slightly more exotic – Thai, Indian, Malaysian – apart from a smattering of touristic restaurants around Taksim, I have yet to come across anything worth writing home about.
So I’m setting myself a mission. Every month, I’m going to find and trial a new, non-Turkish restaurant, and report back on it. It’ll give me a pretext to go out more, as well as a way to satisfy my cravings.
If you know of any cracking foreign food restaurants in Istanbul – and I’m not picky here, anything will do – all tips and advice will be gratefully received!