Ciya, Kadikoy, Istanbul

Food, Food, Food & More Turkish Food

Derek Food, Turkey 63 Comments

Turkish Food

It’s quite easy traveling without a guidebook. After all, within minutes of publishing my first post from Istanbul, I received both comments and emails from readers offering me tips on what I should do, where I should go and most importantly, where and what I should eat during my stay.

Seriously, why do I need a guidebook when I receive such specific instructions as these:


Hi Earl— hop on a boat from Eminönü to Kadiköy on the Asian side, get off the ferry and cross the street, walk around the building that is directly across from the docks, then cross the street— the whole time, keeping your back to the docks. Turn right and take your first left (should be by the big bookstore with a picture of Victor Hugo on it).

Walk straight up the hill to the second main pedestrian only street. Along this street you will find a row of restaurants, three of which are called Çiya. Go to the Çiya on the corner (that isn’t called Çiya Kebap) and sit down for the most delicious experience in Anatolian cuisine.


After reading those lines over and over again, written by Samantha in the comments of a post from last week, I decided that I needed to follow her advice. And so a few days ago I went on my own culinary tour of this grand city.

It all began while waiting to catch the ferry from Eminonu on the European side of Istanbul over to Kadikoy on the Asian side, when I naturally became a little hungry thinking about the day ahead. And so I forked over 70 kuruş (50 cents) for a piece of simit, a light bread covered in sesame seeds and sold by street vendors, and 1 TL (70 cents) for a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. I must say that despite the rain that started to pour down, the day was off to a most excellent start…

The 20 minute ferry ride across the Bosphorus was pleasant, although the heavy cloud cover kept me from seeing much until we actually pulled into the pier in Kadikoy. And as soon as I walked off the ferry, I opened up my notebook and began following the walking instructions exactly as Samantha had written them…so I thought. It turns out that I didn’t follow the instructions very well and after wandering around for an hour (which I quite enjoyed), I finally decided to seek out some help.

It took a few attempts of asking for directions, but eventually I found the small cafe-dotted hill I was searching for and started walking up and down each of the pedestrian-only lanes until I found my place.

ÇIYA

Ciya, Kadikoy, Istanbul

How can I describe this restaurant? Well, apart from standing on a rooftop and yelling “AMAZING!” at the top of my lungs, I’ll just say that Samantha was right when she ended her directions with…

Seriously, do not miss the opportunity to eat at Ciya!

I’m quite happy that I didn’t miss such an opportunity as the food I ate at this place was not only some of the best Turkish food I’ve eaten in the past 10 days, but some of the best food period that I’ve ever eaten in my life. Yes, it was that good.

Everything from the Ezo Gelin Soup (red lentils, mint, garlic, onion and spices) to the Babaganush (mashed roasted eggplant, tomato, garlic, pepper, topped with chicken and a butter and red pepper sauce) was simply divine.

Every mouthful was so full of flavor that I found myself eating ever so slowly, not wanting this meal to end. Eventually, however, I did force myself to eat that last spoonful of soup and the last forkful of eggplant, which left me feeling so satisfied, yet so disappointed that there was no more left to eat.

Ciya, Istanbul, Turkey

After sipping my after-meal tea and waiting for the rain to let up, I decided that since I enjoyed Samantha’s first recommendation so much, I better try out her second one as well. Off I went once again through the streets of Kadikoy, trying to find my way back to the ferry pier.

On a side note, it was hard to pin point exactly, but something about the Asian side really appealed to me. It seemed laid-back but lively, a bit rougher around the edges but friendlier at the same time. Perhaps it was again the fact that I did not see a single other tourist during my time in Kadikoy, an observation that, oddly enough, seems to put me even more at ease than usual. All I know is that I loved the atmosphere of Kadikoy and wish I had been able to spend more time over there.

Anyway, enough of that…despite my strong fondness for the Asian side, I was still more than happy to get on the next ferry back to the European side. After all, if I could manage to follow Samantha’s next set of detailed directions, I would soon be enjoying what she described as “some of the best baklava in the city.

Details: Official website of Ciya

GÜLLÜOĞLU

Gulloglu, Istanbul, Turkey

I’ll just come out and say it. Yes. It was the best I’ve ever eaten. Simple as that.

And as a result, I went a bit overboard. After trying one piece I got a little too excited and proceeded to have the man behind the counter fill up a box with 2 pieces of just about every type of baklava they had for sale. 600 grams and 18 TL ($12 USD) later, I walked out of Gulluoglu with my box of goodies, ready to head back to my room and enjoy these treats in private.

Pistachio, dry pistachio, walnut, cream, almond, carrot, saray rolled with walnut, sobiyet with pistachio, round pieces, square pieces, triangular pieces…and of course, their famous chocolate baklava.

The first piece I ate upon returning to my room was the chocolate baklava and while it certainly looked a bit unfortunate, its taste was nothing short of sweet perfection!

In fact, every single piece of baklava I ate proved to be that tasty. As the sugary syrup ended up all over my hands and face, I would just close my eyes and meditate upon the bursting flavors that brought each bite to life.

Baklava, Gulloglu, Istanbul

Out of the 21 pieces of baklava I bought, I ended up eating 12 of them in about 30 minutes, after which time I decided it would be a wise idea to give away as many of the remaining pieces as possible. I have a feeling that if I continued to eat the baklava by myself, I wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed the following morning.

I already paid a price for the 12 pieces I did eat as I wasn’t feeling too well for about 36 hours afterward. Apart from an expected stomach issue, I also felt as if the blood in my body was just oozing around, too thick from all the syrup and honey to properly flow to where it needed to go.

Details: Official website of Gulluoglu

THE FINAL STOP ON THE TOUR

Somehow, even after all of that baklava, my tour was not yet finished as I found myself quite hungry at around 10pm that night. And so I went for a 20 minute walk in search of dinner and ended up capping off this splendid day of stuffing my face with some of the best food Istanbul has to offer, with a simple, but delicious tavuk doner durum (chicken pita) from a tiny kebab shop I came across. Then, before heading back to my room, I stopped by another orange juice vendor for one last glass of that healthy, freshly squeezed goodness in an attempt to flush out some of the baklavian toxins that I could feel circulating throughout my body.

I’m not sure if it worked, but I did manage to make it all the way to my bed without falling into a binge eating-induced coma, something that I’ll admit I was a bit concerned about at the time. Instead, stuffed and happy, I fell asleep wondering where I would eat the following day in order to continue my culinary tour of Istanbul.

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Since 1999 I've been traveling and living around the world nonstop. With this blog, my aim is to give you an honest account of this lifestyle - from the brilliant moments to the major challenges - in order to help you achieve your own travel goals.
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Comments 63

  1. Pingback: Sunday Spotlight - Things to Do in Istanbul Turkey

  2. Hatice

    Really good to read about this. While I am fasting right now you carved up my hunger more then it already was! Next week my friends from Holland will be visiting me in Turkey where we will stay in Istanbul for 10 days. I planned a trip to visit Kadıköy (have you been to the street where they have dozens of second-hand book shops? Gorgeous!) where I now have found our restaurant to visit to have some nice dinner at night! I am sure, as a Turk who knows the cuisine , I will going to enjoy the food as much as you did!

    Always following your footsteps,

    Hatice From Turkey x

  3. Christine

    Another great post! I love Babaganush and every once in a while I go to the open-air market in the South End of Boston and search for a Lebanese family that sell their homemade babaganush and hummus, along with fresh-baked pita. So good. The soup sounded so wonderful you have inspired me to look for a recipe to make it myself, as I won’t be getting to Turkey for a while. 🙁

  4. Cigdem & Nathan

    Hi Earl,
    Well, it was a nice way of spending sunday morning reading the interview with you at the newspaper : http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/cumartesi/19623643.asp (I am sure your Turkish is rusty:) and exploring your website. Of course, Istanbul review was the one took my attention immidiately and let me tell you that I am impressed with your observations. Also, thanks to Samantha for guiding you to go to Ciya, which would haven been a big miss for a traveler. Ciya represents overall Turkish cousine with a good quality. Would like to meet with you when you are in Istanbul next, not sure if it would be interesting for you to know that my husband is from Minnesota 🙂 You are having a life, we all envy ! Keep going! Cheers, best, Cigdem & Nathan

    1. Earl

      Hey Nathan! Thanks for coming over to my site and I’m glad you enjoyed my Istanbul post. Now that I’ve been a few times, I absolutely love this city even more and it has quickly become one of my favorite cities on the planet. The next time I’m in Istanbul I will be sure to let people know and would be very interested in meeting up. I’m always up for a chance to meet new people while on the road!

  5. Ersin

    I read all the comments with a smile on my face 🙂
    I am living close to Karaköy and everytime I pass near Gulluoglu (that baklava shop) I feel that pressure to eat eat and eat but I stop myself generally because when you start eating it, you can’t stop yourself and want to taste every different kind of it! But my favorite is the one called Sütlü Nuriye, it is a kind that is made with milk. You don’t only eat it but you want to suck it because of the milk.
    For breakfast, you may try Namlı Gürme which is just the next place near Gulluoglu Baklava. You may have a hard time choosing what to eat!
    In my opinion as a turkish guy, a lifetime is not enough to try all the different kinds of food in Turkiye, every region has its own dishes and they are all gorgeous!

    1. Earl

      Hey Ersin – I’m glad to know that locals also suffer from baklava addictions 🙂 And I’ll actually be back in Istanbul in a few weeks so I will definitely try the place you mentioned…Namli Gurme!! Perhaps we’ll have to meet there one morning for breakfast if you’re around….just let me know!

      1. Ersin

        Hi Earl, yes we are definitely lovers of baklava and turkish sweets! Of course I’ll like to have a breakfast together and spend some time together, it’ll be very nice! I hope I’ll be in Istanbul that time when you are here. Just send me an e-mail before you plan your visit. Have a nice time!

  6. Erin

    Turkey definitely does have amzaing food! It’s one of the only places I can go and absolutely love a healthy meal. My only sugary weakness there is the baklava! Delicious.

  7. Anemone

    Thank you szaza!! that was very helpful and exciting!
    I am glad you’re recommending this turkish bath in particular as i had contacted them for details after looking at several options on the net beforehand, so I think I’ll just go for this one, its also near Hagia sophia as i understood which will be very convenient.
    About the must buys, where do you recommend I go shopping for scarves, jewellery and traditional soap( although we have lots of the latter at home;))
    And would you recommend a visit to Bursa? if so how much would a trip there cost me, as the travel agent I’m going with suggests it costs 100$ and i felt it was a bit over priced..and how long would it take to get there?
    Sorry if i’m troubling you with my endless questions but my last question, how is Istanbul like in Bayram??
    Thanks a million!!

  8. szaza

    ANEMONE, this is for you— I saw your post to Earl (and Earl, if you don’t mind, I’d like to help Anemone out).

    I live in Istanbul and have some suggestions:
    For hamams (Turkish baths), check out the Çemberlitas Hamami, near the Grand Bazaar, it’s a piece of history— dates back to 1584: http://www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr I hear good things about it.

    Prince’s Islands: Takes about an hour/ hour and a half ferry ride, 1.50 TL one way. Definitely doable in a day, and simply lovely! No cars on the islands, only horse and buggy. Get off on the last island, Büyükada, which is the largest and has more to see than the other ones.

    Cafés by the sea: I know of several cafés, none by the sea that are traditional— though I suggest as I did with Earl here, that you visit Çiya restaurant in Kadiköy on the Asian side for some exquisite food. Fazilbey kahve is a great place around the block for delicious Turkish coffee.

    Seafood: Filiz in Tarabya is my favourite, but a hike— otherwise Savoy in Cihangir is downtown and yummy, though pretty much every fish place is going to be good. Going wrong with food here is hard to do!

    Must-buys: beautiful Turkish scarves, handmade olive oil soaps, Hamam towels called pestemals are so lovely, Turkish coffee, baklava, Turkish delights called “lokum”, JEWELLERY, evil eye beads… so much!

    The weather is already cold, so pack warmly— it will be colder during the Eid (called Bayram here). Layers are the best way to go!

    Hope that helps!
    Enjoy your stay 🙂

    1. Earl

      Thank you Samantha! Clearly you are more qualified to answer those questions. Now you have me wanting to return to Istanbul 🙂

  9. Anemone

    Wonderful! so was this the typical westerner intoxication by delights of the east? I’m planning to visit Istanbul in the Eid which is mid november, Turkey is supposed to feel quite at home to me, considering my arabic background but i feel kind of excited,as it is my first time there. So, i’m doing my planning homework ahead of time,i came across your travel accounts, and kind of loved them, and i have some questions for you:
    1. The turkish bath experience:haven’t you checked out turkish baths when u were there?
    2.Whirling dervishes??
    , what things are must-buys in istanbul?,are there any traditional antique cafes you would recommend preferrably by the sea? any good seafood eateries u wud recommend? i was also wondering about trips to the Princes’ islands, a rough idea of ferry fares and how long it would take to get there? and finally the weather..cold??

    1. Earl

      Thanks John…you should definitely try out Ciya yourself when you arrive in Istanbul. Hopefully you’ll have a similar experience. I can’t believe you’re arriving so soon after I left!

  10. Shannon OD

    Oh dear lord you have me jonesing for baklava now! When I was in Bosnia I found a shop and went overboard as well…but they had just three of the different types of baklava – can’t imagine if I had come home with nearly two dozen! What a delightful foodie day, you have my taste buds drooling 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – Hopefully you’ll get a chance to sample some of this good stuff soon…I found a great baklava place here in Aleppo, Syria as well!

  11. Pingback: Little House in the Valley

  12. Mimi - SleeplessInKL

    Funny you should write about Karaköy Güllüoğlu. Incidentally, that’s the subject of my next blog post (draft post being edited at this very moment). But then again, Turkey is not Turkey without baklava 🙂

    Have you tried Turkish ice cream yet? Try the caramel dondurma in Çiğdem Pastanesi and let me know what you think. (I love it!) Çiğdem Pastanesi is a small pastry shop along Divan Yolu, very near the Sultanahmet tram stop.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mimi – I did try the ice cream but I don’t think I went to a very good place. Now I’ll put Cigdem Pastanesi on my list for my next visit to Istanbul and I have no doubt that my experience will be much different!

      And I can’t wait to read your post about Gulluoglu…I hope it’s a positive post 🙂

      1. Mimi: Sleepless In KL

        The post is entitled “The Best Baklava In Istanbul.” How’s that for positive? 😉

        I’ve tried an awesome bell pepper dish stuffed with rice and some other stuff in a small restaurant that we stumbled upon during a walk. I wish I wrote down the name and address of the restaurant!

    1. Earl

      Hey Anthony – You’ll have to try some baklava when you get a chance. But it might be wise to start out by eating just one piece and not 12 pieces…

  13. Bessie

    Yum Yum Yum! You’re a baklava fiend. I love the photo of you savoring that bite – oh to have been a fly on the wall giggling at you eating all that baklava. 🙂

  14. Forest

    Wow Earl….. Will have to get over to Istanbull while I am at this side of the world!! Sounds amazing.

    Please call up Turkey for me and tell them to send some rain over to Cairo, this is getting ridiculous!!!!

    Hope Syria is going great.

    1. Earl

      Hey Forest – I tried to send over some rain, did you get it? If not, you might have to visit Istanbul and take back some rain yourself…it’s a good excuse to get over there!

  15. Christy - Ordinary Traveler

    I had a Turkish roommate for about 5 months and she cooked delicious Turkish meals for me quite often. Before I met her, I had no idea how much I would enjoy Mediterranean cuisine. I’m not sure if it was just the type of dishes she chose to cook, but it all seemed so healthy. I hope you keep enjoying the food!

    1. Earl

      Hey Christy – How lucky to have home-cooked Turkish food for 5 months. Now you’ll just have to try out the real stuff from a place in Turkey one day!

  16. Erin

    You have made me so hungry! Keep the food posts coming to make me jealous. It’s the food that makes me want to travel to the Middle East more than anything. It sounds like one of the few regions a vegetarian can eat well. Enjoy!

    1. Earl

      Hey Erin – The food is definitely a good reason to explore this region of the world. And as far as vegetarian food goes, the food here in Syria has been even better. There’s such a variety of fresh salads, grilled vegetables and tasty falafel everywhere you turn!

      1. Özcan

        Just wanted to say that in Turkey there are an endless amount of delicious vegetarian dishes (more than in Syria or any other country in the Middle East). Especially in the Ege region. But I’m not very familiar with restaurants in Turkey. Strange, it seems to me that Turkey’s restaurants don’t reflect the quality and variety of this fantastic cuisine. Maybe we should try to get invited at people’s homes 🙂

        1. Earl

          Hey Ozcan – That’s interesting because usually, in many countries, the restaurant cuisine doesn’t exactly match the true cuisine that is eaten in people’s homes. It’s normally a more basic version that is served and unfortunately, as a traveler, I don’t often have the time to find some of the best places to go. And to try and find vegetarian places is difficult as well just because I don’t know how to find them. But I will be back in Istanbul in a month or so and I will definitely try to sample some more of the cuisine…or get invited to someone’s home like you said!

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – I am indeed stuffing my face every day, even more so now that I’m in Syria! There will be a post about Syrian food shortly…

  17. Connie

    Earl, if you’re adventurous when it comes to food, try the mediye on the streets! They’re the rice-stuffed mussels that vendors sell on the street. Make sure they squeeze some fresh lemon juice on it for you! They are absolutely delicious! Most tourists are afraid to try them but I ate about 100 of those each week during the 7 months I lived there and not once did I get sick!

    1. Earl

      Hey Connie – I actually did eat the mediye from a vendor on the bridge to Karikoy and they were excellent! I couldn’t believe how cheap they were as well. Eating 100 per week might be a little over the top though 🙂

  18. Sabina

    I haven’t been to Turkey yet, but I did have an incredibly great Turkish meal in Sydney! Gozlemeh – flat dough cooked on a griddle with a choice of fillings inside. I’m sure you’ve experienced this by now 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Sabina – The Gozlemeh sounds quite nice to me! Not sure if I had it as I had trouble keeping up with the names of everything and many of the dishes appeared to be quite similar.

      That’s great that you’re able to get such good Turkish in Sydney. Did you sample their baklava as well??

      1. Sabina

        Oh, actually, I didn’t have baklava. I found the Gozlemeh at an outdoor market and that’s all they were serving at that particular food stand. I do love baklava, though!

  19. szaza

    Yay! You found them! I was wondering if my directions were a bit nutty and confusing. I’m so glad you were able to experience both Çiya and Gulluoglu— they are such treats. Turkish food is meaty yes, but oh so flavourful, and the delicacy with which vegetables are treated… ooh… now I’m hungry.

    1. Earl

      Hey Samantha! Thank you again for your wonderful recommendations! And your directions were perfect…it was my direction-following skills that were not up to par in Kadikoy…

      Next time I’m in Istanbul I hope you won’t mind if I contact you for some more advice 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Maria – Eating 12 pieces might be amazing but it is definitely not recommended! It felt like I was poisoned for a while afterward 🙂

  20. Migrationology

    Sweet job with the food tour, and impressive job with the baklava! Your descriptions and story has made me so hungry that I am going to get off the computer and head straight to my favorite Thai restaurant downstairs right now!

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – So how was your Thai meal? What is your favorite Thai restaurant in Bangkok by the way? I’d love to know for the next time I’m in that city 🙂

  21. Audrey

    I love following comments, emails or random posts like that – it’s like a detective’s hunt or something. Even better is when it delivers one of the best meals of your life!

    I think that Baklava company has a branch in Baku, Azerbaijan. My Azerbaijani co-worker brought me a box of it when we lived in Prague – Dan and I couldn’t believe how incredible it was. One of the first things we did when we got to Baku was head to the shop…although we managed to only eat a few pieces each…

    Now you’re making me want to return to Turkey! Although, we do live in a Turkish neighborhood in Berlin so we’re able to get some of these dishes…but the baklava is not the same.

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – That’s exactly it, following the random recommendations of others is often much more satisfying as it becomes an entire experience and not just another meal. And even if the meals weren’t as amazing as they were, it still would have been such a fun day out in Istanbul.

      That could be the same baklava company in Baku. From what I heard, there are four Gulluoglu baklava companies with the same name that are each owned by siblings of the same family. And a couple of those companies have started to spread outside of Turkey (lucky for us baklava-loving folk).

  22. Caz Makepeace

    I must say Earl that I hated the food in Turkey.I found it so heavy and meaty. Since then I have turned vegetarian and from your descriptions above I am thinking that maybe I as a meat eater I just wasn’t eating the right things. I’m taking you are a vego too?

    I’m excited to return and look at the menu in a different light. Doesn’t being a vegetarian open your eyes to the world of food.

    I will admit to not liking Baklava- I am not a sweet tooth girl!

    1. Earl

      Hey Caz – I’m not a vegetarian but I don’t eat red meat and I try not to eat too much chicken. Although, I will eat chicken if I can’t find a good variety of veg food. I did find a decent amount of veg food in Istanbul, although it did take a bit of exploring and trial and error. Sometimes what appeared to be a veg dish turned out to be full of meat hidden underneath. At Ciya, the restaurant I mentioned in the post, there was a decent amount of veg items so perhaps that should be your first stop whenever you return to Istanbul!

  23. MaryAnne

    Oh Earl, you’ve made me so homesick for Istanbul! In my 6 years in Turkey (4 in Istanbul) I often went to Ciya and Gulluoglu. Have you tried Hala in Beyoglu? There was one on Istiklal back in 2008 when I left, and one down an alley closer to Taksim Sq. a bit beyond Pandora books, between Istiklal and Siraselviler in Cihangir. I loved their sarimsakli Kayseri mantisi (I don’t have a Turkish keyboard so take away the dots on most of the ‘i’s there) and their gozleme was fresh and awesome.

    I’d give you some suggestions for wandering but I think you’re doing just fine on your own… If you ever get to Cappadocia, feel free to ask- I lived there for two years and still have contacts there (useful ones, good people)

    1. Earl

      Hey MaryAnne – 6 years in in Turkey must have been amazing!! I didn’t make it to Hala unfortunately although it was actually recommended to me by a few people. It’s on my list for my next visit to the city which I’m sure will take place during this current trip. And thank you for the offer of advice for Cappadocia. The plan is to visit there once I head back out of Syria so I’m sure I will have some questions 🙂

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