No greater than chickpeas and blanketed with tangy yogurt and scorching spiced butter, the manti have been so good they could possibly be inhaled by the dozen. My associate, Barry, and I devoured these lamb-filled Turkish dumplings, formed into cute tufted shells, at Hatice Anne Ev Yemekleri, a homey spot in Istanbul’s Kuzguncuk neighborhood.
“There are so many unsung female cooks in this city,” mentioned Benoit Hanquet as we saluted Merve Ataoglu, the restaurant’s kerchiefed manti maker. Mr. Hanquet, our information for a Culinary Backstreets meals tour of Istanbul, would later lead us on to Gule Kafe (fried doughnuts and crumbly sesame cookies) and Gunesin Sofrasi (a tasty mosaic of meze) — two extra institutions serving scrumptious treats and overseen by ladies.
Exploring a metropolis by its various eating places is at all times rewarding. But impressed by Mr. Hanquet’s tour, I made a decision on a subsequent Istanbul go to to focus simply on kitchens run by gifted ladies. For all its glamour and rising worldwide fame, Istanbul’s meals world has till not too long ago remained patriarchal — all dude celeb cooks and swaggering ustas (masters) presiding over conventional specialties like baklava or kebab.
“Men ran professional kitchens, women were expected to cook at home for their families,” the native meals media star and cookbook creator Refika Birgul informed me. “But with the rise of modern fine dining culture in Istanbul, that dynamic is finally changing.”
Indeed. In the last decade and a half that I’ve frolicked on this metropolis, I’ve seen a technology of feminine cooks emerge, quietly defining Istanbul’s subtle model of delicacies — an idiom that always includes artistic takes on Anatolian substances equivalent to yogurt, tahini and pomegranate. And so, revisiting outdated favorites and trying out newcomers, I crossed the town in routes lit by feminine culinary star energy.
Istanbul’s historic peninsula, the town’s outdated Byzantine-Ottoman core of imperial mosques and bazaars, dominated by the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia, is vacationer central. Locals, nevertheless, barely come right here, except it’s to purchase marriage ceremony gold on the Grand Bazaar — or to dine at Giritli. This fashionable meyhane (tavern) nonetheless appears like a scrumptious discovery, even after practically twenty years in enterprise. Occupying a Nineteenth-century Ottoman mansion and idyllic backyard, Giritli is owned by the pioneering chef and restaurateur Ayse Sensilay, whose roots are in Crete (Giritli means Cretan in Turkish). Drawing on Hellenic household recipes and Istanbul’s multicultural heritage, Ms. Sensilay always updates acquainted flavors: Black eye peas, a standard Aegean ingredient, come unexpectedly laced with tangy dried apricot slivers; cacik, a traditional yogurt dip, is full of juicy purslane and inexperienced almonds as a substitute of the same old cucumbers.
Giritli’s prix-fixe dinner includes a constellation of meze and mains. For lunch one can go à la carte, as we did, consuming a pile of crisp fried zucchini adopted by a bowl of seafood-studded orzo pilaf — after which a grilled native bluefish known as lufer. As we completed our dessert of caramelized quince, Ms. Sensilay swept in, an arty grande dame in trendy pink glasses.
“When I started in the restaurant business, it was so hard for women,” she mentioned.
“The new generation is luckier. They can now get exceptional professional training,” she continued. “Plus modern food styles offer more creativity — appealing to women because we are innovators and reformists by nature.”
Prix-fixe dinner from 1,200 TL per individual, or $40; lunch for 2 round 1,800 TL.
Across the Golden Horn, the Beyolgu quarter has at all times been Istanbul’s celebration and restaurant playground. Its present culinary star is Cigdem Seferoglu, who opened Hodan in 2021 within the basement house of a sublime 1901 constructing. With white tablecloths, an open kitchen, a tree rising from the ground and up to date Turkish artwork (together with a fantastical origami chandelier), Hodan has the air of a glamorous indoor-outdoor brasserie.
Riffs on conventional cuisines at our desk included a pomegranate and cucumber salad topped with a scoop of bracingly tart bitter cherry sorbet, and fluffy truffled taramosalata on toast. Next got here grilled octopus, diced and laced with snappy inexperienced olives, and a flame-kissed pide (flatbread) topped with unctuous tidbits of kokorec (that’s, umm, roasted intestines), a gutsy homage to Istanbul road meals. A voluptuous tiramisu embellished with rose petals and grassy-green native pistachios noticed us off into the evening, previous the celebration children shuffling out and in of close by nightclubs.
Dinner for 2 round 1,900 TL.
One wouldn’t consider going for Asian meals on this metropolis. Yet scrumptious raw-fish dishes and robata skewers might be loved at Roka Galataport, overseen by the gifted govt chef, Suna Hakyemez, a veteran of the famend Fat Duck in England.
And one night we took a scenic trip on the Bosporus water shuttle to the Bebek neighborhood, to eat at Sankai by Nagaya. This Asian newcomer was awarded a Michelin star inside eight months of its opening final March. At the Bebek Hotel, we have been handed a room key card to enter Sankai’s serene third-floor, 24-seat eating room with glittering watery vistas. In its open kitchen, the sushi shokunin (artisan) Hiroko Shibata was flashing supernatural knife expertise.
A protégé of the Michelin-starred Japanese chef and Sankai’s mastermind, Yoshisumi Nagaya, Ms. Shibata spent years touring round Japan sampling regional specialties whereas working for the Japanese navy. After an early retirement, she pursued her fish obsession within the equally male-dominated world of sushi. “Male colleagues were so uncomfortable seeing me in the kitchen!” she recalled with amusing. “But they had to get used to it.”
While most sushi spots in Istanbul import their seafood, Ms. Shibata insists on catch that’s solely native. Our omakase kicked off with kaiseki-style morsels, together with an lovely crab-and-shrimp doughnut frosted with Black Sea trout roe. The sashimi-course standouts have been alabaster petals of pristine sea bass from the Marmara Sea and buttery nuggets of palamut (bonito). From the Aegean got here the chopped fatty tuna and plump langoustines in Ms. Shibata’s elegant maki rolls.
After our elaborate chestnut dessert, we requested Ms. Shibata if she was studying Turkish.
“Mostly the bad words I picked up from the fishermen,” she replied.
Tasting menus from 4,500 TL per individual.
North of Bebek, the leafy waterside enclave of Yenikoy was solely not too long ago a sleepy space of conventional bakeries and fish eating places with white-jacketed waiters. Now it’s a eating vacation spot, thanks partly to such female-run eating places because the Michelin-starred Araka, and the charming Apartiman, owned by the chef Burcak Kazdal and her brother, Murat. With a citrus-scented again backyard, Apartiman was transformed by the Kazdals in 2017 from an outdated house constructing, and now it buzzes nightly with younger locals and meals business sorts. The vibe is so welcoming, strangers quickly really feel like regulars.
A former baker, shepherd and butcher who lived and labored in San Francisco and England, Ms. Kazdal has an eclectic private cooking model, impressed by travels, outdated cookbooks and her particular suppliers.
That model was on scrumptious show in our appetizers of flavorful celery root roasted with pekmez (grape molasses) and miso and brightened with pickled radishes; and within the flippantly smoked horse mackerel served over borlotti beans, grapes, and jagged sourdough croutons that sopped up the nice and cozy French dressing beneath. As for the eriste (historically minimize Turkish noodles) cooked in duck inventory and topped with melting shreds of pulled duck and wedges of palate-cleansing persimmon, it’s the type of soulful consolation meals I’d welcome each day.
Dinner for 2 round 2,000 TL.
Our remaining cease was in Vadi, an inland district of shiny skyscrapers and megamalls, to dine at Seraf Vadi. The restaurant’s proprietor, Dogan Yildirim, is a Kurdish restaurateur so obsessive about gastronomic authenticity he stored dismissing cooks till he provided the job to his enterprise supervisor, Sinem Ozler. Ms. Ozler, who was a prodigious dwelling prepare dinner, traveled throughout Turkey to analysis regional specialties for the menu at Seraf Vadi. Hence, the dishes on her present menu embody Azeri hengel (floppy hand-rolled noodles with caramelized onions) from the Turkish-Armenian border, and yaglama (layers of wood-fired flatbreads moistened with tomatoe-y beef) from the central Anatolian metropolis of Kayseri.
Even such acquainted classics as dolma, icli kofte (meat-filled bulgur dumpling) and lahmacun (“Turkish pizza”) are elevated by exalted substances and a spotlight to element. It’s a thrill to savor these rootsy Anatolian flavors in a high-design room accompanied by distinctive Turkish wines. Sabiha Apaydin, one of many nation’s prime wine specialists, created the restaurant’s 240-label record.
“Traditional Turkish cuisine is often served in humble surroundings, no alcohol,” Ms. Ozler mentioned. “Here we are proud to give it a beautiful home it deserves.”
At Seraf Vadi, our meals journey ended with the dish that had launched it — manti, completed in a wood-burning oven for an ideal ratio of crisp dough to succulent lamb filling. It was a dish to encourage a meals pilgrimage, and a testomony to the culinary prowess of Istanbul’s feminine cooks.
Dinner for 2 round 2,200 TL. Given Turkey’s present price of inflation, all costs listed on this article are approximate and don’t embody alcohol and repair.
Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and join our weekly Travel Dispatch e-newsletter to get professional tips about touring smarter and inspiration in your subsequent trip. Dreaming up a future getaway or simply armchair touring? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2024.