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A Street Food Tasting Tour of Izmir, Turkey

Izmir is one of my favorite cities to wander around and nibble. Not only is Izmir clean, modern, and interesting. It is also exotic, historic, seafront, and fantastic.  Oh, and one more thing – this tasting tour of Izmir – it’s dirt cheap and delicious.

Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey I’ve written a few articles about various neighborhoods and things to do in Izmir which you’ll find in this link to my guide to Western Turkey , but let’s get to the tasting…

Izmir neighborhoodsStart in Alsancak which is where most of the tourist hotels are. I recommend that this is where you start and finish since the small streets around Alsancak are filled with great little bars and you will find plenty of evening meals. Step outside, walk towards the waterfront and before long you will see one of about a million old Turkish guys selling smeet, these are sesame covered Turkish bagels and they usually come with some salty cheese, a hot green pepper, some tomato slices and a smile. Perfect breakfast. Cost – about 1 Turkish Lira.

Once you get to the waterfront, jump on the ferry at Alsancak. It doesn’t matter where it is going since there are only three destinations and ultimately, you want to come back to your starting point anyway. I like to catch the one going to Karsiyaka.

Hopefully you haven’t started eating your smeet yet – get a large cup of fresh squeezed orange or pomegranite juice on the ferry for another 1.5 Turkish lira. The ferry will cost you 2 lira if the prices haven’t gone up since I was there last.

Izmir ferryFind a seat on the upper deck. I recommend you sit outside unless it’s winter. Relax and enjoy your breakfast. You’ll be on the ferry about 45 minutes to an hour. After you eat, buy a cup of Turkish tea from the attendant. This will cost you about 75 kirch, but he may charge you a full lira because you are a tourist. Don’t get apple tea – that’s a marketing scam. Turks drink black tea, not apple tea – apple tea is a powdered kids drink like Tang that is served hot to tourists to get them to buy carpets in Istanbul.

Get off the ferry where you got on. Now wander back up towards Alsancak and find a bakery. You want to order kumru . This is a specialty of Izmir. Generally it will cost you 1.25 TL and is made with cheese, sesame bread, Turkish sausage, and some green pepper. Grab one and eat it while you walk towards the Hilton Hotel which should be visible inland in the skyline.

fish market in IzmirYou are heading this direction so that you can enter the Kameralti – this is the big bazaar in Izmir and in it, you can find everything.  Everyone knows where it is, so just ask. Turks are friendly and love helping. So much so, that if they don’t know where it is, they might help you find someone who will lead you there – but in Izmir, everyone knows where the Kameralti is. Did you find it?

Good. Find a little place and go ahead and order that Turkish coffee you’ve been craving. Sit, drink your coffee, watch the traffic in the Kamaralti and don’t worry that the tiny little coffee just cost you 3 TL. Turks generally drink tea – it only costs 1 TL but you’re on a tasting tour. Enjoy.

baked potato girl in IzmirIn the Kamaralti, you probably want to wander around, shop, check out the old churches and architecture and generally let your food digest. You can find everything from laptops to ancient coins, but the locals know that this is the place to come for discount clothing. Once you’ve got your shopping out of the way and your appetite back – find one of those little hole in the wall kebab places you passed with a big potato picture on the front. Go in, stand at the counter and ask for a kumpir.

Kumpir are baked potatoes or jacket potatoes with cheese and butter whipped inside and then a plethora of wonderful toppings thrown on top.  You may have to pay up to 7 TL for a kumpir but generally you can find one for 5 TL or less  in the Kamaralti. It’s best if you can find someone to share it with since they are big and filling.  Mmmm. I love kumpir!

nut man in Konak SquareOkay – now, you’re feeling a bit stuffed. I know, I’ve been there. Next stop is to head towards the Konak Square. Go there, walk around the very ornate clock tower, marvel at the thousands of pigeons, sit, digest, watch the people, watch the pigeons. In fact, buy some seed and feed the pigeons. It will cost you 50 kirsh to 1 TL for the seed. It’s worth it. Relax for a bit.

Now you are ready for the Kordon. Cross the small bridge and begin your stroll along the  waterfront back towards Alsancak. Definitely stop and sample the Midye Dolmasi. These might be the most delicious thing on your tasting tour so far. Fresh mussels stuffed with rice, currants, cinnamon and herbs.  Some of them have pine nuts or raisins in them. All of them are delicious.  They are priced according to size. I like the big ones which are usually 3 for 1TL.  Three is enough for me, but my wife likes to eat a minimum of ten.

Grab a bottle of water and some nuts from one of the old women with carts or the old men who ride back and forth on their mopeds. Probably right around 3 TL will get you some sunflower seeds, a bottle of water, and some other assorted nuts.

Now, stroll along the waterfront checking out the automatic picture takers, street merchants, hookah cafes, and more. You might even want to sit in one of those cafes and order a tea and a water pipe. Expect to spend about 10 TL for that.

Izmir waterfrontMoving onwards, it’s getting to be later in the day. Grab a piece of fresh corn on the cob for 1TL and snack on those nuts you bought earlier. Enjoy the people, the weather, the waterfront. Be careful of the old gypsy ladies who will see you strolling with your lover and make a beeline for you in order to read your fortune or sell you a rose. 1-50 TL depending on how good they are at convincing you.

Finally, head back towards Alsancak and find a waterfront fish and mezes place where you can sit, order some black sea bass and drink a few Efes and some raki. Sit back, relax and enjoy. You can spend anywhere from 10 -100 TL on this final stop, but since you are probably still full, just drink some Efes lager and enjoy all the new friends you are about to make.

This is just one reason why I love Izmir. There are many others.

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Vago Damitio

Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

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