As soon as I landed in the airport, I got some Turkish ice cream from "Take Off." This was definitely extremely authentic, you guys. I am pretty sure everyone in Turkey eats Take Off ice cream for dessert at home every day.
Anyways, I think this is supposed to be sorta chewier than regular ice cream? I mostly ate it to calm down, after realizing that the first stamp in my passport is from Israel, and maybe that won't go over too well with the border guards. Little did I know that the Turkish passport control could not possibly have cared less. All they wanted was $20.
So I arrived. I did some touristy stuff. But my first chocolate shop was Gold. They had some serviceable bon bons. And they had a bar of 61.5% dark chocolate that Leila and I ate as part of a Turkish Taste Test. I ranked it third of five, and Leila ranked it last. We agreed that it was chocolate and therefore good. But we also agreed that next to the other options in front of us, it failed to impress. It was a bit floral. Leila does not like floral, but I do.
Next stop was Mabel. Fortunately, I bought just a bar, because it was not good. It had a weird astringency, it had an after taste that we charitably described as "not nice," and it was too sweet. Leila ranked it fourth, and I ranked it last.
I decided to shake things up and buy some Turkish delight from the famous Haci Bekir. Chocolate-covered Turkish delight, OBVIOUSLY:
So I tore into some chocolate-covered, mint-flavored Turkish delight while taking a ferry to Asia. It was almost lunch time, and I had only been on two continents so far that day. Need to step up my game:
|so many birds|
So here's the thing about this Turkish delight. It was delicious. But by the time I was almost ready to put them down, they made me SUPER ill. It was a very m&m-like experience. True to form, these were made from about 98% artificial ingredients.
They also had some plain chocolates (adequate) and non-mint flavored, chocolate-covered Turkish delight (slightly more delicious and slightly less sickening).
As far as I can tell, Baylan is the most famous chocolate/sweets place on the Asian side of Istanbul. And indeed it had a lot going for it. The macaron was completely adequate, and the milk chocolate bonbon was good.
The bar was polarizing. They told me it was plain dark chocolate, and that was a lie. It had pistachios in it. Leila loved it, pronouncing it her favorite of the five bars. It ranked fourth for me, solely because of the pistachios. The chocolate was of good quality.
I then proceeded to get myself extremely lost. I think I took 4 different ferries, all of them were wrong. But I finally found my way to a Kahve Dunyasi. This seems to be the Turkish equivalent to Starbucks, if Starbucks were equally about coffee and chocolate. I liked the hot chocolate there about as much as I do at Starbucks -- meaning that it is surprisingly good for what it is, but it still is what it is. Leila might like Starbucks better than I do.
But their bar was excellent! It was far from artisanal -- it use vanillin rather than vanilla, for example. But it was a super rich 56%. There was a slight hint of coffee, but it was mostly just very chocolatey. I ranked it first of five, and Leila ranked it second.
I made my way from Kahve Dunyasi to the Taksim area, intending to stop by M Chocolate at the Marmara Taksim, but I ran into Gezi about a block away. If this had been Paris, I would have kept my eyes on the prize, but I have had some fortuitous, random chocolate stops, and this was among them:
I got a milk chocolate bonbon and a marzipan bonbon, and both were excellent. Two of the best bonbons of the trip!
M Chocolate, Marmara Taksim:
The only ones that could compete were those at M. Now, M is a different beast from every other chocolate shop in Istanbul. This place is fancy by French standards. It's in a hotel lobby. There are lots of gloves involved. And yes, those gloves are white.
|picture not taken at the place of purchase|
Gulluoglu is a famous baklava chain in Istanbul subject to some sort of family feud. Everyone told me I needed to try it, but apparently it's a big enough chain that there is a branch a couple blocks from my office in NYC, so I didn't sweat it. But I met up with my local friend Aycan -- who wound up being an unsurprisingly wonderful host -- and she took me here afterwards. This was apparently to the original location? Or maybe just the only one not subject to the family feud? I dunno. I do know it was delicious. They even had chocolate baklava! Yes yes yes. Unfortunately, my phone was too dead to take any photos.
I had heard about Vakko Chocolate, but they didn't seem to have a centrally located shop. What good fortune finding some at the airport on the way home!:
Well, sort of. It was fine, but nothing special.
The biggest tragedy of my trip had been that, because I took so many wrong ferries, I had arrived at Divan right after it closed. It looked really great, too. But fortune was smiling upon me, because they were sold at the airport too!:
These were good -- definitely better than the Vakko -- but somehow I felt that it would have been better fresh in the store. It was nice having some milk chocolate, though, in the face of all the mediocre dark chocolate bars.
Bottom Line: Istanbul is technically in Europe (mostly), but do not expect Parisian quality. That said, there are a ton of locally made chocolate products, so it is a great city to explore.