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Editor’s note: In the latest installment of our recurring feature, First Stop, we asked chef and artist Dilara Erbay where she stops first for food when she heads to Istanbul. Erbay interprets traditional Turkish flavors from a global perspective through her company, Abracadabra. Her children’s cookbook, published in Turkey, explores alternative, healthy ways for children to eat.

Three years in New York has nearly made vegans out of us. Carnivores by nature, we still get an organic chicken, maybe once a week fresh fish or some lamb, but concerns about antibiotics and growth hormones in the meat have left us wary of eating it here too much. For now, we can only dream of the pit-roasted lamb in Istanbul’s Kadınlar Pazarı. That’s my first stop, a place where I can kill so many birds with one stone.

Siirt Şeref Büryan is probably my favorite but down the street are a number of smaller places that are also good. Ask the butchers at the neighborhood’s Huzur butcher shop which shop they are supplying and go there. A bit fatty and on the bone is the back-to-the-basics, real-deal way to eat büryan, which comes from a whole lamb roasted in a covered pit of wood fire ash and embers seasoned only with salt. Thank God there is no sweet and sour sauce or what have you on it! The lamb’s own fat is flavoring enough. A plate of raw onions, tomatoes, green peppers and parsley completes the meal.

From the old provisions shop Hacıoğulları in the Kadınlar Pazarı, I get clarified butter, wild herb-stuffed cheese from eastern Turkey’s Van, dried sweet basil, zahter (wild thyme), walnut sucuk (a log of whole walnuts suspended in chewy fruit molasses) and wild pistachio soap.

From there I head down to Eminönü for my biggest sin, katmer (sheets of phyllo dough wrapped around kaymak and pistachio) at Develi, or, alternatively, the burma (a kind of rolled-up baklava) with pistachios at Köşkeroğlu. These are extreme foods for now, as we’ve removed sugar and flour from our diet, but I eat them for the sake of nostalgia, tradition and genetic attachment to these tastes.

To finish, I go into the Mısır Çarşısı (aka Egyptian Spice Bazaar), where I stop by to see a vendor known as Adnan Bey for spices and another one named Afyonlu Salih for kaymak, strained yogurt and sausage.

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Published on November 15, 2014

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