Café Pepo – Istanbul: Great Food , Lovely Ambience

On our first day in Istanbul, just after we landed, we were somehow starving. Middle East Airlines decided that the flight was too short for a decent breakfast, so they gave us a mini-breakfast.

After the check-in at the hotel, we asked the receptionist for recommendations in Galata area – we had planned to visit Galata tower on that day. He suggested we go to Café Pepo.

 

Even though he gave us directions, and with the help of Google Maps, Café Pepo was still hard to find. We finally managed to find this small bistro, tucked down a small street near the Tower.

The place is lovely. The atmosphere is friendly and chilled, and the terrace is super nice – recommended whenever it’s not raining like it was on that day.

The waiter was friendly and tried to help us and answer all our questions, even though he did not have good English.

I started with a lentil soup – my excuse: I was feeling a bit sick.  We ordered starters: zeytinyagli dolma (Stuffed peppers), begendili borek (eggplant rolls) and cevizli manti (Turkish Ravioli with Walnut).

Lentils soup picture - Cafe pepo

Lentils soup

The soup was good – mine is better of course, but I still enjoyed it.  We all loved the borek – dough filled with eggplant and deep-fried. As for the dolma, we were 2 to love the dish and 2 to hate it: quite different from our stuffed veggies, mainly with the herbs and spices used. I loved it, of course!

Stuffed peppers picture - cafe Pepo

Stuffed peppers

The manti was yummy and different from the Armenian one that we know: the dumplings are boiled (instead of baked) and served with yogurt and walnuts (no tomato sauce).

Turkish Manti picture - cafe pepo

Manti

For Main dishes, we opted for Adana – Urfa kebab and Iskender Kebap. Both dishes were delicious: the Iskender Kebap consisted of super tender thin strips of meat, served on dough pieces with a spicy tomato sauce and yogurt on the side. The dough pieces were extremely delicious, and the whole dish was a success.

Iskender Kebap picture - Cafe pepo

Iskender Kebap

The Adana – Urfa kebab was not named this way after the cinnamon – “urfa” in Arabic – as we speculated first. In fact, Urfa is the name of the region where this Kebab originates from. These 2 skewers of minced meat grilled and served with potato wedges and bulgur (in tomato sauce) definitely made our day – except for my sister who hates some spices that they use for the kebab (and that we did not discover yet).

Adana - Urfa Kebab picture - Cafe Pepo

Adana – Urfa Kebab

My biggest surprise was the Ayran. I was never a fan of this beverage, but it’s really good in Turkey! I could drink a whole liter… Plain or minted, it’s really a must-try at Pepo.

Prices were good – I would even say cheap because of the devalorization of the Turkish Lira.

The first experience was very promising. I wasn’t expecting much when it comes to food since I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback, but Café Pepo did convince me that a lot of interesting discoveries were waiting for me on this journey!

Tugra : My Best Culinary Experience in Istanbul

Foodies usually love to travel because of the numerous food discoveries they can find in every country. I love sightseeing, but what I really go for are the restaurants, the bakeries, the coffee shops and the street carts that offer different types of delicacies …

My experience in Turkey wouldn’t have been complete without a fine-dining experience, and what an experience it was!

On Friday night, we headed to the Ciragan palace on the Bosphorous, for a dinner in Tugra.

Ciragan palace entrance picture

The Entrance

The palace dates back to the 18th century, and was re-opened in 1991 as a Kempinski hotel. The stay in this hotel might be very expensive, but you can still enjoy an affordable meal in the restaurant, located on the first floor.

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The Bosphorous

The terrace has an amazing view of the Bosphorous and the Asian side of the city. But the real experience was inside; it’s an old palace after all!

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A view of the Asian side of Istanbul

Elegance is key in this restaurant, as well as traditions!

Tugra restaurant istanbul

The inside

The table settings were amazing! Locally-made ceramic dishes and fine and cutlery are sure to please diners. The waiters were so friendly and helped us in choosing the wine and appetizers.

cutlery and plates picture at tugra istanbul

A beautiful set!

The overall experience was really great, and I recommend you to try this restaurant if you pass by Istanbul. But let’s get to the best part now… the Food!

We started our meal with a surprise amuse-bouche from the chef: mashed eggplants topped with ground lamb in tomato sauce. That was probably the best thing I tried in Turkey! Warm, creamy, full of flavors, it’s all you can ask for in a simple bite! Our meal couldn’t start better!

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Amuse-bouches from the Chef

Warm bread followed, accompanied with three different spreads: herbed butter, hot tomato dip and salty baked cheese.

Warm Turkish bread at Tugra Istanbul

Warm Turkish bread

We loved them all, especially the cheese, and we told the waiter that. He offered us another round 🙂

Dips at Tugra Istanbul

Trio of dips

For starters, we tried the mezze platter – classic Tugra treats – to share a variety of appetizers: fava beans puree, muhammara, stuffed dolma, Circassian chicken, hummus, pureed cooked eggplant, melon and white cheese with rose water…  Most of them were delicious while some others were average, but we can say we enjoyed the platter.

Mezze platter at Tugra Istanbul

Mezze platter – perfect to share

For main dishes, I opted for their signature dish, the “Testi” lamb casserole: shoulder of lamb cooked with potato, shallots, wild mushrooms, pepper, garlic and thyme in a clay pot and served on rice.  You will get your rice first, and then you get to see the waiter breaking the pot with a hammer before serving the meat over the rice. That was the most tender meat I ever had! The clay pot helps sealing the flavors, and if you’re a fan of stews and homey food, this dish will surely please you!

Testi Lamb casserole at Tugra Istanbul

Testi Lamb casserole – the signature dish

My sis ordered the Duck Tabdir: duck cooked with rice, turnips, radishes, herbs, pistachios, almonds and currants and wrapped in phyllo dough. The dish is served with a rich fruity sauce prepared with duck stock and caramelized fresh fruits. It’s delicious but too sweet, so if you’re not a big fan of flavor fusions, you might want to opt for a different platter.

Duck at Tugra Istanbul

A very unususal dish

My boyfriend and aunt chose the Chicken Topkapi: chicken filled with rice, pistachio, herbs and nuts and served on sautéed spinach and a creamy sauce. This was simply mouthwatering!

 

Chicken topkapi at Tugra istanbul

Chicken topkapi

All main dishes were served in fancy silver serving dish with a silver cover.

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The cover!

I was too full to try a dessert, but they ordered the Palace pudding, a chocolate pudding with Cherry marmalade and gold leaf, and I tried a small spoonful of course. I think it was excellent for a chocolate pudding.

 

Chocolate pudding picture at Turga Istanbul

Chocolate heaven!

For all this, including a bottle of wine, we paid 183 Turkish Lira per person (60 $). Not expensive at all (because of the devalorization of the Turlish Lira).

The Angry Monkey: Excellent Food, Bad Attitude

Meet one of my new favorite pizzerias in town! For those of you who haven’t been there yet, I advise you to give the place a try, and this, despite the incident that happened with me and that I’ll tell you about below.

I have already been there twice for lunch, and I literally loved everything I tried.

Located in Gemmayze, facing Couqley (same owners apparently), it has a much better facade on the main Gemmayze street. The lunch deal is amazing: for 25,000 LBP, you get a salad and a pizza (or even burgers or a sandwich) valid on weekdays only – not on holidays though. So if you have the chance to be working in the neighborhood, or better, if your schedule is flexible, go there for lunch.  

The Salads

The salads are varied and interesting: from kale to edamame, quinoa, artichoke, noodles, all are non-conventional and will make you want to try them.

Bresaola and Wild Rocca Salad

Bresaola and Wild Rocca Salad picture

Bresaola and Wild Rocca Salad

On our first visit, we tried the Bresaola and wild rocca salad: the dish looks more like a carpaccio, with a bed of thin bresaola, covered with a salad of wild rocket leaves, fennel, cooked bacon and omelet strips and dressed with a balsamic sauce. I loved the freshness of the ingredients, and believe it was a good start for an excellent meal, even if salads are a bit overpriced if you are not having the lunch fix. This salad, for example, costs 23,000LBP.

Artichoke Edamame Manchego

Artichoke Edamame Manchego Salad picture

Artichoke Edamame Manchego

The second salad that we had was kind of exotic: Artichoke Edamame Manchego. That was one weird and unique salad: having edamame in a salad is just not so common. The artichokes hearts were good, and I love Manchego – the famous Spanish cheese. The combination of these three with lettuce and balsamic drizzle is interesting, and I recommend you to try this salad if you are fan of non-traditional salads. It costs 23,000LBP as well.

Goat cheese and fig salad

Goat cheese and fig salad picture

Goat cheese and fig salad

A traditional all-time favorite, where the goat cheese is crumbled and served with delicious dried figs and cherry tomatoes on a bed of lollo rosso leaves. The salad is simple, fresh and recommended, but I would add some more sweetness to the balsamic dressing, to make it more special. It is for 21,000 LBP.  

The Pizzas

Now let’s check the pizzas. I already tried 3 out of 9 only, but all 3 were amazing. The crust is thin, without being crispy like a Lebanese meat pie, which is excellent. It’s not chewy, it’s big enough, and, guess what, you can ask to have the leftovers as a take-away (if anything is left). The toppings are so full of flavors, and the pizzas are served with excellent hot oil.

Farmer’s market

Farmer's Market Pizza picture

Farmer’s Market

Topped with roasted eggplant and zucchini slices – the menu mentioned butternut squash but I didn’t have any – this pizza is a must-try mainly because of the caramelized onions which are adding a hint of sweetness that goes well with the over-all flavor. The cheese used is delicious, and really different from the ones you usually have. All this is for 24,000LBP.

Chorizo

Chorizo pizza picture

Chorizo

Another must-try: for 26,000 LBP, a delicious pizza topped with artichoke, mushrooms and some delicious Spanish chorizo. As for the cheese used, it’s a mixture of buffalo & classic mozzarella. Just drizzle some hot oil and enjoy!

Buffalo Bill Pizza

Buffalo Bill pizza picture

Buffalo Bill Pizza

This is a more regular pizza, with only field mushrooms, classic and buffalo mozzarella and Parma ham. But regular does not mean less tasty, or less good. This pizza is excellent, mainly because of the cheese used. The Parma ham is good, but could be better. This pizza is for 27,000 LBP.

Sandwiches

Monkey Burgers Picture

Monkey Burgers

You’re not in a mood for pizzas? Then you can go for sandwiches. We tried the Monkey Burgers: two delicious medium burgers with a delicious sauce. But beware; if you’re planning some classy eating – in a first date for example, this is not a good choice. You will probably end up with some stains on your clothes, and guess what? They’re totally worth it. The burgers are served with French fries for 19,000LBP.

An incident that could’ve been avoided

Now, let me tell you about the incident that happened when we ordered the Buffalo Bill pizza. It was lunch time, and we were the only customers in the place. We were eating our salad when we could smell some burnt foods – dough probably. I told my boyfriend that this was our food obviously, and I was anxious because I did not want to be late for work, now that they’ll have to start over preparing another pizza.

Burnt pizza

Would you serve such a pizza to your customers?

To our big surprise, the waiter arrived with the burnt pizza. Literally burnt on one side – check the picture. Seriously, how does the chef accept to send such a mess to a customer? My boyfriend had a slice from the other non-burnt side, and the bottom was burnt as well, in spots. Burnt taste everywhere. When we told the waiter, he took it immediately but he had to say: “it’s only the sides probably”.

The pizza was replaced with an excellent one, and we really enjoyed it, and I’ll go again to the place to try more pizzas and salads, but seriously guys, it’s the whole experience that matters to your customers and not only the food. The guy who looked like the manager did apologize when we were leaving, explaining that the oven was too hot, because it was the first pizza of the day.

What are you ordering for lunch today?

Are you wondering what to have for lunch today? If you are planning to have some food delivered to your office, below are my suggestions for foods I’ve tried lately and that I loved! All of these are very affordable, all are delicious, and all are not the conventional lunch that you usually order!  

Burger anyone?

Burger Bar picture

Burger Bar , the signature burger

Located in Bourj Hammoud, Burger Bar quickly became one of the favorite places to order lunch from, mainly because of the quality price ratio. Yeah, prices are very low compared to other burger places, and you are getting a very good burger for what you’re paying. This is not a fine dining experience. If you’re looking for a Gourmet burger, go away. This is a burger place for the greedy ones only! Burgers there are super juicy, greedy, appetizing… and most importantly, generous! (And loaded with calories, but who’s counting anyway?) Try their signature “Burger Bar” – for 7,000 LBP only! – with crispy bacon, avocado slices, cheddar cheese, lettuce, pickles and their special sauce. Yummy!

black pepper burger Picture

Black pepper burger

Another good pick would be black pepper burger: for 6,000 LBP only, with black pepper sauce, tomatoes, pickles, lettuces and delicious black pepper sauce – and no, it’s still not a gourmet burger.

Check their Facebook page here!

Delicious Cups and Rolls

Cups & Roll image

Cups & Roll

I tried my first cup two years ago, in Beirut Food Festival, and I could never remember if I loved it. Anyway, in a food festival, you are always trying hundreds of stuff, so you’re not enjoying everything on its own. It was very recently that I saw the Cup and Roll fever everywhere on Social media, and among my friends, so I thought it was time to give it a more serious try. For my first time, I ordered 4 cups, 1 roll and a salad. That was too much, and I could not eat more than 4 spoons of salad.

The cups

Cup and roll picture

The four cups

The Margherita is delicious, juicy and simple, with roasted cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, for 2,000 LBP per piece.

Served with guacamole dip, the Mexican chicken is interesting: chicken, colored bell peppers, mushrooms, jalapenos, cheddar cheese and a spicy tomato sauce. Beware, it’s really hot! (2,250 LBP per piece).

My favorite cup was the soujouk. With mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, it is just exquisite! Served with a tomato side dip, it costs 1,750 LBP per piece.

Shredded mozzarella, roasted cherry tomatoes and a pepperoni slice make the pepperoni cup a unique one. For 1,750 LBP only, make sure to try it next time you order from there!

The roll

The Grilled veggies and Halloumi was one delicious juicy roll, due to the tomato sauce used first, and to the delicious combination of halloumi cheese and vegetables (eggplants, marrows, red and green bell pepper). It’s sold for 1,750 LBP per piece.

The salad

Green & Orange salad picture

Green & Orange salad

Green leaves (Rocket leaves, watercress – bakleh and fresh thyme) are served on a bed of quinoa (even though the menu did not state that) with orange quarters, walnuts and parmesan cheese shaves for 9,000 LBP. The dressing of the Green & Orange salad is interesting: orange juice adds an excellent sweetness to the salad.

Check their website here!

Shawarma with a twist

Beefmanji pomegranate sandwich picture

Beefmanji pomegranate Sandwich

When I first tried Shawarmanji, I did not feel that it was worth the buzz that was created around it. I thought it was more like a healthy version of shawarma, and I was not really happy about adding healthiness to my favorite sandwich. This time, I tried a new sandwich, a shawarma with a twist: the beefmanji pomegranate. That was just delicious, and I’ll be going again soon for some more! The regular shawarma was taken to the next level in this sandwich, adding some delicious pomegranate molasses to the usual beef, onions, parsley, sumac and grilled tomatoes. For 7,000 LBP only, it’s definitely worth a try. (You might want to order two,or a combo!)

Visit their website here!

Discover 2 Lent-Friendly Meals from Crepaway

It’s the second week of Lent for Catholics and the first week for Orthodox, meaning 40 days of fast. If fasting during this period was way more severe in the ancient times, we still have some communities that abstain from meat, eggs and all dairy products.

Vegetarian and vegan foods are commonly consumed during Lent period, in addition to fish. And it’s very common to see restaurants preparing some special meatless menus or Lent-friendly meals for people who are fasting.

I read today that Crepaway has a new item specially conceived for Lent, the Seafood wraps, so I decided to give it a try (Note: I do not fast).

Seafood wraps

Seafood Wraps Platter picture

The Mixed Seafood Wraps Platter

The menu consists of 2 wraps: you can order fish wraps, shrimps wraps or a mix of both. The wraps are served with a side Ceasar salad, salt & vinegar French fries with aioli sauce and a soft drink, all for 21,000 LBP.

Let’s describe the wraps now:

Crispy battered and deep-fried fish or shrimps are wrapped in warm tortillas with veggies: lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and coriander. Three sauces are used to flavor these wraps: aioli, guacamole and a hot sauce – Crepaway’s tangy signature sauce. Beware, it’s really hot!! And in the end, a squeeze of lemon adds some needed extra flavor to the dish.

Picture of Seafood wraps

Close-up

The fish wrap is way more interesting than the shrimp one. I can’t really explain why, but you feel it just fits better. The sauce is really hot and I wasn’t expecting it at all. Not recommended for people who don’t like or can’t tolerate hot foods.

The seasoned fries are delicious, but I could not understand why they were served with aioli dip. They’re already good on their own, so no need to add a dip until it’s really a perfect fit – which is certainly not the case with the aioli sauce.

The Caesar salad is, well, Crepaway’s famous Caesar. With thyme flavored croutons, crispy Iceberg and shaved parmesan, this salad never fails to please.

Fish & Chips

Crepaway's fish & chips picture

Fish & chips

My friend who was accompanying me decided to order fish as well, so he opted for the fish & chips platter, for 20,750 LBP: two big fish fillets, battered and deep-fried, decorated with three pieces of shrimps, fried until golden as well, and served with French fries, a delicious coleslaw salad – yeah, it’s really delicious and different from all the coleslaw salads that are served elsewhere – and a side of tartar (the mayonnaise based sauce that usually accompanies seafood). if you’re abstaining from dairy products, replace with ketchup, mustard or simply, a squeeze of lemon,

I loved the crispiness of the fish! You can’t really feel the oil in both fish and shrimps, which is excellent, and the tartar and coleslaw are yummy.

Fish & Chips is not my favorite dish, and I wouldn’t usually order it, but for people who have decided to go for a meatless diet for the next few weeks, these are 2 options to replace the daily mjaddaras all moms are preparing!

Personally, I prefer the fish & chips to the new seafood wraps. What about you? Did you try them?