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Old Dec 10, 12, 1:03 am   #1
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Eating my way through IST and getting there on TK Economy

This is my second trip in less than a year and I must confess that I have fallen in love with Istanbul. For me it's not only its architecture, food, or sights that make this place so compelling, but the element of surprise that "wows" me when I least expect it.

Being surprised at the sight of something unexpected when you turn around a corner, the recipient of someone's kindness or invited into a restaurant's kitchen to select the day's specials are moments that make up for unforgettable memories. More than anything Istanbul can sometimes feel "edgy" around the edges which makes it exciting and real. Istanbul has bewitched me and will be back for more.

I thought "this is meant to be" when I came across a $642.90 RT total from SFO to IST on TK back in June on cheapoair's site. The fare was available for Nov/Dec. and I immediately booked it for mid November. Since I am a foodie and was already intrigued by Turkish cuisine through a visit to Asitane restaurant back in March, I decided to concentrate more on the city's culinary side on this trip. As a result I made a list of a couple of places that I wanted to visit on my own and booked a half day tour with Istanbul Eats towards the end of my stay that took me through its markets and eateries.

I was looking forward to flying TK, even in Y as I was somewhat familiar with what to expect from them. I knew that the hard product was going to be very good based on previous reviews from Flyertalk.com and other sites. As a regular contributor to sites like airplanefood.net and airlinemeals.net, the meals that I saw from TK did not disappoint and actually looked excellent compared to its competitors.

EQP 773 - Seat 19G Comfort Class (Prem. Econ)
Dept. 1845 - Arriv. 1735+1

I flew SFO-LAX via AA and the flight was uneventful. Since AA's T4 is next to Tom Bradley, it was an easy walk that took about 5 minutes (maybe I walk fast). The TK counter was not too busy and I was waited on in a couple of minutes. Today's flight was not very full and I inquired about an upgrade to Comfort Class. The agent said that there was no problem and directed me to the ticketing line at the end of the counter. The line was not clearly marked and I saw two agents in charge of ticketing. As more people came to the line to pay for upgrades and excess baggage charges, the single line transformed itself into 2 lines with some people jumping ahead of others confused as to where to go. TK should really post clearer signs and cordon off the lines better.

Once at the front the ticketing agent was polite, smiling and processed my upgrade manually since they were having problems with the computers. I paid $300 and she referred me to another agent in a different counter for seat assignment. I was given 19G which is an aisle from the center row. Seat configuration is 2-3-2 just like in J. For an international terminal serving a major hub LAX TBIT sucks. I forgot my guidebooks when I rushed out of my place and wanted to buy a new one at the airport. TBIT only has 1 bookstore outside of security and they did not have any travel books on Turkey. Over at the Compass bookstore inside AA's T2 in SFO, I was able to find 3 different publications on Istanbul and this is a domestic terminal.

Security was quick and once inside I felt that I have stepped into a secondary airport somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Is this an intl. terminal? One long hallway with a few rest rooms scattered around, a very small duty free/souvenir shop and maybe one or two places to grab something to eat.

At the gate, people were filling in and at around 1810 boarding has started. The first boarding group was D which is reserved for J and Elites. Since I am *A Silver through UA, I inquired if I could join this group and the agent obliged gladly. Once I stepped inside the jetbridge I saw a lot of families with children in the line as well. At the plane entrance, there was a cart on the side of the jetbridge with newspapers and other publications. Two female FA's were welcoming pax. One in regular uniform and the other dressed as a chef. I was directed to the right side of the plane and settled in my seat quickly. A package with blanket and pillow, along with headphones were on each seat. I noticed towards the end of boarding that the last row with seats 20AB was empty. I inquired about switching and one of the FA's advised me to wait until after take off. A few minutes later FA's distributed the amenity kits and slippers from a cart. The Comfort cabin seems very spacious for a Premium Economy product and the seats are the old business class ones that have 46" seat pitch with great padding. You can find more information about Comfort class here.

Once the door closed, the FA's turned on the mood lighting feature while the plane headed to the runway. During take off lights were turned off and the cabin was dark. Lights were turned back on when the plane reached cruising altitude after one ring. At this point I grabbed my things and moved to seats 20AB. FA's started the service with hot towels followed by printed menus. The one working on my side was very accommodating and smiling, although her English skills could be better.

Drink service followed and when I asked the FA for sour cherry juice she advised me that they were out of it, so I was offered tomato, orange, apple or peach flavored ice tea instead. Sour cherry juice is almost a national drink in Turkey, how can they run out of it, especially this early and in a premium cabin? I wonder if the LAX kitchen even provisioned it correctly. I opted for peach flavored ice tea since you don't see this everyday flying domestically and a glass of water. TK uses regular plastic glasses here so don't expect any glassware. Minutes later the FA appeared with a plate of canapes which consisted of 3 items (zucchini rolled up with cheese, smoked salmon with a filling of cheese with capers and onion, and a piece of bread with perhaps more cheese smeared on it) along with with a bowl of cold hazelnuts. The canapes were a nice introduction to the meal service but they did not come with a fork or toothpick to pick them up. On that note, I think a couple of napkins would be nice as well.

After the canapes plates were cleared, FA's offered our meals from a cart and refreshed our drinks. The onboard chef offered freshly baked rolls from a basket. There were 2 choices (chicken rigatoni or prime beef burger) and the meal came with a large salad and appetizer which were very well presented. Salad was fresh and crisp and the grilled artichokes were a nice addition. The scallop ceviche appetizer served with tabbouleh and humus was equally brilliant and the grilled chicken rigatoni was the best pasta dish that I have had on a plane. Afterwards a dessert tray composed of 2 petite cakes, cheese, and fresh fruits was distributed along with tea or coffee. Once the dinner service concluded, the FA distributed individual small bottles of water (Saka brand) throughout the cabin. For those that love to nibble after the main meal, there were Sara Lee banana muffins and small cheese sandwiches in the galley. As a Comfort class pax, I could access the J lavatory and it was well stocked and spacious. The sink reminded me of the ones that CX has in F. There were toiletries from the Turkish brand "Natural Creativity Selection EST. 1923" in Verbena with Citrus scent. However, towards the end of the flight, I feel that FA's could have paid more attention to the cleanliness of the lavs.

FA's practically disappeared after the meal service with a very occasional presence walking back and forth between cabins from time to time. At around 1.5 hours before arrival, the mood lighting was turned on to gently awaken pax for the breakfast service. Hot towels were offered again and FA's removed the foil from your dishes before handing the tray. FA's were polite for the most part if not overly engaging. However, I felt that the chef could have been a bit more customer friendly. She felt very aloof and robotic in her tasks.

The breakfast was a mushroom omelette served with fruits and cheese with cucumber, tomato and an olive. By the time I got the omelette, it was lukewarm and not very hot.

We descended into Istanbul in the late afternoon just as the sun was going down. Passing through Immigrations and Customs was pretty quick and US passport holders need to pay a $20 upon arrival visa before going through Immigration. There is a desk opposite Immigrations where you can get this.

Galley and plane entrance


Mood lighting to wake up pax gently before breakfast service


Amenity kit and slippers



Meal tray

Scallops ceviche with tabouleh and humus


Chicken Rigatoni


Midflight snack from the galley


...to be continued.

Last edited by aw; Apr 19, 13 at 1:52 pm
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Old Dec 10, 12, 4:38 pm   #2
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Fantastic start!

As foodies bound for IST in Jan, all my wife and I can say is:

Bring it on! Can't wait to see the rest of the report!
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Old Dec 10, 12, 6:31 pm   #3
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Ciddi ciddi....
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Old Dec 10, 12, 7:09 pm   #4
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They're premium economy class is really the best. The stuff they serve and the way they handle it pretty much beats any domestic J anytime.
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Old Dec 11, 12, 1:49 am   #5
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Thanks for the report!

I agree with your assessment of the Turkish crew - not very engaging, aloof and definitely disappear after meal services! They are not a happy bunch.

But the meal services - they are definitely a step above every other airlines offering PE service. It is interesting to note that they serve canapés for Comfort Class, but cut them from business class. In J, Turkish only serves a bowl of cold mixed nuts.

Look forward to the rest of the report!

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Old Dec 11, 12, 10:50 pm   #6
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I stayed at the Basileus Hotel the first time I was here and did it again on this trip. There are two main reasons for my return. #1 is the staff who goes out of its way to make sure that you really enjoy your stay and genuinely care about you as a guest. The people here exemplify hospitality at its best and they have won me as a loyal customer. #2 is the location. This property is strategically located in Sultanahmet near the major attractions and the tram. However, this area can also be very touristy, but if you step out of the hotel and keep walking to your right, you will be transported into the real Istanbul where people go about their daily routines and you are allowed a glimpse into how the locals live. Did I mention that if you venture into the neighborhood you will come across a couple of bakeries and pastry shops? Really convenient for a quick breakfast or snack later during the day.

Here are some shots of what the area around the hotel looks like:


Right outside the door

If you keep walking on Kaleci St. going towards the Kadirga neighborhood, you will come across the Museum of Photography, a rather overlooked attraction that features some interesting exhibitions from renowned Turkish photographers.

Museum of Photography

..to be continued with pictures of Kardiga neighborhood.
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Old Dec 12, 12, 3:37 pm   #7
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Istanbul's a very fascinating place, lots of great sights to see but I agree that it's a little rough around the edges. That does indeed add an element of adventure (to put it mildly), but always keep your wits about you there.
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Old Dec 12, 12, 8:42 pm   #8
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Nice to see you reporting here again, Mr. W. As ever, you've blended text and photos beautifully whilst taking us along on your marvellous adventure. Thank you!

That's Premium Economy? I'd love to see what Business Class looks like!
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Old Dec 13, 12, 12:47 am   #9
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Thank you JoelA, dimmelights, blackmamba, Carfield, rclark and Seat 2A for stopping by and commenting.

Kadirga neighborhood

In addition to food my other interest is photography and I am always in search of subjects that catch my eyes. The Kadirga neighborhood is a goldmine when it comes to visual inspiration and I was glad to get sidetracked and lost in this working class neighborhood. Travel for me is not only learning about a certain culture, tasting its food and seeing the famous sights, but also finding about how the people there live, think and interact with others.

From the Museum of Photography, you can reach the Grand Bazaar by walking up the hill to the North. It is a good 10-15 minutes trek that will lead you through a residential neighborhood dotted with shops and businesses.


Public phone

Neighborhood store

Cart in front of a shop

Up the hill

Grand Bazaar

This structure is one of the oldest covered markets in the world established around 1453 with over 3,000 shops and attracting from 250,000 to 400,000 visitors daily. You will find everything from tacky souvenirs to exquisitely crafted jewelry that can be custom designed by experts. To me, the Bazaar can be quite a contradiction. One moment you are in the middle of the hustle and bustle, and the next when you turn around a corner, you stumble upon a peaceful courtyard where you can sip coffee or tea on the upper floor blissfully.

Allow me to give you a tip about the Grand Bazaar. The most favorable exchange rate for your money, whether EUR, USD or something else, is found in the currency exchange shops contained in this place. This was confirmed by a local who also advised me to go there if I needed to exchange money.

Having said that, I will strongly advise you to bring a calculator and know the exact amount in local currency that you will receive for your exchange before you start your transaction. Honest businesses will count your Turkish liras in front of you when they finish the transaction and give your money back. Since a lot of these currency exchange places within the Grand Bazaar have the same rate and are very competitive, I used a different one the second time I exchanged money. The guy on the other end just handed me my Turkish liras instead of counting them in front of me. That immediately raised a red flag and I proceeded to count them back in his sight. I knew exactly how much I should have received and then discovered that I was short by 20 TRY. When I showed him that, he run the money again and gave me my 20 TRY back. Perhaps this was a honest mistake, or maybe not, but never let your guard down when it comes to your hard earned money so always be vigilant about it.

Quiet courtyard

Coffee/tea shop on the upper floor

Adjacent street

Mosque nearby

Outside seating for coffee/tea shop in the surrounding area

I came upon this scene walking around the area of the Grand Bazaar and seeing these older men using their backs to transport goods.

Antiques shop

"Al Fresco" dining

..to be continued with food and visiting the best baklava shop in the city.

Last edited by aw; Dec 13, 12 at 12:52 am
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Old Dec 15, 12, 12:35 am   #10
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Turkish Cuisine

Turkish cuisine is rich, diverse and varies by region. The areas around the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts tend to favor a lighter cooking style that uses olive oil and is based on the freshest produce and seafood, with minimal reliance on spices while the Central regions and those of the Southeast tend to feature heartier dishes and are famous for their meat kebabs, mezes, and dough based desserts like baklavas and kunefes. Istanbul and its surrounding areas inherited the refinement of the Ottoman court cuisine with its complex dishes and preference of rice over bulgur.

My research on Turkish food was mostly done on my own through different publications, websites and recommendations from locals. In addition to trying to navigate the culinary landscape of Istanbul by myself, I supplemented my research by signing up for a gastronomic tour titled "Culinary Secrets of the Old City" offered by Istanbul Eats. The tour cost $125 per person and according to the company's website "Our culinary walks program is designed to lead visitors on an eating binge through Istanbul’s lesser seen historic side streets and the authentic markets of the city, taking in countless hard-to-find culinary gems and, in between meals, a couple of untouristed monuments." Their approach proved to be insightful and enjoyable exposing me to new experiences that I might not have been able to sample on my own without the expertise of a local. For the latest culinary news on Istanbul, I highly recommend everyone to follow them on facebook or mark their website.

For a guide to the different eateries in Turkey, check this Lonely Planet link. It explains the different eateries that you will encounter through your travels to this fascinating country.

Balık ekmek! Balık ekmek! (Fish in bread)

Fish is popular in Istanbul and fish sandwiches are not to be missed. The best spot to grab one of these iconic snacks is on or near the Galata Bridge, either at one of the boat restaurants bobbing on the water or in the lower part of the bridge where restaurants line up awaiting for customers. Grab a chair at a table and the waiter will bring you a grilled fish fillet inserted in a half loaf of bread with a healthy dose of lettuce, tomato and onion. A word of caution - the fish can be a little bony, so proceed with care.

Galata Bridge with restaurants on the lower deck

Boat restaurant

Here is the view of the Old Town on the European side once you crossed the bridge to Beyoglu.

Karaköy Güllüoğlu - the premier baklava shop in Istanbul on Beyoglu.

This is the official link for this shop with background about its history and products. Karaköy Güllüoğlu was recommended to me by Yusuf, the manager of the Basileus hotel and his advice was right on the spot. The baklavas were rich, sumptuous and delicious, all the better with a glass of hot tea.

After this indulgence I had to do some walking to burn off the calories and prevent a sugar spike, so I headed towards the Galata Tower. On my way there, I encountered some interesting sights.

Juice vendor selling orange and pomegranate juice

Nuts stand

Ottoman faucets in the hardware district

Galata Tower

Built in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony in then Constantinople, this tower was the tallest building in Istanbul at the time measuring 129.5 feet or 66.9 m. Two elevators will carry the visitor to the top of this nine story tower where there is a restaurant and cafe commanding amazing views of the city.

Looking towards Sultanahmet and the Old Town

Surrounding neighborhoods further up north.

Modern Istanbul in the distance

...to be continued.

Last edited by aw; Dec 15, 12 at 7:43 pm
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Old Dec 15, 12, 7:47 am   #11
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Originally Posted by aw View Post

Here is the view of the Old Town on the European side once you crossed the bridge to Beyoglu on the Asian side.

Beyoğlu is on the European side. You still need to cross the Bosphorus/Boğaziçi to be on the Asian side. You've only crossed the Golden Horn/Haliç.
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Old Dec 15, 12, 2:12 pm   #12
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Oops. Thanks for calling that to my attention. I was typing late last night and got the Galata bridge mixed with the Bosphorus one somehow.

Istiklal St.

From Galata Tower I walked to Istiklal St. passing through some interesting neighborhood buildings. Istiklal St. is one of the most famous (if not the most famous) streets of Istanbul. Its 3 km. length is lined up with elegant shops, historical buildings, bookstores, art galleries, chocolate and pastry shops, cafes, restaurants and night clubs. At the end of the street, near Taksim Square, one can find a group of burger joints specializing in "wet burgers", one of Istanbul's top street eats experiences. It's not hard to resist these unique steamed burgers doused with an oily, tomato based sauce and incubated in a glass lined box, especially at around 2 TRY a piece. I tried mine at Kizilkayalar at the suggestion of my friend Muharrem and it did not disappoint. By the time I finished one I was ready for another. These can become addictive.

Fruit stand by Galata Tower

On my way to Istiklal St.


Neighborhood store

Produce store

Istiklal St.


Founded in 1850 this popular ice cream shop became a chain in 1991 and is found throughout Istanbul. Dondurma is Turkish for ice cream and here it is made with milk, sugar, salep (flour from the orchid root) and mastic (resin). Because of the inclusion of these last two ingredients, Turkish ice cream has a unique texture and high resistance to melting.


Founded in 1907 with chains throughout the city, this is one of the most popular sweet shops in Istanbul. Turkish delight or lokum is a gel confection made with starch and sugar. They come in a variety of flavors and premium varieties contain chopped dates, pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts.

Wet burger stands

..to be continued with lunch @ Canim Cigerim.

Last edited by aw; Dec 15, 12 at 9:24 pm
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Old Dec 16, 12, 12:34 am   #13
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Really enjoying your report! I have been going to Istanbul every year for the last 5 years, mainly to eat! I bought the book from Istanbul Eats and did my own tour from their recommendations.
Looking forward to the rest.... bet you're going to Ciya!
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Old Dec 16, 12, 7:56 am   #14
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Originally Posted by aw View Post
Oops. Thanks for calling that to my attention. I was typing late last night and got the Galata bridge mixed with the Bosphorus one somehow
No problem, more food photos please.
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Old Dec 16, 12, 12:24 pm   #15
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What a wonderful trip report, thanks enormously ! No I really, really want to go to Istambul...
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