The Best Meal I Had in Istanbul

During my stay in Turkey my cousin Suzy, who is an Istanbul expat, took me to a restaurant so good it deserves its own post- Çinaralti.

Çinaralti serves affordable, tasty Turkish food in the style of Korean barbecue. But you won’t find any kimchi here- at Çinaralti it’s traditional Turkish fare all the way.

Cinaralti Istanbul

We, as in Suzy, her boyfriend, and their closest friends (all Turkish), began the meal by toasting bread, a task this carb-lover is all too familiar with. After the toast became properly golden, one of the guys said, “Let’s hurry up and start grilling the meat so Ashley doesn’t think all we eat in Turkey is bread.”

Cinaralti Istanbul

Next we sampled two of Turkey’s most beloved beverages. There was Şalgam, or turnip juice, the flavor of which is bitter and slightly off-putting at first. But after a few more sips I fell in love with the refreshing, vegetable-y taste.

Served alongside the Şalgam was Turkey’s beloved spirit, Raki. It tastes a lot like lighter fluid the fennel-based Greek liquor, ouzo, but it’s so strong that you have to dilute it with water. Honestly? Not my favorite. I’ll stick to my turnip juice, thank you very much.

Cinaralti Istanbul
Şalgam and Raki

Next up was the mezze, which are essentially small-plate Turkish appetizers ranging from grape leaves to collard greens. This was my problem in Turkey- I would fill up so much on the delightful mezze plates that I would have no room for the meat-centric main course- and never one to miss out on the meat course, I would then stuff myself to oblivion.
Cinaralti Istanbul

I was so full after this plate full of food. This could feed a family of six in France.

Cinaralti Istanbul


And then the real fun began- after the mezze course we got to choose the meats we wanted to grill. I didn’t contribute much as all I could do was drool at the bounty of lamb meat in the case (Due to my Oliver Twist lifestyle, lamb is a very, very rare treat for me.)

Cinaralti Istanbul

And then, as it happens the world over, the men got grilling.

Cinaralti Istanbul

So needless to say, the charred, juicy lamb was absolutely out-of-this-world amazing. I helped myself to lamb chop after lamb loin after lamb kidney. But the biggest surprise of the night was lamb heart; it was slightly rubbery but tender and flavorful.

I feel like it’s kind of evil to enjoying eating the hearts of baby animals but here I am.

(Also, the lamb kidneys were horrible, which furthered my belief that all kidneys are vile and are best NOT eaten under any circumstance save deserted island starvation.)

Cinaralti Istanbul

Thankfully we just noshed on some almonds for dessert as I really couldn’t stomach another bite. (The ice apparently helps to remove the skins.)

Cinaralti Istanbul

If there’s anything more wonderful than charred, juicy lamb (and let’s be honest, there isn’t much) it’s being so warmly welcomed into a new country. My cousin and her friends were so sweet and excited for me to learn more about Istanbul.

Cinaralti Istanbul

So I’d like to say thank you to Suzy and her awesome friends- or as it look me 36 attempts to remember, teşekkürler.

Cinaralti Istanbul

Cinaralti Istanbul

Have you ever eaten Turkish food (or lamb’s heart)? What did you think?

To learn more or book reservations, check out their website: Çınaraltı MangalBaşı. They didn’t sponsor me to say this but I just really enjoyed my time at their restaurant- though if they want to mail me lamb chops I’m totally okay with that!

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

23 thoughts on “The Best Meal I Had in Istanbul”

  1. Hey Fellow-Michigander! Thanks for sharing; the food looks fantastic. You had me at the colorful and tasty stack of mezze, yet I wouldn’t mind sticking around for the lamb. I think the food alone just bumped Turkey up a couple spots on my travel “to do” list.

  2. What an amazing experience! This sounds like such a great interactive way to eat! That mezze course looks so good!
    My favorite Turkish restaurant always serves Raki on the house after dinner and I always drink it (I mean, it’s on the house!), but I’m not a fan either :)

  3. Never! I can’t believe what an adventuresome diner you are– amazing!!!
    But you are right, the company and the hospitable is so valuable.

    Love, Gamma

  4. Nice feast and so much food to try! Are iced almonds tasty? I always have them for my breakfast but never tried to put them in a bowl full of ice :) The food’s so yummy!

  5. The grill in the table reminds me of Korean BBQ, my fav! All of the different dishes filled with lovely sides, I would love to try this. Something to put on my list of new eats :)


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