From Andrew Harper:
Straddling the Bosphorus strait between the Black and Marmara seas, Istanbul now has a population of nearly 13 million. Although a thoroughly modern metropolis, its past is still inescapable. Istanbul is the historic threshold between Europe and Asia. Turkey’s largest city is a grand, chaotic, ancient and modern conglomeration of paradoxes that blends the features of both continents but retains a flavor uniquely its own. Istanbul has served as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Its landscape is a palimpsest of these successive reigns.
Built between A.D. 532 and 537, Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world until the completion of the Seville Cathedral in 1520. Today, it’s a museum, and its marble pillars, lavish mosaics and soaring dome remain a high-water mark of Byzantine architecture and an emblem of this city’s religious and cultural status.
Just opposite, the majestic Blue Mosque provides a haven of serenity. It mirrors some of the Byzantine elements of Sophia’s majesty and blends them with traditional Islamic design.
Home to generations of Ottoman sultans, Topkapi Palace contains an astonishing jewelry collection.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a covered labyrinth of thousands of shops offering everything from rugs to rice. The city’s numerous Turkish baths, or hammams, provide relaxing rest stops for ritualized series of steaming and massage. Istanbul’s myriad nightclubs and restaurants provide the city with a 21st-century layer of indulgence and sophistication, while its rich array of museums, alongside living ruins and royal palaces, keep the past alive.
The best way to encounter Istanbul for the first time is aboard a ship sailing up from the Sea of Marmara, an arrival that gradually unfolds one of the most romantic skylines in the world.- Andrew Harper
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Located in stylish Nişantaşi, this restaurant specializes in Ottoman cooking and recalls the days when the empire spread from Bulgaria to Tunisia. Recommended dishes include yellow lentil soup with croutons and lemon; baked stuffed eggplant and stuffed cabbage rolls; hünkar beg˘endi (“the sultan’s delight”), a rich lamb stew with eggplant purée; and lamb shanks with orzo in a light tomato sauceMim Kemal Oke Caddesi 21 Nişantaşi Istanbul US$60 http://www.hunkar1950.com/
With a prime location near the bustling Spice Bazaar and a wonderful view over the Bosphorus, this busy restaurant is a great place to sample some of the kebabs that are a classic of the southeastern Turkish kitchen. The fistikli kebab (ground lamb with pistachios) is especially delicious.Tahmis Caddesi Kalçin Sokak No. 17 Eminönü Istanbul US$45 http://www.hamdi.com.tr/index.htm
This light, airy restaurant with a beautiful terrace is felicitously located next to one of Istanbul’s great but relatively unsung sights, the Kariye Museum, a former church with the finest Byzantine mosaics in the world. The kitchen is dedicated to preserving the recipes of the Ottoman Empire. I enjoyed a wonderful variation on dolmas, the grape leaves stuffed with a mix of rice, minced sour cherries, onions and pine nuts cooked in cinnamon-infused olive oil. For my main course, I opted for kirde kebap, sautéed diced lamb and vegetables served on flatbread with yogurt.Kariye Camii Sokak 6 Istanbul US$60 http://www.asitanerestaurant.com/English/index.php
Istanbul chefs are embracing new techniques and ingredients and blending them with the rich traditions of the Turkish kitchen. One of the most notable practitioners is New Zealand chef Peter Gordon, whose restaurant is ensconced on four floors of a 103-year-old townhouse. It offers innovations such as a glass ceiling above the kitchen through which guests can watch chefs create dishes such as a starter of grilled octopus with a spicy sauce of red miso and nori, and a main course of slow-cooked beef cheeks with Turkish noodles, goat yogurt and a tangy gremolata sauce.Siraseviler Caddesi 47 Istanbul US$75 http://www.changa-istanbul.com/v2/changataksimmain.asp
Just a short walk from the Hagia Sophia, this excellent restaurant is known for its kebabs. Secure a streetside table and begin with a small selection of mezzes. From among the appealing main courses, consider the outstanding grilled lamb ribs, served with grilled tomatoes and peppers.Divanyolu Caddesi, Ticarethane Sokak 39/41 Istanbul US$55 http://www.khorasanirestaurant.com/
This romantic hillside restaurant has stunning views of both bridges over the Bosphorus and is one of the most stylish (and expensive) in Istanbul. Order the Turkish dishes, including standouts such as grilled octopus with white bean and tomato salad, and lamb fillet with smoked eggplant, in preference to the more modish fusion offerings on the menu. It also has one of the best lists of Turkish wines in the city.Adnan Saygun Caddesi Ulus Parki Ici 71/1 Istanbul US$90 http://www.group-29.com/