10 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Istanbul

There is no such thing as “Istanbul Belly” so feel free to readily tuck into all the local cuisine and brush your teeth with tap water with peace of mind as you won’t get sick here. The standard of cleanliness is high in Istanbul, the tap water is safe (but it doesn’t taste great so everyone buys drinking water)

Istanbul is safe! The crime rates are considerably low in this large city – a pleasant discovery for travellers coming from Rome, London or Delhi. Pickpockets and con artists exist here, as in every city. Exercising a moderate level of caution is wise for any tourist.

Tavuk gogsu. It’s a dessert made of chicken. Although famous for its exotic sweets, Turkey also introduces us to a bizarre combination of milk, chicken breast and sugar. It’s just like a blancmange – with chicken. Look out for it on the menu at any reputable cafe or patisserie. You will also come across a colourful dessert known as ashure, which just looks like it’s made of anything in the kitchen: chickpeas, cherries, rose water, nuts, rice… it’s an acquired taste. You won’t know if you like it until you try…

Ashure: it's a bit of everything in one bowl

Ashure: it’s a bit of everything in one bowl

Lovely lavatories. Notably clean and sweet smelling, most bars, cafes, shopping malls, offices or museums have nice toilets in Istanbul. If you look hard enough you will certainly find the odd lavatory horror scene in bazaars, parks and dodgy nightclubs but the fact that you have to actively search for a bad toilet is something of which a traveller would never complain.

Streets dogs. The furry, canine anarchists rule Istanbul: You will see dogs lolling around on doorsteps while Turkish people carefully step over them.  No one has the exact figures of how many dogs and cats roam the streets of Istanbul but there are plenty of them, having resided in the city for hundreds of years. Many inner city dogs are microchipped and neutered in an effort to reduce their numbers as residents are opposed to killing the dogs, who are a part of daily life in Istanbul. In general the dogs are disease- free and friendly: they love a pat or a doggie treat. 

What a cutie!

What a cutie!

Sitting at KFC. A favourite pastime of many young Turks is to laze about the colourful plastic seats in suburban McDonald’s, KFC & Burger King long after they’ve finished their meals. One imagines that the reason for this is that Istanbul’s youth feel at home in a American environment with a 9-piece original recipe chicken and pop music . I guess this is globalisation for you.

Turkish food only.  Where’s the Pad Thai? Aside from the ubiquitous fast food chains, Turkish people tend to eat Turkish food… and that’s about it. International cuisine can be found in the trendy districts of Nisantasi, Kadikoy and Levent but in general, the food scene here is pretty homogenous. Local food is delicious and affordable but if you fancy something different, the pickings are slim.

Expensive electronics. Cell phones, iPads, Laptops: Turkey isn’t the place to buy them unless you live here, in which case it is necessary. Although there are reasonable local products on the market, international good (electronic or otherwise) can be quite pricy.

Sofas – count how many you see in suburban streets. Istanbul has a lot of people and the whole waste disposal thing just hasn’t been managed properly yet. This doesn’t mean that Istanbul is particularly dirty – it’s quite clean for a city of its size – but you may find piles of wood, sofas, carpets and umbrellas in a pile on street corners. The number of sofas I’ve seen  on the street in Turkey  is quite alarming, but the cats seem to enjoy them… and they keep the rats away so I guess the system kind of works.

Garbage bins are starting to appear, but these things take time...

.Garbage bins are starting to appear, but these things take time…

Shopping Malls. Istanbul has hundreds of enormous shopping malls. Perhaps too many. The sheer size of shopping complexes such as Forum and Kanyon malls is overwhelming. However, with all these shiny new shopping centres, not one of them is dedicated to original shops and local designers. The same, boring international designers and humdrum chain stores occupy most of the real estate in such buildings. I can go to Starbucks, Nike, Zara or H&M in any country, even the once chic and exclusive Harvey Nichols has sold out to several countries, including Turkey. If you are looking for Turkish designers, vintage stores, antiques, local artists and jeweller then stick to the streets to find your gems in Istanbul.


8 responses to “10 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Istanbul

  1. I really didn’t know any of these – sounds like such a great place to visit. I had friends who went last summer and loved it, but said they would never go again in summertime because the heat was worse than Southeast Asia or the Caribbean!

  2. Very interesting article. But mmmm not sure I’ll trust the water though. We couchsurfed in Istanbul and our hosts told us they didn’t trust the water themselves. They don’t even use it to wash their teeth. I guess I prefer to drink bottled water and avoid getting sick (so I can keep on enjoying all the turkish food) 😀

    • Thanks! The water is fine, it just tastes horrible from the tap. I use it to brush my teeth and so does everyone I know. I am one of those losers who always gets stomach problems when I travel to (even in UK and Hong Kong) but I’ve been good in Turkey so far, fingers crossed…

  3. The title of the article is absolutely right – didn’t know any of those things but it makes me a lot more interested in the area.

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