Gastro Istanbul

I hope this is what heaven smells like.

I could smell it even before I could see the entrance. A wave of delicious aromas wafting through the air and I immediately knew I would be happy on the inside.

And happy I was! For five blissful hours I smelled, ate, learned, watched and discovered all that Gastro Istanbul had to offer.

Actually smaller than I had first imagined, what I found as I wandered through Gastro Istanbul, definitely wowed me and exceeded all my expectations. A gathering of Istanbul’s leading restaurants, as well as food purveyors from all over Turkey, showcasing their delicious creations to the gastronomic delight of everyone who was fortunate enough to attend. I sampled foods from some of Istanbul’s most notable restaurants, who had created special menus specifically for the event. I discovered delicious wares from the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions of Turkey which have made me crave to revisit those areas during the summer. I delighted in finding new Istanbul restaurants who are breaking away from the traditional Turkish cuisine to offer a modern twist on old favorites.

Undoubtedly, my favorite new find of the day was Sosa Cafe and Restaurant. Sosa’s concept is to deliver delicious and healthy (often ‘raw’) takes on both Turkish and international favorites. I tasted the most refreshing vegetable and herb ayran, a delicious raw vegetable lasagne, and a raw pomegranate-topped cheesecake which was so amazingly delectable that I can’t even find words to describe it. I’ll definitely be heading to one of their restaurants very soon for a follow up!

One of the highlights of my visit to Gastro Istanbul was my time spent in the Activity Tent learning about Turkish food culture. The knowledge and wealth of experience of the presenters and panelists was certainly impressive and engaging to the audience. Presenting cooking demonstrations ranging from imperial Ottoman cuisine, to the ‘new’ Anatolian kitchen (and everything in between) kept my ears and mind so alert, I almost forgot to go back out for more food. I said almost.

One of my favorite presentations (forgive me for being a little biased and patriotic here) was from Australian chefs Greg Malouf and Somer Sivrioğlu who discussed the rising popularity of Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine worldwide. And these guys should know their stuff! Hailing from Melbourne, Greg has not only lead kitchens in some of the world’s leading restaurants, but he is also co-author of the amazing Turquiose. He continues to inspire young chefs across the globe (and those home masterchefs like myself) and transformed the Melbourne restaurant scene offering his Middle Eastern dishes wıth a contemporary flair. Now owner of Sydney restaurant Efendy, Turkish native Somer delivers real Turkish cuisine to Australians.

I also couldn’t miss the opportunity to head over to the Main Kitchen to see one of my favorite Turkish chefs, Refika, work with the delicious flavours of Turkish cuisine. Leaving with her book Refika’s Kitchen (Refika’nın Mutfağı) in hand, I’ll definitely be putting my new knowledge to use in Leisa’s kitchen very soon. (stayed tuned for updates!)

And, of course, I was sure to take home a few delicious souveniers of the day for myself. A new discovery was Ayvalık olives (I think the best olive products originate in Ayvalık) stuffed with almonds, which purveyor Monte Ida also tell me are popular with Japanese visitors. And, being a lover of infused olive oils, I couldn’t resist Nar Gourmet’s mandarin-infused variety.

Needless to say, my heart and tummy were content as I exited the gates of Gastro Istanbul. If you are fortunate enough to be in Istanbul during next year’s event, Gastro Istanbul definitely shouldn’t be missed!