Turks have always loved their corbasi soups. The élite janissary soldiers of the Ottoman empire even had “soup sergeants” who presided over giant cauldrons in regimental soup kitchens.
The modern-day soup kitchens of Istanbul are a lot more casual. At simple corbasi joints, chefs combine some of the area’s freshest ingredients into hearty meals representing years of culinary history. After you book your Istanbul accommodations, all you need is a spoon to sample some of Turkey’s best dishes. Here’s a guide to where to enjoy them – and what to order.
Soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner
You can start the day in Istanbul, as locals like to do, with a bowl of mercimek corbasi (lentil soup). Or wind up a wild night out with iskembe corbasi, a rich mix of tripe, onions, egg and an infallible hangover cure, according to Turks. After a morning of sightseeing, sulu kofte, made with rice and meatballs, really hits the spot.
You’ll find some of the best corbasi at unpretentious eateries called esnaf lokantasi (tradesmen’s restaurants). Catering to market and night shift workers as well as shopkeepers, they cluster around Istanbul’s famous bazaars, near Eminonu ferry quays and around the Sirkeci Station area. Near Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, at Carsikapi Nuruosmiye Caddesi 48, Tarihi Subasi is an upscale version that serves soups like ezogelin, made with tomatoes, lentils and bulgur wheat.
In autumn, thousands of anglers line Istanbul’s city bridges and the shores of the Bosphorus straits. They’re after the shoals of sea bass, mackerel and bonito that migrate each year between the Sea of Marmaris and the Black Sea. These and more go into balik corbasi (fish soup) in waterfront restaurants like Tarihi Karaköy Balikçisi, at Kardesim Sokak 45, and Grifin Han in newly trendy Karaköy.
And to drink?
Many of Istanbul’s simple soup restaurants don’t serve alcohol. But you can find healthy alternatives on the drinks list. Turks love serbetler (fruit and vegetable juices) and create unlikely blends based on pomegranate, cherry, watermelon, apple and carrot juice. Iced ayran, a diluted yoghurt drink, is a favourite in summer.