Another food near the top of my ‘must try’ list for Istanbul was kumpir. This is a popular street food all over the country apparently, yet somehow in Fethiye they’ve never really caught on, and I’ve never really came across them.
My friend, a frequent Turkey visitor, couldn’t believe I’ve never tried one (neither had Berkay) so I decided we needed to try it, just for her!
Essentially, kumpir is ‘just’ a giant jacket potato – but the fun is in watching them make it, choosing your toppings and finally tasting the smooth, cheesy, buttery potato they present you with.
Ortaköy is one of the most popular places in Istanbul to get a kumpir, so we got a very busy bus from Besiktas to see what all the fuss was about.
I have to say that Ortaköy was one of only two places in Istanbul that I did not enjoy visiting. It was crazy busy with people and kids rushing around, people walking out from all directions and not making any effort to get out of your way, not thinking twice about barging into you. There were men fishing, not bothered about casting their line out and hitting people sitting on the benches. I think we made a mistake going there on a Saturday afternoon though – early morning on a week day would be a different experience I’m sure!
The view is picturesque, with Ortaköy mosque the main focal point. The Bosphorus Bridge is visible just behind it, one of the 3 suspension bridges across that stretch of water which link Europe and Asia. The bridge was renamed the 15 Temmuz Şehitler Köprüsü (July 15th Martyrs Bridge) after the failed coup attempt in 2016.
In amongst the maze of little streets, cafes, souvenir shops and stalls there is a whole row of stands dedicated to kumpir, or the other poplar street food in the area – waffles. As soon as we walked into ‘kumpir sokak’ they could tell we were overwhelmed with choice, we must have stuck out as tourists like a sore thumb! We had about 10 stalls of people shouting at us, waving their arms in all directions, winking, banging their signs and gesturing us to go over – this put me off straight away and immediately I looked for the stall making the less fuss, hassling customers is a big turn off for me and was quite intimidating! We settled on one stall and watched as they prepared our kumpir.
It’s really interesting to watch how they make it- they grab a baked potato from their oven, put it in a tray and slice it open. Then they grab a knife full of butter and mash it into the potato with some cheese – they definitely have a special technique of doing this, twisting and turning, I reckon it takes some practice, they do it so fast. They keep mashing it with the knife and mixing it in until it’s smooth and stretchy, then they pass it down the counter to the topping section. If you’re like me and really rubbish at decision making, you’ll struggle with this. A variety of possible toppings include sweetcorn, red cabbage, olives, Russian salad, sliced hot dog sausage, kisir, chopped pickled veg, mushrooms, peas, yogurt, jalapenos… I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten, it’s a whole world away from the good old British jacket potato beans and cheese.
To top it all off, you can add mayo and ketchup if you want!
Berkay decided on sweetcorn, pickles, sausage and ketchup on his, and I went for sweetcorn, sausage and a handful of mushrooms.
As we were walking back along the seafront to find a place to sit and eat, we walked past a few more kumpir stalls and I spotted this one who had turned the butter into a face with spoon ears – I loved that and wish we’d gone there instead! I suppose with lots of stalls selling the same thing they need to make theirs look unique, and they often arrange the toppings in patterns or shapes to make potential customers laugh and grab their attention – that is more effective than waving their arms in the air and shouting, surely!
We found a little bench around a tree and sat there eating our very filling kumpir, I shared some of mine with a cat who very much looked like he enjoyed it too. We sat and people-watched for a little while, fascinated by the man selling bird food for the pigeons, little children approached him, bought the food and threw it around for the pigeons, sending them flapping around as they ran through them. I love pigeons and always feel sorry for them, but the flapping birds all around me just added to the manic-ness of our Ortaköy experience!
I’d like to go back on a less busy day though, and I can confirm that the kumpir was delicious!