Meatballs on-the-go at Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi

The place: Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi
The offerings: İnegöl-style meatballs,  meatball sandwiches, bean salad (piyaz)
Price range: A portion of İnegöl meatballs for 12 TL; half sandwich to-go for 6 TL
The pros: Family restaurant, fast service, and reasonably priced
The cons: This place gets really busy on the weekends! 


Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi is not a tourist destination but it is the perfect place for everyone else – families with kids and grandparents in tow, students on a budget, and locals looking for a quick and tasty fill. I was first introduced to this restaurant as a student at Sabanci University when I was a frequent visitor to Kadıköy on the weekends. Since then, the place has gotten a face lift and the food is just as tasty as ever.

My recommendation is to try the İnegöl köfte, a special type of meatball originating in İnegöl (Bursa). A portion comes with a generous helping of fries and a spicy sauce on the side. I always get the piyaz (bean salad in olive oil) as well. It’s a perfect appetizer to share and I think Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi’s piyaz beats out any contenders.

The service at Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi is quick (I mean, really quick), so don’t be surprised if your food comes before you’ve even finished ordering it. At the counter, the waiters prepare the dishes assembly line-style and most customers order the meatballs so they’ve got this down to a science. On the other hand, the restaurant can get really busy on the weekends with families, and during those times, you might have to remind the waiter once or twice to bring you that ayran you ordered.

If you’re lucky, you can snag one of the few tables set up outside the restaurant. If the weather is nice, it’s the perfect place to enjoy your meal and do a bit of people-watching. I brought my parents here when they were visiting Istanbul, and we waited for a few minutes to get a table outside – it was definitely worth it!

The restaurant also has a pick-up window right inside the front door. For only 6 TL you can get a half-bread meatball sandwich (12 TL for the full sandwich). Friends and I recently picked up sandwiches to-go and took them to the Caddebostan seaside where we enjoyed them sitting by the water.

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How to get there: From Europe, take a ferry to Kadıköy. At the iskele, cross Rihtim Caddesi and head towards the Starbucks on your right hand side (near Bambi). Ekspres İnegöl Köftecisi is a couple store fronts up from the corner Starbucks.

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The Turkish breakfast of champions

You know you’ve grown accustomed to life in Turkey when you can’t imagine starting your weekend without a large Turkish breakfast. You stock up on all the goods at your local bazaar and invite friends over so it can be enjoyed by all. Custom has it that your guests will reciprocate and host you for breakfast in the future.

One of my Turkish breakfast rules is that it should be enjoyed at home not at a restaurant. I refrain from eating breakfast out because 1) it’s almost never worth the price and 2) the taste and quality just isn’t as good as a breakfast prepared at home especially if you live with friends like I do whose parents are always sending goodies from their hometowns.

There is, however, one exception to the no-breakfast out rule, and that is breakfast under the historical Cinar Tree in Bursa’s Inkaya village. The Cinar Tree (English: Plane Tree) itself is a destination – the tree’s plaque says it’s 600 years old and it’s so large that it requires metal supports to hold up its branches in some places. Busloads of Turkish tourists and schoolchildren are always milling around, taking group pictures, and snacking on gozleme under the tree.

The breakfasts are large and one breakfast is plenty for two people (order one and ask for service for two). Each breakfast comes with a caydanlik of tea, a hardboiled egg, a variety of cheeses, butter, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, kaymak with honey and walnuts, kahvalti saltca (a spread of tomato paste, walnuts, garlic and olive oil), jam, seasonal fruit, and of course, a basket of bread. With a group of people, I like to order the village-style eggs with sucuk (spicy pork-less sausage) as well. The eggs come runny and the sucuk is high quality.

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The breakfast spread at Cinar

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Village eggs with sucuk

After breakfast, I always end up in the restaurant’s kitchen where I like to fill up my jars from home with the restaurant’s kahvalti salca. Although it’s easy to find in Istanbul, I haven’t found anything comparable to the kahvalti saltca served at the Cinar Tree. You can also fill up on jam, and the restaurant’s quince jam is especially good.

Don’t forget to snap some pictures in front of the tree and check out the nearby stands selling fresh fruit and souvenirs including reasonably-priced Iznik dishes. If the day is young (and it should be if you are having breakfast!), you can continue up the mountain road for a day at Uludag Mountain. Skiing and sledding in the winter, picnics and hiking in the summer. Otherwise, head back downtown via Tophane and continue your village adventures at the historic Cumalikizik vilage.

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The 600 year old Cinar Tree

How to get to Cinar: It is possible to get there by bus from Altiparmak in the city center, but the bus runs infrequently (only once an hour) so you must rush through breakfast or plan on sticking around for a couple of hours. My recommendation is to take a car (we tend to rent a car for our weekends in Bursa). The morning will be much more relaxing and enjoyable and you can stick around for a cup of Turkish coffee.

An afternoon at Uludag Mountain

While my friend Olivia was visiting from Boston, we spent a few days in Bursa, which is approximately three hours from Istanbul by car and even less by ferry if you go directly from Yenikapi to Guzelyali (Mudayna). On our second day in Bursa, we woke up early to have breakfast under Bursa’s famous 600 year old Cinar tree which is – hands down – my favorite breakfast place in Turkey. I like it so much that I even bring jars from home so that I can fill up on goodies in the restaurant’s kitchen before heading back to Istanbul.

On this particular day, we decided to drive up the mountain after our breakfast at Cinar. I hadn’t been to Uludag in a couple of years so it was also a nice treat for me. Plus, March is the perfect time to visit because it’s not so cold and when you get tired of the snow, you can just drive back down and voila! the snow is gone. With Gurkan behind the wheel, Olivia in front to see the view, and Meral (my former flatmate, friend and abla) and I in the backseat, we were soon off on our mountain adventure.

Here a few highlights from our afternoon at Uludag:

The weather was overcast but the views were still breathtaking and the scene on the mountain was lively.

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Sledders on the mountain

Children throwing snowballs at themselves – this little girl even aimed one at me when her mom wasn’t looking!

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Forest hikes out to the rocks (not only am I afraid of heights but Gurkan even mentioned there might be wild hogs. I am still not sure if that was a joke or not…).

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Forest hikes with Gurkan, Meral and Olivia

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Out to the rocks

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More mountain views from the rocks

And last but not least, impromptu dance circles!

We would have stayed a bit longer had the snow not started to come in. We made a mad dash to the bottom of the mountain.

On my next trip to Uludag, I’d like to eat at Palabiyik. I took a peak inside and the food smelled and looked excellent, a sort of grill your own meat restaurant. A few years ago, friends and I had stopped at Palabiyik for a very tasty semovar of tea (must be the mountain water!).

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Grill your own meat at Palabiyik restaurant! On the checklist for next time.

Palabiyik tea at Uludag

The taste of mountain water tea

Oh, and don’t forget to wear your sunscreen. You don’t want to come down looking like a tomato.