What: Kaymak is, simply, clotted cream, typically served with bal (honey)—but it is so much more than that. It is rich, creamy heaven in a bowl, and we are far from the first food writers to wax poetic about the stuff. Before it’s boiled, simmered, skimmed, and chilled into greatness, kaymak is the milk of water buffaloes or cows. It is, of course, totally indulgent, with such a high percentage of milk fat you might as well be eating butter. But it’s an absolute must in Turkey. With roots in Central Asia, kaymak has been an Ottoman morning treat for centuries, traditionally eaten with bread and ҫay, or tea, for breakfast—although you’ll also see it paired with sweet candied fruits for dessert.
Where: While you can try kaymak at any number of breakfast joints in Istanbul, it’s worthwhile to travel to one of the historic shops devoted to it—and it’s no secret that Kaymakçı Pando (212-258-2616; Mumcu Bakkal Sokak No. 5, approx. map), established in Beşiktaş in 1895, is one of the best sources of kaymak in the city. Owned by the elderly Pando and his wife, the teeny store has a handful of tables and walls proudly displaying photos of family members and water buffaloes (one and the same, perhaps). There’s not much English spoken here, but the staff knows what you’ve come for.
Order: A portion of kaymak, served chilled on a metal plate and doused in fresh honey, costs 6 TL, including a basket of soft white bread. It’s a small price to pay for a plate of dairy perfection—beautifully thick and creamy, with a hit of pure sweetness. And it’s so rich that the portion is quite generous. Pair it with tea—or hot (cow’s) milk, the other traditional beverage here—a plate of cucumber, tomato, cheese, and olives; and some buttery “village eggs,” cooked to order sunny-side up or in an omelet. Absolutely divine. (Note that you can also take your kaymak to go, but you must eat it that day.)
Update: We are sad to hear from Culinary Backstreets that Pando was evicted from his shop in 2014, and Pando the man passed away in 2018, at the ripe old age of 96. Please see our alternative options for kaymak.
Alternatively: There’s another good buffalo-milk kaymak shop in town, an unassuming corner shop called Karaköy Özsüt (Yemişçi Hasan Sokak No. 9/11, map), in Karaköy. Otherwise, you can find good kaymak at many breakfast joints in Istanbul, from beloved Van Kahvaltı Evi (212-293-6437; Defterdar Yokuşu No. 52/A, map) in Beyoğlu to pretty Sade Kahve (Yahya Kemal Cad. No. 20/A, Rumelihisarı, map), up in Sarıyer. There’s even kaymak ice cream to be had at (tiny) popular vendor Bebek Mini Dondurma (212-257-1070; Cevdetpaşa Cad. No. 38/A, map), in Bebek. Do yourself a favor and eat as much kaymak as you can while in Turkey—you won’t regret it.