Istanbul is the perfect destination for food lovers. Every street corner catches your attention as interesting smells and sights promise something exciting. Food, in Turkey, is street performance, an art show, an attraction – not just for feeding your belly. You will see that people are eating all the time, everywhere. There are no set times of the day to enjoy a good meal, a Turkish coffee, honey laden sweets, or a little pizza.
With thousands of eateries featuring so many different kinds of dishes, it is easy to get lost in the bazaars. So I made a good decision of booking a Food Tour with Turkish Flavours on my first day in Istanbul. I met Ms Taciser, a knowledgeable and charming Turkish lady, in front of the Spice Market (also known as the Egyptian Market) at 9:30am. She gave a briefing about what was to come – about 5 hours of walking through the Spice Market, a ferry to Kadıköy on the Asian side of Istanbul, tasting at the famous street Eminönü and historical Kadıköy market, followed by an Anatolian lunch. Little did I know, we are about to embark on a 35 COURSE journey, eating our way through some of the best eateries in Istanbul.
Here are some of the highlights of our culinary walking tour of Istanbul…
At the entrance to the Spice Market, are vendors selling all of your daily grocery needs, the first one being cheese. Turkish people eat many different kinds of cow and sheep’s milk cheese (known as peynir) for breakfast, as appetizers, and in cooking. Read introduction to Turkish cheese for more details.
In Turkey, table olives are consumed in large quantities, raw, cooked, preserved, olive oil, olive soap, etc. Turkey is noted for its wealth of varieties—over 50 in all. The most common Turkish olives are grown in the Marmara, Aegean, Mediterranean and Southeast Anatolia regions. The key varieties are the Memeli, Donat, Ismir Sofralik, Ayvalik, Ekiste, Elebi, Erkence, Gemlik, Memecik, Trilya, and Uslu.
Stores filled with moulds of fresh spices are also abundant. You can find practically any spice on the planet here, but most Turkish households don’t use a lot for cooking. The commonly found Turkish spices include oregano, red pepper, paprika, dried mint, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, sumac, sesame seeds and black cumin (nigella) seeds.
Stop for dry fruits, coffee, Turkish sweets and apple tea, before making your way out of the spice bazaar.
I tried for the first time – fried mussels with tarator (midye tava), a popular street food made with fresh mussels. This is one of the rare seafood dishes eaten in Istanbul, aside from the “fish-only” restaurants.
This stop for Turkish pizza (known as pide) is worth alone the entire tour! The flatbread stuffed with ground beef, lamb or cheese and spices is satisfying with a glass of tea at breakfast, and Ayran (yogurt drink) at lunch. Go to the stall around lunchtime and smell the fresh dough rising from the oven.
The sweet shop, Gazianstep, located next to the pizza place, is hard to pass by without a stare. Honey soaked tulumba, fresh kadayif, and a dozen kinds of baklava, are just a few items the bakers prepare each morning.
Then we will take a ferry to Kadıköy on the Asian side of Istanbul from Eminönü, the famous shopping street in Istanbul. There were good opportunities for taking photos of vendors selling fresh fish, peddlers making coffee over charcoal, and dried spices hanging like beads. We made about 15 more stops as we strolled through the busy markets and historic sites. Finally, we stopped for lunch at the New York Times acclaimed Ciya restaurant in Kadıköy market. Here we met the owner/chef and tasted about 10 more dishes! (Click here to read more on that).
This walking food tour was unlike any other I have done before. It gave a very good overview of Turkish cuisine, exposing me to many different kinds of dishes. My culinary knowledge expanded so well this day, that I knew exactly what to order during the rest of my stay in Turkey. I was even able to help other travelers make choices at dinnertime!
The Taste Istanbul Food tours starts at 9:30 am and ends around 2:30 pm. Cost is $125 per person, which includes continuous tastings, English speaking guide, round trip ferry tickets, and a hearty lunch. Do not plan to eat before or after the tour!
~ This tour was sponsored by Turkish Flavours.