Istanbul Food Tour – Two-Continent Walking TourPosted By Jennifer Ho Dec 25 2014 · 0 comments · Events, Snacks & Street Food
Months ago in the summer, we spent a couple weeks abroad in Turkey. Istanbul was one of our most anticipated spots to check out – the things we’d heard from friends about the food, the culture and the weather were beyond excellent. While we don’t typically engage in food tours for fear of them being cheesy, too touristy or inauthentic, the hype around the formerly called Istanbul Eats Istanbul Food Tour, now Culinary Backstreets, was real. Listed as one of the top ‘things to do’ and Istanbul Food Tour on TripAdvisor, raved about by bloggers and publications alike, including NYT, CN Traveller and HuffPost, we were convinced we had to try it.
After browsing the variety of tours offered, going back and forth trying to decide which one we wanted most, we settled on the Two Markets, Two Continents tour. The itinerary allowed us to explore a wealth of local eateries, starting from the European side, eating our way through to the Asian side.
Spending the day with Culinary Backstreets was easily one of the most memorable things we did in Istanbul. Food-wise, one of the most diverse and eye-opening – most of the places we enjoyed were places that would have been difficult if not impossible to find on our own. The fact that our group was a small one was a huge bonus for me, allowing us more flexibility and agility in making impromptu stops throughout the day. Our guide Katerina was an absolute gem, not only super knowledgeable on all things edible we came across but also on Turkish culture, religion and folklore which made conversation doubly interesting.
The photos below are snapshots of some of the amazing people we met and the delicious food we had on the way.
We started off with traditional Turkish tea or cay and simit, sesame encrusted rings of dough, at a small shop hidden in the industrial metal-working district or caravansaray. Tea here is as common as water, locals are known to drink up to ten cups a day on average. In order to cope with the constant demand, tea shop owners often use a token based system where patrons purchase a bulk amount and pay for tea in tokens instead to avoid the hassle of using cash and looking for change every time.
We stopped by a sit-down breakfast restaurant called Ozsut where we had menemen – Turkish scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers, clotted buffalo cream drizzled in honey (really, really tasty) and a very particular sweet pudding. This last dish was something that surprised all of us – at first taste, the pudding seemed normal, good if not great, but nothing particularly special. That is, until Katerina brought our attention to the tiny, paper thin strands of chicken breast that were barely noticeable within each bite. Amazing.
Next, we boarded the public ferry and headed to the Asian side to taste the differences in cooking.
The midye dolma, mussles stuffed with rice were fantastic. Common streetfood seen on most corners and markets, the ones we tasted came from one of the original purveyors of the snack. With a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice on top… heavenly. The same could be said for the fried mussels, served with a creamier, heavier sauce.
From beets to tomatoes to peppers to cabbage, this place was a pickle lover’s paradise. This is a shop where pickling is worshipped – not a single element is wasted, not even the pickle juice. Drink up!
We stopped by a patisserie shop where we tasted candied walnuts, chestnuts, tomatoes, sweet peppers along with a variety of fruits. Hello, sweetness overload.
We took a quick rest between blocks of eating at a local cafe where we had the famous muddy, tar-like Turkish coffee as well as a more refreshing mint lemonade. Katerina explained the Turkish way of fortune-telling using the ground remains at the bottom of the coffee cup by turning it upside down onto a saucer, turning it a few times and allowing the ground to drip downwards. Because it is bad luck to read your own future, have a friend make out whatever images they can and extrapolate for an easy reading.
These tantuni rolls were one of the most delicious things we had the entire day. Finely chopped beef, watchfully cooked on a this massive round metal plate by the meat master is expertly placed in a beautiful, stretchy piece of bread or lavas, serving as a base to catch all the good meat juice. Add tomatoes and parsley and you’ve got yourself a really tasty snack. Because you’re obviously going to want more than one. The salty ayran yogurt drink pairs well with the tantuni – recommend!
The day would be incomplete without baklava. We stopped by Gaziantepli Bilgeoglu Baklava, a historic little shop that has been open for ages. We met the owner, a sweet man who Katerina described as the epitome of a “Turkish Gentleman”, with good etiquette, a sharp wit and charm. The pastries we liked the most had the buffalo clotted cream between layers of syrupy phyllo and pistachios.
Before the day was over, we had a last chance to make special requests for items that we had wanted to try but hadn’t yet throughout the day. So, we tried lamb’s head soup which was actually quite tasty as well as a fried brain sandwich. To top it off, one last sweet thing – Turkish knafeh with clotted cream.
With more than satisfied stomachs, we were one hundred percent happy with our day. As the tour ended, we had the option of heading back to our meeting point across the Bosphorus. We opted to wander around Moda and the markets we explored that day, already reminiscing about the last few hours of eating. Damn, that was good.