Istanbul, 13million plus people, situated on two continents and straddling the Bosphorus between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. So much history, culture and diversity. It was cold and wet and dark, but that still couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for exploring this amazing city.
As always, whenever and wherever I travel I prefer to be immersed in the lives of the locals…using public transportation, finding local eateries and markets and sampling whatever my destination has to offer. One of the best ways to accomplish that goal while visiting Istanbul was taking culinary walking tours with a company called Istanbul Eats. (www.istanbuleats.com) Their walking tours take you through some of the out of the way backstreets of the city as you “graze” your way through the various neighborhoods eating one delicacy after another.
Actually the tours are about so much more than food as they offer you the opportunity to learn about the history of the neighborhoods you are touring while sampling local cuisine at places you might not ever consider stopping on your own…many times because you might not even know what it is that you would need to ask for. While you can always find someone who speaks English, its important to know that most Turks don’t.
The Turkish language is difficult to read and even more difficult to pronounce so it can be intimidating to stop and order something that you might not even recognize. However, that would be a lost opportunity because the food is spectacular.
Angelis, originally from Greece, was the guide for both of my tours. He shared the historic/geographic influences on the foods we were eating and places we visited with knowledge, energy and enthusiasm . I took two tours, “Culinary Secrets of the Old City” and “Cosmopolitan Beyoglu”. Tours start around 9am and lasted till 3pm so we had the opportunity to eat from breakfast through lunch…exactly my kind of day!
While Turkish coffee is famous, it is tea that is the drink of choice for breakfast and throughout the day. One of my favorite sights was watching vendors carrying trays of tea in lovely glass cups to their clients. Reminded me of the “cafe con leche” that I so loved in Buenos Aires where very dapper waiters would deliver my coffee in a porcelain cup and on a tray to my office! The concept of drinking coffee or tea, on the go from a styrofoam cup is a very foreign concept in so many places outside the USA.
Turkish food is influenced by the Ottoman cuisine that seems to have fused flavors from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkan countries. The variety of food and flavors was amazing and never boring.
Breakfast includes local cheeses, olives, and the most decadent clotted cream and honey that we put on bread or a simit (a bagel like bread you can buy from the street vendors). Check out this NY Times article published while I was in Turkey…Simit arrives in the Big Apple!
Street vendors sell the most amazing foods, and there were so many favorites it is hard to choose just one, but these top my list…Pide, a pizza like dough, cooked in a pizza oven topped with different types of beef and a mixture of spices, tomato and pepper, lamb sweetbreads served on bread..yummy, and fresh anchovies, deboned and lightly fried, nothing like the tiny, salty fillets from a tin!
Thank you Angelis and Istanbul Eats. I had a fabulous culinary adventure in Istanbul. I could write on forever and ever about the tours and the food but as they say, a picture paints a thousand words…Enjoy! (Click on the small photos to see as a slideshow)