Istanbul Food Tour

Retirement changes how one travels. Not only does one travel more casually and leisurely, priorities change as well. Prior to retirement, our vacations would center around must see sights. A trip to Turkey would have meant hitting Sophia Hagia and the Blue Mosque on day one. Now with ample time on our hands, the urgency is no longer there. Instead, we want to learn more about the host country’s culture, and what better way to learn about Turkish culture than to eat their food.

Well, that’s the half truth (and sounds way more sophisticated). The reality is we love to eat. Who doesn’t? Joe’s a foodie, and I’m just constantly hungry.

So food tour ahead of museums!

We started the day by meeting up with our guide, Senem, from Culinary Backstreet. Senem is quite impressive in that she speaks 6 languages (Turkish, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French), has lived in 5 different countries, and a wonderful source of information about Turkish culture.

One of the interesting tidbits we learned about Turks is that they love their cuisine and rarely stray from it (kind of like my mom and mother-in-law, who only want Chinese food while on vacation, and we joke that we can’t bring them anywhere). “TexMex”, Korean tacos, or any other experimental food combinations would simply not take off in this country like it does in the US. Obviously this has its pros and cons. Pro would be that Turks are able to pass down their traditional foods intact without any adulteration. Con would be that life gets a little boring, but that’s just my personal opinion. Joe and I would never be able to eat, for example, Japanese Ramen day after day no matter how yummy it is and how much we love it. Variation is truly the spice of life.

Our first stop was a little hole in the wall çay (tea) shop in the Karaköy area.

The delivery trays hanging from the wall on the right

These shops are everywhere, and you see men making deliveries of tea on a tray throughout the day. Patrons usually pay ahead of time for the week or month, and get credits in the form of little tokens which they use to pay once the tea is delivered.

A jar of tokens
We started our day with a small glass of black tea with Simit and clotted buffalo milk with honey. This was actually our favorite out of everything we had.
A more elaborate breakfast spread of menemen, olives, honey, and rose petal jam at a second location
Oregano soaked in salt and olive oil

At this point I was getting full and thought “how am I going to be able to eat anything else?”

That may explain why I couldn’t truly appreciate the baklava that followed.

Forty layers of phyllo dough with pistachio or walnut fillings
The savory version of phyllo pastry with minced meat (börek) reminded us of Jamaican patties, which we love. This was our second favorite of the tour.

We got a reprieve from eating after this as we had to catch the 20-minute ferry ride across the Bosphorus strait to reach the Asian side of Istanbul. This is when I learned that now is migration season for Black Sea dolphins from the Black Sea to the warmer Aegean Sea, which explains yesterday’s unusual sighting.

Luckily, the next stop right off the ferry was just for Turkish coffee. No food.

Since 1923
Drink water first to cleanse the palate and then drink the coffee. Interestingly, the coffee is consumed alone. I would have paired it with the baklava. But that’s not how the Turks drink it.

Turkish coffee is prepared by mixing the fine grounds with hot water, and allowed to sit for the grounds to settle to the bottom. There is no French press involved, like how I normally prepare my morning joe. Why do the Turks like their grounds in the coffee? Texture. I guess to them drinking coffee without the fine grounds is like drinking water. I can see that.

Up next, the nut and dried fruit store. Turkey is know for their nuts especially pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts.

If you’ve ever had a handful of nuts for snacks you’ll know how filling they can be.

I’m usually not a dried fruit person, but Turkish dried apricots and figs are tasty because they don’t add any of the artificial ingredients that the US does.

Something we’ve never even heard of – jujube, which belongs to the date family
The inside is furry, and it’s hard to describe the texture, but someone described it akin to eating his couch.

I enjoyed walking through the market as it was a welcome visual stimulation after all that gustatory stimulation.

Dried red bell peppers and tiny okra
A variety of olives. The pink ones are marinated in beet juice to give it its vibrant color.
Grape leaves
Colorful produce. Turkey grows all its fruits and vegetables.
Fish mongers flip the gills inside out to prove that the fish are fresh
This is actually a type of seaweed found in the Aegean Sea

Unfortunately, it was time to sit down to eat again.

Luckily, Lahmacun is a very thin slice of yeast-free dough topped with mincemeat. This is not Turkish pizza by the way.
Our last stop was Tantuni, which is like a beef burrito.
The Turkish rendition of the famous umbrella street in Águeda, Portugal

Actually, we were scheduled for another stop for sheep tongue soup, but we had to say no because we just couldn’t eat anymore.

At the end of the tour, Senem gave us this little parting gift. Looks like we’ll be leading ourselves on a walking food tour for the duration of our stay in Istanbul.

Here’s my favorite shot of the day – Istanbul’s Sophisticated Cats…

Passed out for siesta after a drink and smoke

2 thoughts on “Istanbul Food Tour

  1. What do you mean you never heard if jujube before?! Chinese people use it all the time! We put it in soups too! Tell Joe “hung jo”


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