I know it sounds unreal but yes, we did taste Turkish food across two continents, from European side Turkey, Karaköy, to Asian side Kadiköy – all in one day!
While walking over the Galata bridge in Istanbul early on a Saturday morning to meet with our foodie guide for a day long walking food tour, we saw fisherman around everywhere. Some were fishing, others were selling fishing tackle, others were selling bait but all were interacting with one another, bragging about the catch of the day or lamenting about the one that got away.
We began our walking food tour in the back streets of Karaköy. A truly international group set out on a much anticipated experience, there were, Americans, Filipinos, Germans, South Africans and Turks all eager to taste the food and walk the streets of Istanbul. We started off in the historic Perșembe Pazari. My first impressions of the area were a bit doubtful. It looked like a hardware district with tools, appliances, ship anchors, paint supplies etc, not like the starting point of a food tour.
Met by our very friendly, enthusiastic and food loving guide, Esin, we were on our way.
We started by strolling through the fish market of Karaköy, where the fresh fish had just arrived and was being unpacked into very impressive displays.
The excitement and friendly attitude of the fish mongers gave us a feeling of belonging.
They were washing fish, singing, haggling and proudly exhibiting their fish of the day. One of the fish species that was being displayed had rose like flowers on the sides of their heads. This turned out to be the gills that are turned out to show potential clients how fresh the fish is. If the gills are bright red the fish is fresh if not … Well you know!
On our way to the historic Perșembe Pazari of Karaköy, we had breakfast at the lovely little Esnaf Lokantasi and tea at an Ottoman-era caravanserai.
This caravanserai (which used to be an inn for travelers), known as Kurșunluhan, is probably the best hidden work by the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. It was built in 1544, and this beautiful piece of architecture is hidden behind an anonymous door in the un-touristy side of Karaköy.
We had our tea in an open sky courtyard. The courtyard has a beautiful grape vine that dates back to Ottoman times when the place was full of life and many caravaners passing through.
Our guide set the table with newspaper and out came the simit, (sesame-encrusted bread rings), Pastırma (a highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef), cheeses and olives and of course the traditional Turkish tea. We had a feast and our Turkish foodie tour started with lots of laughter, history and the guides love for her country.
Our next stop was Hasan fehmi özsüt, a restaurant that opened its doors in 1915 and is currently run by the 3rd and 4th generation of the original family. We had water buffalo cream known in Turkey as Bahl Kaymak and honey with fresh bread at this family run business. It was very busy and despite the fact that the guys were running around to serve everybody the smiles never left their faces and they greeted everyone coming into their restaurant.
The water buffalo cream and honey was to die for.
After this indulging treat we hopped onto a ferry to Kadiköy on the Asian side.
During the ferry crossing Esin shared information about three Mosques and their history before we hit the streets of Kadikoy and ate our way through the neighborhood markets and food outlets.
This area has the highest number of food shops and eateries in the City so we were in for a real challenge.
Walking through the market in Kadiköy we saw dried eggplants; colorfully displayed at food stores and hanging in almost every stall.
What a lovely conversation piece.
Have you ever tried stuffed dried eggplants or peppers in Turkey? (kuru patlican ve biber dolmasi)
This is a real treat if you can get hold of them. For a filled dried eggplant recipe please click here
On through the market we went. We stopped at a fruit vendor and Esin showed us Turkish figs. Something we did not know, that is, if you rub two fig halves together you bring out the sugars and then you have a beautiful sweet fig.
We moved on to taste the Aegean-style meze with sardines. This was a personal favorite.
I loved all the little mezes and then of course the deep fried sardines. Sardines are very popular in local Turkish cuisine, especially during the early autumn when they’re in high season.
Some of the best Turkish sardines are harvested near Gallipoli, where the Aegean and Marmara Seas meet.
And the tour continues, next up the famous Tantuni.
Tantuni is a Turkish Style beef wrap which is actually a street food that originated on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. It is extremely good with Turkish pickles and Ayran. (Ayran is mainly a mixture of yogurt, cold water and salt, but there are some variations.) The white frothy drink was indeed a treat.
This was not the end yet!
We were heading for flatbread heaven, Lahmacun
(Turkish ‘Lahmacun‘ Authentic ‘lahmacun‘ is very thin and crispy bread dough with minced meat, its eaten piping hot with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprigs of Italian parsley.)
For those staying out partying and drinking there is a street food that does wanders for hangover blues.
It is called Ceyrek Kokorec (basically lamb intestines, wrapped around lamb sweetbreads and placed on skewers. These are then grilled horizontally over a charcoal fire and served diced on crispy bread.)
It’s tasty, crispy and the spices are incredible. While they may not look great, they are a real awakening taste sensation on your tongue.
Walking on through the lesser-explored culinary hotspots, we passed a record store selling vinyl long playing records from days gone by. Queen’s ‘A Night at The Opera’ was prominently displayed near the door and caught my husband’s eye immediately. The atmosphere of the neighborhood is vibrant with people enjoying life and having fun – eating and drinking and making memories similar to ours.
We then made our way to our last stop of the day to indulge in a sweet desert called Künefe
Künefe’ is a crispy, cheese-filled dessert made with ‘kadayıf’ (kah-dah-YUF a pre baked dough shredded’). It’s served hot out of the oven making the cheese soft and stringy.
‘Künefe’ is cooked and served in a very shallow, round metal pan that is specially designed for making this special dessert. It’s so delicious that Turkish people and tourists alike are hooked and will continue to enjoy this delectable dish.
Our wonderful two day trip to Istanbul came to an end on a high note with this fabulous food tour! We were off to Hamburg the next day. More about our Germany and Netherlands experiences next time.