They say variety is the spice of life and if you ever find yourself travelling through Istanbul, one will truly appreciate that very sentiment while exploring the amazing cuisine. In fact it’s a given, that if you visit Istanbul you can’t leave without doing a food tour. Food is the heart and soul of this country and to miss out on a food tour will have you missing out on a deeply cultural facet of Turkey. This brings me to Turkish Flavours, a food tour company that has captured the heart and soul of the food journey market through Turkey.
I was invited to experience the real side of Turkey, through the Turkish Flavours food tour, getting to know a country through it’s incredible food. Turkish flavours is a local company founded by Selin Rozanes, who is an expert in the culinary field and a travel specialist. Turkish Flavours offers the traveller a variety of tours that goes far beyond a simple walking food tour. This is what sets Turkish Flavours apart from any other tour groups operating in Istanbul. Selin opens her home for cooking classes, personally guided gourmet food walks, wine tasting, sailing food tours and you can even tailor you own experience to suit your needs. There is no aspect of food left uncovered by Turkish Flavours, even offering food experiences to corporate groups and meetings.
I was invited as a guest to experience the gourmet walking food tour in Istanbul. Below is a recount of my fabulous experience getting to know Istanbul through food. Not only did I receive an education on cuisine but I was able to learn what Turkish life is like for both a modern day era and over hundreds of years ago during the Ottoman rule. The family traditions, history and story telling in-between made for a well rounded journey.
The Gourmet Food Walking Tour begins with meeting your guide at 9.20 a.m out the front of the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and will conclude around 2.30 p.m on the Asian side of Istanbul. For this tour my local guide was a lovely lady called Taciser whom I found to be a warm and friendly person. With introductions and the general outline of the tour discussed, we were ready to start this exciting food journey through Istanbul. This is a full comprehensive tour and my one bit of advice is don’t go with a full tummy. Keep your breakfast light, as you will be taste testing throughout the day and of course lunch on top of the tastings.
Our first food destination of the day was to stop by a couple of shops selling meats and cheese. At this particular part of the tour we discussed and tasted different breakfast items that would be typically served in a Turkish household. I was able to try some beyaz peynire which is a white cheese similar to fetta and the pastirma which is a highly seasoned cured beef, both of which are staples of a Turkish breakfast.
We then moved on to looking at all the different types of food that is typically on the Turkish menu. Taciser pointed out different pastes, dried vegetables and took me through how she would prepare a meal with a particular paste or spice. Taciser offers a real insight into the culture of Turkey through it’s food, which she cleverly interlaces with interesting stories and it’s history.
With myself being a Westerner, it was quite fascinating to see food that I have never encountered before. One such item was the Ceviz Sucuk (pictured above). It reminded me of the sticky sap of a tree but Taciser informed that it was what they call a ‘dry or walnut sausage’. The one pictured above actually contained walnuts dipped into a sticky substance that had been drying for around 5-6 days.
On the tour you will meet many of the friendly market vendors, which make this tour really personal. Many of which are highly engaging and will be excited to show you what they are making. There are no high pressure sales here either, it’s all just friendly banter, which I felt made this tour authentic.
The next place we dropped by we were greeted with a smile from this lovely lady behind the counter. This shop was dedicated to making borek. Borek is a baked pastry that can be filled with a variety of ingredients. The most common being fetta cheese, parsley and oil added between the layers of pastry and then baked. Borek is another traditional dish that originated in Turkey during the early Ottoman empire.
This was one of my favourite stops, mainly because the gentleman here was so friendly and you could see he was proud of his work. Here we watched the art of pide making by hand. Pide is made with simple ingredients of flour, yeast, sugar and water and can be made with different types of fillings. There’s nothing like tasting freshly made pide straight from the oven.
Next it was time to have something to drink and we stopped at this fresh juice place. If you ever get the chance to visit Istanbul, then please try the pomegranate juice when it is in season, they are famous for it. We also tasted the cherries which were absolutely delicious and enormous as you can see from the picture above.
Baklava is a delicious sweet that is made from layers of filo (also known as phyllo) pastry and held together with honey and syrup. The filling is usually walnuts, pistachio nuts or a combination of both. Dolama is made with a single layer of filo pastry and filled with pistachio nuts which give the dolama a distinct green colour.
There are different varieties of baklava, where some are made with milk instead of the sweet honey syrup.
Throughout the Egyptian spice market you can find some delectable sweets. None so more than the lokum, which you will know in English as Turkish delight. I know for myself living in Australia, that I’m used to seeing the basic type of Turkish delight which is mainly a gel of starch and sugar and flavoured with rosewater. Come to Istanbul and you will discover that there are many varieties of Turkish delight. The traditional Turkish delight is made with honey instead of sugar and whilst in the spice market you can find these varieties made the traditional way at certain vendors. Try out some Turkish delight filled with pistachio nuts or almonds or incased with dried rose petals or chocolate rice crisps …. there are many takes on this delightful treat.
Now this will test your spice knowledge with the ultimate taste test experience. This part of the tour puts you at centre stage of sampling and rating the spices you get to taste. I found this a fun and informative way to learn about spices and how they are used in Turkish dishes.
Ucuzcular has a long history with the spice trade having it’s beginnings over 400 years ago during the rule of the Ottoman empire. This shop at no. 51 in the Egyptian spice market has been within the same family since its conception hundreds of years ago, although not always located at this market.
Once you have completed the the taste test, you can have the option to by some spices. Turkey is known for it’s exotic spices so if you are a foodie, home cook, chef, it would be a crime to leave without buying some spices. Any item that is purchased in this shop is vacuum sealed for protection in your luggage. As I’m from Australia and we have the strictest quarantine rules in the world, I can safely say that as long as what you have purchased is dry roasted you will be able to bring it into Australia without declaring. Although if you are ever in doubt on an item then you must always declare at customs.
The humble Turkish tea, which you will be offered whilst tasting the spices at Ucuzcular. Many ponderings, decisions and social banter are had over a cup of Turkish tea. In fact it’s more likely to be many cups of tea as this beverage is not only a social drink but a ritualistic part of business, with as many cups of tea as it takes to make a decision.
A short stroll around the Asian market, a look at different types of wares, a chat with the local vendors and it’s time to head to the restaurant for lunch.
This man pictured above was so sweet, he loved posing for my photos and even when there was a little english exchanged with some of the local vendors, the interaction was just as warm and expressive.
Once the markets on both sides of the Bosphorus have been explored, it’s time to sit down to lunch at a traditional Turkish restaurant called Ciya. Ciya is located in Kadikoy on the Asian side of the city and is a well respected restaurant for delivering authentic Turkish dishes. Ciya’s menu is created around forgotten dishes, lost tastes of ancient cultures and brings them to life again.
Here we are watching the bakers at Ciya making our pide to take to our table. It takes around 60 seconds to cook and comes out a bit like a football. At that moment the owner was close by and we got to say hello and chatted about my visit to Istanbul. Once he found out I was from Australia, we chatted about the multicultural city of Melbourne, which he had visited and loved.
Here’s our pide cooked for us ready to take to our table.
We chose to sit outside, and I gave Taciser a free reign on choosing a selection of dishes for me to try. I was already feeling quite full from all the samples but I was ready to taste all these foods ready to come out. The photos here are an example of what I had, it was more than filling for myself but you are able to choose other items on the menu if you so desire.
This is a Turkish Pizza or Lahmacun. It’s full of spices and ground beef – a very tasty dish indeed!
The delicious Lentil Soup we were served.
Dessert was a candied pumpkin with pistachio ice-cream, now this was very different to the desserts I’m used to but it was oh so delicious! We finished off with some Turkish Tea, some great conversation and by the end of the day I felt like I had made a new friend.
A walk back through the market and it was time to board the ferry back to the original starting point, which concluded the tour.
This tour without a doubt was the highlight of my visit to Istanbul. Not only did I get to learn about a culture through it’s food but I also learnt about many other aspects of Turkish life, it’s traditions, history and about important landmarks in Istanbul. This tour is only one of many types of tours offered by Turkish Flavours which can be found by clicking on the link here: Turkish Flavours.
Common Turkish Foods to try
1. Sarma (Grape leaves stuffed with rice & spices often called Dolma as well)
2. Dolma (Peppers stuffed with mince meat, rice & spices)
3. Lokum (Turkish Delight)
4. Baklava (A sweetened pastry dessert)
5. Ceviz Sucuk (Spicy Sausage)
6. Pastirma (highly seasoned cured meat – beef)
7. Borek (Baked filled pastry)
8. Simit (Turkish circular bread)
9. Pogaca (Type of bread similar to foccacia)
10. Pide (Flat Bread)
11. Kasarli (Cheese)
Book a Food Tour Here
To book a food tour with Turkish Flavours head to the website for tour types by clicking here Turkish Flavours Website
Tele: +90 532 297 30 67
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Travel Drink Dine was welcomed as a guest of Turkish Flavours and as always, my opinion is my own.