I’ve had the opportunity to undertake walking food tours in numerous places, including Hong Kong and Marrakech. And, although both were fantastic, I’ve never had so many different meals as I did on my recent walking food tour of Istanbul.
I joined Istanbul On Food for a full-day trip, and we walked around 5 kilometers, stopping for food every 400 meters. Today was a major eating day, and I couldn’t be happier! In this piece, I’ll highlight my favorite meals and the ones I found most fascinating, but I won’t be able to go into depth on every item. You’ll have to organize your own tour for that!
The day began with a classic Turkish breakfast, as any walking culinary tour of Istanbul should. I am a huge lover of Turkish breakfast, which consists of a variety of cheeses, honey, olives, fresh bread, and thinly sliced salty local meats. Our breakfast also included a homemade spread that tasted just like Nutella! That was undoubtedly a popular favorite.
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Clotted cream of water buffalo served with local honey and excellent bread was my favorite cheese. I could easily have eaten the full portion. I didn’t inquire, but something tells me it’s healthy: nothing that tastes so nice can’t be.
One of the cheeses we tried was a goat cheese that had been matured in the corpse of a goat for four months! I’m pleased we were informed this after we tasted it; otherwise, I may have skipped it. But it was really rather tasty.
No Turkish meal would be complete without tea, of course. Turkish folks like tea, and it shows! To me, it seemed like the natives were continuously drinking or ordering tea.
When we completed our breakfast and started our tour, we discovered that Istanbul does not have a single Michelin-starred restaurant. This astounded me since I believe Istanbul to be a foodie’s paradise.
As we strolled through Istanbul’s streets, our guide Korhan shared some of the city’s history as well as the rich culture and customs of its inhabitants. For example, I had no idea that many residents prefer to eat solely Turkish cuisine when they travel. This has nothing to do with culinary snobbery, but rather serves as a technique of ensuring food has been cooked in accordance with Halal preparation procedures, which is a requirement of their Muslim religion.
Searching for more things to see and do in town? More amazing ideas may be found on this Istanbul itinerary!
We also discovered that a Muslim would never order a steak rare or medium, but always well done. This is because their faith forbids the use of blood in cuisine. These fascinating facts, in my opinion, are a big advantage of taking a walking tour. You will not only be led to the nicest and most genuine spots in town, but you will also discover stuff you would not have known otherwise.
One of our next destinations was at one of town’s most renowned restaurants for a range of traditional Turkish cuisine. A variety of casseroles, dips, and spreads were given to us. Korhan urged us not to fill up too quickly since we still had a long way to go. I wish I had listened to his advise more carefully.
We learnt more about living in Turkey while we ate, such as the fact that the typical Turk consumes three times their body weight in bread every year. It’s no surprise that I adore this nation!
The next trip was for a food I knew I’d enjoy: the legendary Iskender kebab. But we weren’t enjoying this meal just anyplace; we’d be trying the original from the restaurant that invented it. The Iskender kebab is distinguished by being served open-faced and drizzled with melted butter and yogurt. The thinly sliced meat is prepared from 90% lamb and 10% fat. Delicious, but not for those watching their weight.
We crossed the bridge to the Asian side of the city at this point in the trip. I had expected that the Asian and European sides were vastly different before my first visit, but this was not the case. The two sides are remarkably similar, although the Asian side is less frequented and consequently less touristy.
The world-famous Turkish delight was one of our first destinations in Asia. I don’t generally like the variety offered at home, but I enjoyed the various kinds available at the store we went to today. There were hard candies, marzipan, and more Turkish delight varieties than I could count. My favorites were the rose-petal-covered ones and the pomegranate with double-roasted pistachios.
Korhan shared with us a classic Turkish proverb: eat sweet, converse sweet. As a result, sweets or Turkish treats are often provided during social gatherings.
We had a sandwich made of intestines at the next stop, which is genuinely amazing if you can get your brain around what you’re eating. That may not seem appealing, but the locals adore it, and if I hadn’t been informed what it was beforehand, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it as well.
This sandwich’s taste and ingredients were really rather tasty. Locals will queue up for this speciality!
The next location was one I knew I’d like. We sampled mussels prepared two ways by a street vendor: fried and packed with delicious rice and lemon on top. I eat filled mussels almost every day while I’m in Turkey, so it’s no surprise that I like them. I had never had fried mussels before, and they were delicious. I still like the filled midye dolma.
Another advantage of taking an organized trip rather than going on your own is that excellent guides not only know when the ideal time to eat mussels is, but also which vendors are the most sanitary.
With so many stops, we were destined to come across one I didn’t like, and the pickle store was it. I tried everything they had just to be sure, but pickles (along with beets, olives, and fennel) are among the few foods I dislike. Everyone who enjoyed pickles agreed that this store had some of the greatest they had ever eaten.
Speaking of olives, our next visit was a street seller who sold a variety of local kinds. If you loved olives, you would have been in heaven. Even though I know I don’t like them, I constantly try them to see if I can prove myself wrong. And, although I won’t say I entirely altered my view, I did discover one olive that I didn’t despise—a citrus type that tasted like lemons. It was a little sour and less harsh and salty. This is a start.
Our next stop was for baklava and Turkish coffee, which no walking tour in Turkey would be complete without. The baklava was flaky, sweet, and layered, with chopped pistachios sprinkled on top. This was an excellent rendition of the traditional meal.
If you’ve never drank Turkish coffee before, it may take some getting used to. Turkish coffee seems to be a technique of preparation rather than a sort of coffee. Moreover, the beans are not even from Turkey! The technique of preparation includes simmering, rather than boiling, finely ground coffee with water and optional sugar.
The mixture is simmered over charcoal in the traditional technique. Before drinking, the coffee grounds are allowed to settle in the cup. There is an art to drinking coffee and knowing when to stop sipping so that you don’t swallow part of the coffee grounds. I discovered that I still have a long way to go before mastering this craft! The harsh coffee went well with the overly sweet baklava.
The next destination was lahmacun and sour cherry juice. Lahmacun is a sort of flatbread that might be compared to pizza (but not without insulting a native!). While lahmacuntoppings may vary, one feature that distinguishes it from pizza is that the pie lacks a sauce. It is often made with minced beef, garnished with parsley and fresh lemon, and is so thin that it is frequently eaten rolled up like a burrito.
We were given a lovely somewhat sweet and more than slightly acidic cherry juice with the lahmacun. Turkey seems to be the world’s greatest producer of sour cherries.
Following up was something I enjoyed and was told you could learn to like if you spent enough time in Turkey. The tantuni, which I adored, reminded me of a fried Mexican soft taco.
The drink given with it was something I hadn’t tasted before, but if it’s an acquired taste (as many say), I haven’t acquired it yet. Ayran is a cold salty yogurt drink that is the second most popular drink in Turkey, behind tea. Maybe I simply need more exposure, since people genuinely like my drink.
The trip ended on a(nother) sweet note, but this one had a twist and was one of the most fascinating meals Ive ever eaten on a walking tour. We enjoyed Turkish ice cream with chicken pudding, another classic Turkish treat. You read it correctly: chicken pudding.
First, there’s the Turkish ice cream. If you’ve never had it, it’s unlike any other ice cream you’ve ever eaten. It melts more slowly and is stickier, almost stretchy in texture. These characteristics are caused by the resin of a gum tree that only grows on one Greek island. The ice cream is made from goat’s milk.
There are numerous locations that provide a genuine rendition of the meal, which is why it pays to work with a firm like Istanbul On Food. We were offered numerous variations on the traditional dish.
Together with the Turkish ice cream, we had the chicken pudding, which was a first for me. I like chicken and I adore pudding, so I wasn’t as afraid of this meal as others, but I was intrigued.
This meal is a Roman cuisine that has been around for at least 1500 years. This meal is made with rice flour, milk, sugar, and finely shredded white chicken flesh. When you test the meal, you won’t notice any chicken at all. The dish is not extremely sweet, but rather creamy or milky. The texture is thicker than pudding. That was really rather tasty, and I will certainly make it again.
As I write this piece a week later, I appreciate this trip not just for the vast array of meals we sampled (I’m still full), but also for how much I learned about Turkey and its people. This was more than simply a walking culinary tour of Istanbul; it was also an opportunity to learn more about one of my favorite cities on the planet.
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Disclaimer: Although I was a guest of Istanbul On Food, all thoughts are my own.