What do you do when you arrive in a city? Some people like to take a walking tour or the hop on-hop off red bus while others just like to walk the streets and see what they find themselves.
Me…I like to take a food tour!  There’s nothing better than being shown the secrets of a neighbourhood, a glimpse into the local way of life.
In Istanbul, Istanbul Eats offers four different walking tours all over the city. My timing was perfect to sign up for their culinary walk through and the surrounding areas. Tours last approximately six hours and with nine stops to taste the local dishes, I knew this would be a fabulous day
I met our Istanbul Eats tour guide, Jennifer and two other participants at a small local restaurant in the heart of Cihangir.
Our first stop was at Özkonak, the local pudding shop….for breakfast. The name of the shop means authentic food palace (Oz =authentic and Konak= mansion or food palace) and this shop loved up to its name.
My favourite turkish breakfast is menemen, a dish of eggs, tomatoes and peppers rather similar to scramble eggs that is served in a hot pan. Here the dish was every bit as good as I remembered.
Menemen at Özkonak,in Istanbul
Cay (tea) served with fresh bread, sweet strawberry jam and delicious kaymak followed. Jennifer was great with her explanations, describing how kaymak is turkish cream, very similar to clotted cream and is made from the cows milk cream and sometimes from water buffalo. It can even be a mixture of both! We also learnt that if you can’t hold the top of the tulip shaped glass that the tea is always served in, then it is too hot to drink!
Cay, bread and kaymank in Istanbul
As I mentioned Özkonak is best known for their desserts. The Kadiyf was just coming out of the oven.
Kadiyf is the name of the bird’s nest string pastry dough as well as the dessert that is made from it. Crushed pistachios or walnuts cover a layer of pastry. Another layer of pastry is placed over this, melted butter poured over and it is baked in the oven. Once it is out of the oven a sugar syrup is poured over…It is absolutely delicious and not at all fattening!
Keskül, an almond based custard dessert topped with crushed almonds looked delicious too but it was the famed ‘bottom of the cauldron’ milk pudding Kozandibi that we took with us to try at a later time.
Desserts from Özkonak in Istanbul
Wandering through the backstreets of Cihangir was a pleasure especially having Jennifer to show us the way. Antique shops stand side by side with wonderfully displayed fruit and vegetable shops. We even passed a horse and cart going round from house to house.
Scenes from Cihangir, istanbul
Streets of Beyoglu, Istanbul
After stopping at Datli Maya for the best pistachio biscuits in Istanbul and then at Asri Turşucu for a taste of the many different pickles that can be found in a local pickle shop, we found ourselves on Beyoglu’s main street, the long Istiklal Cadessi.
We were heading to Hayvore, a cafe specialising in food of the Black Sea. Dishes were being laid out ready for the lunch time rush. Home style food..stews, soups, beans, green vegetables and a fabulous looking hamsi (anchovy) pilaf look tempting but as we are only half way through the tour, we try the their delicious karalahana corbasi or kale soup.
Hamsi pilaf from Hayvore in Istanbul
Dishes from Hayvore in Istanbul
Crossing back to the other side of Istiklal Cadessi, we headed to Balik Pazir, the fish market. I had been here on previous trips but this time it was different with Jennifer stopping at her favourite places and and explaining things that I had previously been missed.
Balik Pasir, Istanbul
Hayvore was our intoduction to hamsi, the small anchovy like fish from the black sea that start arriving in the markets in autumn. Hamsi were everywhere in the market. Bowls of these small shiny fish waiting to be taken home and turned into a delicious dish.
Fresh hamsi from the market in Istanbul
We stopped at Vera Kuzu, a fish stand in Balik Pazir where fresh hamsi were deep fried and served hot with just a squeeze of lemon. Fried levek (sea bass) were also done the same way.
Husan, the usta (master) has been doing this since 1960. He was so cute, wanting to go and change his jacket before I took his photo!
Husan from Vera Kuzu in Istanbul
Dürümzade, is a small kebab shop that I would never had found or probably have not gone into if it wasn’t for this tour. Home of the the best adana durum I have had, we are told the secret is in the lavas or flatbread. Here it has been rubbed with a mix of pepper and spices which adds that little extra to the filling of chicken, minced beef or as we had, a mixture of minced lamb and beef. Popped on the charcoal grill then topped with onions, tomato and parsely and rolled and popped back on the grill, it is hungrily devoured. Turkey’s delicious sweet yoghurt drink, ayran was the perfect accompaniment.
This will be my first stop when I return later in the year!
Adana Duram kebab, Istanbul
The best Adana Durum, istanbul
Our next stop was a local convenience store in the market. Who would have thought that this would be a food stop. A stand outside the store was selling ciğ köfte, a raw ‘meat’ patty made not of meat but of bulgur, lentils, walnuts and spices. You can eat them wrapped in bread but we had ours in a lettuce leaf.
Selling cig cofte at the market in Istanbul
Market scenes, Istanbul
Sakarya Tatlicsi has been in business of making sweets for 50 years and here you will taste some of the best.
I hadn’t realised how lucky I was to be in Istanbul in autumn. Not only is it hamsi season but it is the time quinces make their annual appearance.  Ayva Tatlisi or quince dessert is not to be missed. The quinces are baked until they are soft and coated in a thick reddish glaze. Served with kaymak, this is incredibly delicious. They also make baklavas of every flavour…. We chose a selection and savoured every mouthful of each of them.
Desserts from Sakarya Tatlicsi in Istanbul
It was then coffee time!  In a quiet alley off Istiklal Cadessi, Jennifer introduced us to Mandabatmaz. In this tiny shop you will enjoy one of the best coffees in town. Don’t forget to tell Cemil Pilik, the owner if you would like sugar before he makes your coffee. The coffee and sugar are mixed together, water is added from the large silver samovar in the corner and then it is boiled on the small two burner range ..thick, black, unfiltered coffee..”coffee so thick a water a buffalo wouldn’t sink in it”….hence the name of the shop…manda means water buffalo and batmaz means doesn’t sink.
Mandabatmaz Coffee in Istanbul
I was thinking that goodbyes were in order but there was one more stop to make . Sahin Lokantasi is a tradesman’s restaurant (esnaf lokanta) where you can go for a cheap and hearty meal. Believe it or not we managed to try hakuru fasulye (stewed white beans), taze kasulye (stewed geeen beans) and my favourite, karniyarik (stuffed eggplant).
No dinner tonight!
Where have you taken a food tour that you enjoyed?
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This was not a complimentary tour. I enjoyed it so much that I just wanted to let you all know about it!!