I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Istanbul. However, I’m devastated that I have to go home tomorrow. Like, more upset than is normal for the feeling you get prior to ending vacation. Like, verging on–no, not even verging on, because I’m already there–a deep depression. I realize how lame and melodramatic I sound, but that’s how I feel. I’ve written a whole other blog post about it but will wait to hit “Publish” in case I come to my senses beforehand. 😅
However, for the sake of continuity, AND because I had (another) genuinely awesome day and would love to share it with you, I will suck it up and act chipper for the duration of this blog post so I can tell you about my FOOD TOUR OF EPIC PROPORTIONS.
First of all, HUGE shout-out to Culinary Backstreets, the company who puts on this (and many other) food tour walks. If anyone is interested in checking them out, their website is here. (I did the “Two Markets, Two Continents” walk.) It’s been almost three hours since the tour ended and I’m stuffed fuller than I ever thought possible. We made at least a dozen stops in both Europe and Asia, and I don’t even want to know how many calories I consumed because I don’t care. Below are some of the things I ate, but I didn’t even get photos of everything!
We began on the European side in Karakoy neighborhood, which is next to Galata Tower which I wrote about on Day Four’s post. Our guide, Gonca, started us off with some simit bread–the Istanbul “commuter breakfast,” of course!
We went into a 16th-century marketplace which was built upon the foundations of a Byzantine-era church, and Gonca had us sit and eat as if we were traders in the Ottoman era. Nowadays, it is still filled with merchants, all of them practicing a trade just as their fathers had before them, and their fathers before them, all the way back to antiquity. LOOK AT THAT FLOOR. IT’S THE ORIGINAL FLOOR OF THE CHURCH. Wonder why it’s so shiny and smooth? BECAUSE CENTURIES OF MERCHANTS HAVE WALKED ON IT. I will never get over that aspect of this city. I just want to grab people by their collars and shout, “Look at this friggin’ building!!! Do you know how old it is?! Do you have any idea what used to happened here?!” But I don’t imagine they would appreciate that.
We ate breakfast (or what we in the States would consider to be “brunch”) at a restaurant owned by an Armenian-Turkish family tucked away on the same mercantile street. They served a variety of cheeses, veggies, breads, and jams to us. There was also a dish called menemen, which is a delicious mixture of eggs, peppers, and tomatoes. However, the best thing by far was the kaymak, or “water buffalo clotted cream.” (At the very top of my plate, covered in honey.) It sounds disgusting, but the best way I can describe it is a softer, creamier version of cream cheese. It is absolutely decadent!
Next we picked up some baklava. There were entire rolls of kaymak in the store too. 🤤
In the same neighborhood, we stopped by a beautiful deli laden with meats, cheeses, jams, pickled vegetables, and olives.
After finishing with the European side, we crossed to Asia on the ferry. All week I have been telling Turkish people that I’m going to Kadikoy for a food tour, and their eyes lit up with excitement. It obviously has the reputation of being the best district for eating here in Istanbul.
We tried meze (tapas) first, some of which I liked and some I didn’t. That white stuff with the peppers in the middle was INCREDIBLY spicy! The red stuff next to it was spicy too, but not overwhelmingly so, and was probably my second favorite bite behind the kaymak. Gonca recommended that I mix it with the greenish-white stuff on the top left to make it nice and creamy on top of my bread, and it was divine.
We went to Gonca’s “Olive Guy” next. I absolutely hate olives due to traumatic experiences I had with my host family in Peace Corps, but I could not say no to this little man. I actually found an olive that I liked! They are from Ismir, which is on the Aegean coast of Turkey.
The Olive Guy seemed to take a liking to me for some reason and kept trying to take my hat off. (Maybe he’s a Caps fan? LOL) We took a photo together, and then he gave me hugs and cheek kisses, which is my favorite Mediterranean greeting. Gonca was quick to explain that this behavior was “not harassment,” but she doesn’t know that I am used to these kinds of greetings from living in Ottoman-occupied Albania.
The remainder of the afternoon we spent tasting specialty dried fruits, nuts, and produce in the “Fish Market” of Kadikoy, visiting a coffeehouse where Gonca explained how to make Turkish coffee and the traditions surrounding it (again, something I’m all too familiar with), we visited a street donut vendor, then stopped by a shop that makes exclusively creative recipes of menemen.
Members of the Turkish army (obligatory service of one year for all males) come to the menemen restaurant as dictated by tradition, and the soldiers write notes and paste them on the walls here.
Later on we had lahmajoun and pide, both variations of Turkish pizzas at a Kurdish family’s restaurant, with the former having meat and the latter only cheese. You eat the lahmajoun by sprinkling it with lemon juice and parsley, then rolling it up into a little tube. UHHH, YUM!
We finished up the day by trying kokorec, which is lamb intestines wrapped around animal fat and entrails stuffed inside. Yyyyeah…it was not my favorite, I have to admit.
Finally, we ended with dessert, including coconut-and-lemon ice cream (dondurma).
I keep trekking around Istanbul thinking that I’ve found the most beautiful neighborhood, but then I quickly discover that I’m wrong, and there’s an even more beautiful part of the city in store for me!
I am DEFINITELY COMING BACK TO TURKEY. Normally I’m opposed to visiting the same place more than once because of limited funds and vacation time, but there is so much to see here and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. Talking to Gonca and other travelers in my group helped me realize that I need to make a second trip, preferably sometime soon.
At least, that’s what I’m telling myself in order to be able to get on that plane tomorrow.