We spent almost an entire day with Culinary Backstreets (referred to as Istanbul Eats when we booked) doing a local food tour – Two Markets, Two Continents. During my research on the city, I came across this Istanbul walking tour for local cuisine and booked it online. This was on the second leg of the stay in Istanbul – part of our 10-day trip to Turkey. We went to some really small eateries that gave us an authentic feel of the city, its people, local areas and markets.
If you want to try local Turkish cuisine in hole-in-the-wall joints in Istanbul, then this is the food tour for you.
We spent about 6 days in Istanbul – 3 days in Sultanahmet to be near the top attractions and another 3 in Besiktas to get a feel of the modern side of the city. The tour started at 9 am in Karakoy market on the European side, we then crossed the Bosphorus and stayed at the Asian side until 5 pm. The food walk was to officially end at 3 pm but our guide allowed us several detours, slowed the pace to suit the group needs and was in no rush. We had our 2-year old baby and some of her paraphernalia with us, so the no-rush-approach really helped us enjoy the day.
Start your day with a delightful egg dish
We met our guide for the day and other members of the group food tour at a neighbourhood in Karaköy. For breakfast, we had the best menemen (traditional Turkish dish which includes eggs, tomato, green peppers, and spices) and cheese pastry that I had in Turkey. We walked around this historic area – Perşembe Pazarı of Karaköy – to get a feel for it. Our next stop was at an Ottoman-era caravanserai for some delicious Turkish tea.
We then crossed the Bosphorus to go to Kadıköy on the Asian side. The guide informed us that this neighbourhood held the highest concentration of traditional food shops and eateries in the city. Our first stop was an eatery that served the best kofte (a meatball dish), bread (dipped in some amazing batter, really soft) and sauces.
Sweet and salty and sour: All favours collide in this Istanbul food tour
This was followed by a visit to a colourful candy store.
My inner child was in sweet heaven – I was delighted to taste candied tomatoes, figs, walnuts, and olives here.
Coming from India, I was familiar with pickles and was happy tasting a wide variety at our next stop, a pickle store. I also tried some pickle juice! Tangy! Our guide then shepherded the group to a small eatery that had a wide variety of mezze (small dishes or appetizers).
And by the time I had some baklava (rich, sweet dessert pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened), I was quite full and ready to call it a day. But I was informed by the guide that this is merely the midpoint of our Istanbul walking tour and there is more to come. Really?! The locals in Istanbul sure enjoy their food!
Many of us needed a break from food so we strolled around a bit in the atmospheric market. The stroller was quite useful with the baby. And with this short break, we were back to tasting and eating. Our next stop was a small eatery where I had the pleasure of eating the lightest, thinnest airiest Turkish pizza you can imagine. I prefer vegetarian food but the meat topping on this pizza was really good.
More food on the cards
I tried tantumi (this is a spicy fried meat dish) and ayran (a cold savory yogurt-based beverage that is exactly like the Indian lassi). In fact, there are so many similarities between Turkish and Indian dishes.
The quirkiest dish was yet to come. The guide took us to a small store selling kokorec. When he explained that the dish is made of intestines filled with sweetbread, I let it pass. No way was I putting that in my mouth. But an adventurous British couple in the group tried it and found it very tasty.
We then went to another local restaurant and tried lentil soup and yet, more food. Groan! By now, I was holding up my stomach. We then went to a small cafe for some Turkish coffee. All of us needed to rest our feet, so we ended up spending a lot of time at this cafe, sipping our coffee, chatting and enjoying the afternoon.
Just when I thought I couldn’t have even a morsel, we landed at another sweets shop. Here the sweets were unlike the sugary baklava. These were different and tasted heavenly – the pastry was super-flaky, filled with pistachios and clotted cream.
And finally the last stop of the grand Istanbul food tour, where we all enjoyed local ice cream. Super day 🙂
Don’t ask me how I walked back to the pier and took the catamaran back to Besiktas.
Also, read – What to do in Cappadocia: An other-worldly destination
I highly recommend this Istanbul food tour. The amazing food in local eateries that you would never go to by yourself and all the street food that you get to try is the main reason of course. Besides the food, walking in non-touristy areas and listening to all the anecdotes and stories of our guide gave us a personal feel for the city and its people. It is an expensive food tour but absolutely worth the money.
Some observations –
- Most, but not all, places can serve suitable dishes for vegetarians
- Children are welcome. We took our 2-year old baby with us.
Culinary Backstreets does many different food tours, including one where you can enjoy shopping for ingredients and cooking with the locals. Check this site for information and booking of their culinary tours.
If you are interested in local food tours, you might enjoy these posts –
‘Hungry Birds’ is what we felt like before taking this food tour in Amsterdam
Ljubljana: Foodwalk in the cutest European city I have visited
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Do you like taking food tours? Which has been your favourite food tour?
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such a wonderful article you shared, I went there and enjoyed a lot with street food. Specially candy store is playing good role because my younger son always having candy from store. And the store person was very happy with his. Nice peoples and all tour was awesome with guide joshn darken.
My daughter was too young when we went. But I can imagine her raiding the candy stores and trying everything if we go now!
Turkish food is the biggest reason I want to visit Turkey, even more than the souks and the Blue Mosque! And I would probably try to lay my hands on as many different dishes as possible while I’m there 🙂 When did you go?
This trip was a while back, in 2012. This food walk was great. But the Istanbul sights are something else, my favourite is Hagia Sofia.
Oh my goodness, this is mouthwatering! I was just talking to a friend from grad school who’s Turkish, who had just recently visited Turkey with his girlfriend. The next day I ended up having some Turkish delight candy from a local sweet shop. I’m sure it wasn’t as good as authentic Turkish delight, but it was plenty good enough to make me want more. I would LOVE to taste many of the things you described too – especially menemen and ayran. I love baklava and Turkish coffee as well!
That menemen we had cooked lovingly by this wife-husband duo in a little eatery would beat anything in a fancy restaurant!
Food tours are definitely my thing! The Turkish pizza looks pretty yummy and I do enjoy Turkish tea. I am not fond of Turkish coffee though. To me, it’s like drinking mud mixed with coffee grounds and is just too much. I also find the baklava a little too sweet for me.
I too find baklava very sweet but was delighted to try other sweets and candies that were unusual and not-too-sweet. Love Turkish coffee, but I do get your point on being muddy and too strong 🙂
Definitely baklava!!! And isn’t Turkish borek part of the tour?
I was happy to try sweets beyond baklava. We did have savoury pastries, not sure specifically about borek.
I visited Istanbul before the days of web content and blogs and I would love to go back now I have learned so much more about finding the best food and drink spots! I LOVE the look of your Culinary Backstreets tour, it looks right up my alley! A great mix of savoury and sweet treats, and I can spy my favourite lahmacun, I adore Turkish pizza! I really like sweetbreads so want to seek out that kokorec too.
Kavita, it looks like you know your Turkish food. You will definitely love this food walk, not just the food but also going through the markets on the Asian side (which frankly, we would have never ventured into by ourselves).
My mouth is watering. Istanbul is one of my favourite cities and a food tour sounds like a great way to explore. Last time I was there, I went to the Spice Market intending to stay for a couple of hours but spent the entire day tasting food and talking to the locals. I’m dying for some Turkish coffee!
Make a note of Culinary Backstreets, Christina, for your next trip to Istanbul. I could do with some nutty baklava and coffee right now!!
We are learning to appreciate food tours because they teach a lot about a culture. One in Instanbul would be so cool! Only I don’t know if I could start with menemen early in the morning, being Italian 😀
It was 930 am and I was hungry and raring to try everything in front of me! In Italy, I had just coffee and croissant to begin my day 🙂
Coming from the Balkans, or more precisely from Croatia, I am familiar with majority of Turkish dishes. But I have never heard of the Turkish candied tomatoes. I need to try them !
That candy store was such a revelation to me – it was almost like they took it upon themselves to make a candy out of anything edible!! Btw, spent a fab 2 weeks in Croatia last summer, LOVED your country.
I love exploring a city through a food tour. You learn so much about the culture and get to see the city from a different perspective. I’m a sucker for anything sweet, so I’d love to try all the baklava, Turkish delight, ice cream and of course the Turkish coffee 😀
I couldn’t agree more. A walking tour gives such an authentic and intimate perspective of a city.
This is exactly what I needed to make my trip to Istanbul perfect. I love food, and I don’t know why I didn’t think about taking a food tour there. I’m actually in the middle of writing a novel including my experience in Istanbul, and I’m realizing how much I want to go back. This was the clincher. Thanks for this, and I’ll be keeping it in mind when I do return.
Writing a novel about Istanbul experience must be so amazing. That city is spectacular, so rich in history, culture, food and architecture. Best of luck!