#werbung / Disclaimer: This post was done in paid partnership with Musement
I have mentioned many times that I travel to eat and by now it is almost getting embarrassing because it outs me as the complete glutton that I am on the internet. Mind you, I simply write my eating habits off under ‘research’. After all, I do truly believe that the soul of a place often reveals itself on a plate or in a completely un-instagrammable but delicious snack worth spilling all over you thus making you un-instagrammable too.
Either way, I don’t care all that much about Instagram I care about yummy food and when Musement asked me to try out one of their food tours in Istanbul I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
Istanbul food and I have a complicated history. My first trip to Turkey was over 15 years ago when I still lived in New York with my friends, two of them being from Turkey. One summer we decided to all go to Europe and visit my one friend’s parents in Istanbul. I don’t remember much of this trip, after all, it was a long time ago and I wasn’t blogging yet. We had a typical holiday of sightseeing and whatever a group of girlfriends does when on holidays.
What I do remember is the food and unfortunately not in a good way.
I was already a curious eater at the time and when my Marco Polo travel guide mentioned Tavuk Göğüsü better known as chicken breast pudding I was sold. It became famous back in the day as a dessert served to the Ottoman sultans at the Topkapi Palace and is one of Turkeys signature dishes. To me it sounded wonderfully exotic and weird, surely some of the best food in Istanbul I would eat and something to add to my list of daring local specialties unlike the usual array of dolmades, cheeses, and simit we had day in and day out.
My friend’s mother was kind enough to buy some for me as it wasn’t on her list of homemade staples. In hindsight, I completely get why it wasn’t. I don’t know what I excepted but I got exactly what the name implied: finely shredded chicken breast immersed in a sweet milky rice pudding. If you think this sounds gross – well, I hate to agree. Some things shouldn’t be mixed; chicken and pudding are definitely not a match made in heaven at least for my palate.
Even writing this I am starting to feel a bit nauseous – because not only was the pudding not to my liking but the next day I became horribly sick. Chances are that it was the sour cherry sorbet, part of our daily Turkish street food routine, but to me, the next few days spent with horrible stomach cramps were always tied to the sickly sweet taste of the Tavuk Göğüsü.
Food Tour in Istanbul
So I came back to find the best Turkish food in Istanbul. Not only did I think Turkey should have a chance to redeem its cuisine in my eyes but I also wanted to store up on culinary delights before heading to Kyrgyzstan, a country that for all intents and purposes isn’t known for its fine food.
An Istanbul food tour was in order because after all, Istanbul the two continent city should be the pioneer for east meets west and I wanted an expert by my side to show me all of it.
I met my guide Burak in Karaköy where I was staying. As this wasn’t my first rodeo food tour I came prepared and with an empty stomach. So our first stop was simit and coffee on the ferry to Kadiköy, the Asian side of Istanbul. My first lesson of the day: simits are never considered breakfast. Simits are either a pre-breakfast or a snack which is welcome at any time. While these bread donuts for a lack of better word with lots of sesame are nice enough they are a bit overrated in my opinion. Then again, I rarely get excited about breads or pastries unless it comes with a French accent.
Orient Express: A quick date with Istanbul.
Breakfast, however, is a whole different ballgame in Turkey especially for someone like me who comes from a country that you could rightfully consider culinary and especially breakfast wasteland. I think it is in my genes that I usually don’t care for breakfast. That is unless you sit me down on the side of a busy market street and feed me eggs with sausage, six different kinds of cheeses and olives. Olives I learned are only for breakfast in Turkey, never for another time of day.
While I was busy stuffing my face and ranking the cheeses in a very biased order of tastiness and Burak was showing me how to eat Turkish honey with yoghurt (no big secret there: you take a piece of bread, spread some yogurt and honey on top), we were also watching the fruitseller across the street. It was an older man who took his time arranging the wares for the day: pears and apples, walnuts, figs and a few fruits I had never seen before. He obviously liked his job and took pride in the appearance of his little stall; fruits were not only neatly displayed but he used some greenery to put in between the boxes for decoration. There was something quite meditative about his moves and watching him. I also started to drool a little because raspberries, walnuts, and figs – oh my!
Burak and I started a fig tasting comparison and I ate an entire punnet of raspberries before we moved on with a snack of rice & mussels to go. A quick look into the fish shops and we were back on our way to the European side of Istanbul and to explore the Egyptian bazaar better known as spice bazaar Istanbul.
First Burak treated me to an ice cream with the mysterious words: give me your phone. And here is why…
(They do that with everyone though if you really just want an ice cream you can order it without the whole show)
The spice bazaar in Istanbul is unlike any bazaar I have ever been to maybe because it is so orderly. Hassling and touting is not allowed here and so the most you will get is a very polite invitation to view some products which will never be followed up if you slow the slightest shake of the head.
Even better if you are with a guide who will just take you straight to the good stuff: basically Aladdin’s cave where instead of gold you will find Iranian saffron, Turkish delight made with all natural ingredients (try the rose flavor even if you usually think rose is overly perfumey – it is totally different here), various spices and rubs, nibbles and of course, some really good Turkish coffee.
And unlike the name implies you can find a lot more at the bazaar than spices, in fact, it is the most famous bazaar in the city after the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul.
From here I joined Burak for his own lunch at a little sidewalk restaurant. Food prices in Istanbul are generally low especially if you travel with dollars or euros and they are even lower in street food places like this but man, the food was amazing! Try the İçli köfte, a sort of semolina dumpling stuffed with braised meat, and the dolmades – just don’t be scared of Turkish street food! It is almost always the most unassuming little places that serve the best Turkish food in Istanbul and even better if you have a guide who will share his local hangouts.
My food tour in Istanbul concluded at renowned Hafiz Mustafa 1864, apparently selling the best baklava in town. Whether it is the best I cannot say but it was pretty good and most importantly for me – not overly sweet. Especially if you are looking for a fancy cafe option it seems the place to be. Whatever you eat don’t forget to wash it down with copious amounts of tea because just like the English and the Indians, Turkish people take their tea very seriously.
If you are not into baklawa don’t worry as Hafiz Mustafa offers an extensive menu of pastries and sweets. Just skip page 18 of the menu with some Turkish classics or you may regret it for the next 15 years. At least that’s what a little birdie told me…
Food tour in Istanbul with Musement
Musement offers a variety of Istanbul tours you can check out here. From airport transfers to walking tours for the best sights to food tours in Istanbul there is plenty to choose from all in one convenient booking site. Looking for inspiration what to do around the world? You can also choose from various themes like ‘food & wine’ as well as locations like the time I went wine tasting in South Africa: