Why would someone take an Istanbul food tour? To find out, I signed up for a food tour organized by Yummy Istanbul. They have a few tours on offer, but I opted for the Taste of Two Continents, which happened to be their most popular tour. It would last about 6 hours, visiting 10 uniquely different eateries / restaurants with multiple tastings at some stops.
Booking Your Yummy Istanbul Food Tour
Booking the food tour through their website was very easy. You pick the number of foodies in your party (children below 13 pay less), choose the date and starting time, provide your personal info and credit card details, and that’s it. Seconds later, you receive a confirmation email, containing detailed directions on how to reach the meeting point (see below).
For me this was 10 am at an easy to reach hotel in Eminönü. I soon learned that we were nine foodies in total, 10 including the perfectly English-speaking tour-guide Mehmet. It also was a very international group, consisting of couples from Sweden, Finland, South-Africa and the US with ages ranging from late twenties till sixty.
1. Soup for Breakfast
While walking to our first stop, Mehmet explained that we are allowed to eat as much as we want, and water is included. Sodas or other beverages are not because they make you feel bloated, but can be served at an additional fee.
The actual tour started at an eatery called Lezzet-i Şark, known for soups and kebabs. Having lived in Istanbul for many years, soup for breakfast was no longer a novelty to me, but I was amused to see the surprise in the eyes of the group members. However, the real eye-opener came when Mehmet explained the three soup options:
- Lentil soup, the red version
- Beyran, consisting of rendered lamb fat topped with rice and pieces of shredded lamb meat
- Kelle paça, a cow head and trotter soup, with shredded cow cheeks
Over half of the group rightfully opted for the beyran or kelle paça soups instead of going for the better known lentil soup. Excellent choices, and it was obvious right from the start that we would be in for a treat during this Yummy Istanbul food tour.
2. Turkish Breakfast
Next up was a real Turkish breakfast. The guide took us to a shop next to the spice market, where he explained the different kind of Turkish cheeses, and how they are made. He also let us taste different types of olives, introduced pastırma (spice covered dried meat) and sucuk (a spicy sausage). Fully informed, we carried on to a nearby tea / coffee house where we savored it all together with different types of Turkish bread (pide, simit) and menemen (Turkish style omelet). And the winner by unanimous decision was: kaymak (buffalo cream) with honey.
Before heading to the Asian (Anatolian) side of Istanbul for the remainder of the food tour, we made a quick stop at a shop in the spice bazaar. The shop owner gave a comprehensive explanation on how Turkish delight (lokum) is made, and what to look (out) for in today’s versions.
On the ferry to Kadiköy (included in the price), Mehmet transformed into a tour guide, explaining the main water bodies (Bosphorus, Golden Horn, Sea of Marmara) and what sightseeing spots you can find in the different parts of Istanbul.
3. Iskender Kebap
After a 20 minute welcome food break, we immediately headed for a restaurant that has been serving Iskender kebap for over four generations. According to Mehmet, the best place in Istanbul to eat Iskender for the simple fact that they use at least 65% lamb meat, whereas others barely use 15%. It was so tasty that I really had a hard time not asking for a second serving.
4. Mezes at Çiya
Next up was Çiya, for me the highlight of the food tour. Chef Musa served about 15 samples of what he calls forgotten dishes. Dishes he ‘discovered’ by traveling the six big regions in Turkey, and beyond. His tastes go back all the way to Mesopotamia. Served like mezes, these delicacies were a real treat for our taste buds.
5. Turşu or Pickled Vegetables
Time to boost the digestive system, so we walked to a turşu shop, where we munched on a selection of pickled vegetables. We also drank the fluid in which they were pickled, giving your immune system a boost.
At the sixth stop we got to try out tantuni, our first actual street food dish. It’s a wrap containing slices of beef with onion and herbs. But this eatery was best-known for its home made ayran, a drink consisting of dilated yoghurt with some added salt.
Over four hours into our interesting food tour, it was time to eat kokoreç. Lamb intestines are thoroughly cleaned, put on skewers, grilled horizontally over charcoal, spiced and served in bread. Normally this dish can be a bit chewy, but not so in this eatery.
8. Pide and Mantı
After a short walk we again get to sample multiple dishes: two types of pide (meat and cheese) and home-made mantı. Pide is a popular oval-shaped flatbread with a filling of choice in the middle. Mantı is a dish I definitely recommend giving a try. It’s also called Turkish ravioli because it’s served with a few spoons of yoghurt, a crushed hot pepper sauce topping and some dried mint.
For the penultimate stop we visited Midyeci Yasin. Midye means mussel in Turkish, and Yasin worked his way up from a street corner vendor to owner and manager of no less than 15 branches all over Turkey. His secret: he cultivates his own mussels and prepares them in various ways: from just boiled/steamed, with a selection of sauces, to fried in oil.
10. Turkish Coffee, Lokum and Ice Cream
Of course we finished this brilliant food tour with Turkish coffee and ice cream. However, not your regular ice cream, but the kind made from goat milk which you can literally eat with knife and fork at Mado.
It was also a great time to reflect on the whole food tour, where everybody had to name his or her favorite venue or moment. As it turns out, there is no winner by unanimous decision.
The Yummy Istanbul food tour is packed with culinary highlights, well worth its money.
As it turns out, the benefits are twofold:
- it’s obviously the best way to discover and taste the extensive Turkish cuisine, hence know what to order during the rest of your stay
- you get a crash course in finding your way around the city, on both the European and Asian shore
I recommend you to take this tour the very first day of your visit, and make sure to make your Yummy Istanbul food tour reservations well ahead of time.
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