Culinary Backstreets Istanbul Food Tour
Istanbul is many things: mosques, Islamic art, sprawling bazaars, East and West in the same city- you name it. For me, Istanbul was definitely about food. This was largely due to the food tour I went on with Culinary Backstreets, which showed me a different side to the city and Turkish people appreciation of good food and a good banter. I have gone on a few tours in different corners of the world, but so far Culinary Backstreets have exceeded my expectations in terms of the length of the tour, variety of food that I was able to try and the cultural insights into the life of Istanbul.
My tour was called Born on the Bosphorus and this walk will show you a very different city, compared to often touristy Sultanahmet and Istiklal. As part of the tour, you will visit three distinct areas: Besiktas, Uskudar and Kuzgunchuk- I would describe them as contemporary, traditional and hipster- all within a space of a day. Believe me, the tour will equip you with so much knowledge, that you would feel confident to venture in these areas by yourself later, after the tour, which is what I did on my remaining days in Istanbul.
I would not be able to describe every single place we visited on the tour, as it was just so full on, but I will share my personal highlights: both in food bites and the places we visited.
If you want to go on the same tour, it is likely that the places you visit will be slightly different, as the tours are run by a number of guides and they have their own gems and places they take their groups to. Two tours are never the same when it comes to Culinary Backstreets.
Last but not least is our guide Benoit, who was a fascinating character. Fluent in several languages, having lived in Istanbul for more than 20 years and still learning about it on a daily basis. He was tirelessly taking us from place to place, offering food and stories from his own travels and Istanbul encounters.
So let’s start on my personal favourites from this tour.
We went to a simple cafe, where we were served sausage, menemen (scrambled eggs), bread, cheese and kaymak with honey, followed by an obligatory tea in a tulip shaped glasses. There is a whole street in Besiktas, called Ihlamurdere Avenue, Çelebi Oglu Street, full of cafes where they only serve breakfast, so I think no matter which one you go to, you are likely to get a great spread. The area is full of locals, so don’t be afraid that you will be given touristy fair.
The best items for me were kaymak with honey and eggs. I tried to recreate kaymak at home with honey and clotted Cornish cream, which worked pretty close to the original.
Traditional bakery in Besiktas “7-8 Hasanpasha Firini”
I loved the interior which have not been touched probably since it was first build and the ability to see bread and pastries being done exactly the same way as they were done 20 or 30 years ago. These places are being taken over more and more by hipster look a likes shopfronts, so it was even more precious to see it still going strong and rumming up business from locals.
Baklava and Borek
This is the best baklava shop in Istanbul, in my humble opinion.
I sampled a lot of baklava while in Istanbul, as you can get the real stuff there. But believe me, baklava from this shop is something else. It melts in your mouth and it is so light, I honestly had hard time believing that the dough is absolutely drenched in honey syrup and nuts. I came back here on my last day and bought a box to take home, it was irresistible.
They do borek pastry stuffed with cheese, which was also very nice, but the baklava was heavenly.
The church is located in Uskudar and its Dada (head priest) was very welcoming. He took us on a little tour and found the time to talk about their religion and way of life. I never heard of Alawaite before this tour, so it was definitely a learning experience for me. Interesting fact: the church has an in-house butcher, who will prepare donations from church patrons, and donations are usually in the form of the whole sheep.
Uskudar area and Freshest Fish
This area is traditional and different to the majority of Istanbul you will see as a tourist. My highlight was local market, full of fresh fish, dried fruits and nuts, pickles, household items and other useful goodies. We stopped at a fishmonger, which had a restaurant attached to it at the back. You can select which fish you want and it will be simply grilled for you. The preparation is very simple and Beinot selected the fish which was good to eat in winter months. He also shared that summer was not really a season for fish in Istanbul.
Fish is normally served without a side dish, just with salad and some sliced onions.
I shared my highlights with you, but there were also: traditional sweets, pickles, kebab, mussels stuffed with rice, honey, aubergine, halva, grilled intestines, mantu – there is no way you will be getting hungry on this tour.
When I am going to travel to another country where Culinary Backstreets run their tours, I will definitely be booking a food tour again, as sheer variety of all the fabulous food on this tour will stay with you.
Thank you Benoit and Culinary Backstreets – I will be back!
I paid a media rate for Culinary Backstreets Food Tour in Istanbul, but all opinions are my own.