When we booked our eight-day Greek & Turkish Revelations small ship cruise, we knew we wanted more than the cruise’s schedule of one day in Istanbul. We decided to add a few days on the front end to spend time in this incredible city. We will see many of the popular “must-see” sights when we return next week, so we decided to spend our final full day here exploring the many flavors of this city.
Before I jump into our food tour, here are a couple of photos of our beautiful hotel and palace. There were so many weddings on the property yesterday that we couldn’t take any photos. (The Çiragan Palace Kempinski is the number one wedding venue in Istanbul.)
Now, onto our day. James Beard said it best, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” There is hardly a better way to truly experience a city than through food. You are taken to off-the-beaten-path places where locals eat and often see parts of the city you wouldn’t otherwise experience. We always try to schedule a food tour when exploring a new country.
Today’s tour was a feast of the senses! We began in the Fatih district on the European side of the city. Our guide, Bahar, took us to the old spice market, also known as the Egyptian market, built in the 1600s. We walked the stalls and then sampled several local cheeses and olives.
Next, we enjoyed a traditional Turkish breakfast consisting of simit bread, bal and kaymak (clotted cream and honey), menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and green peppers – yummy!), findik ezmesi (a delicious hazelnut cream paste that gives Nutella a run for its money!), acuka – a fantastic red pepper, green olive, mint, and garlic paste, and Turkish beef sausage and pastrami. My favorite was a piece of simit slathered with clotted cream, honey, and that hazelnut cream paste! Mark’s favorite was the red pepper paste – also delicious on top of just about anything.
After breakfast, we took the ferry across to the Asian side of the city, where we spent the remainder of our tour. We stopped to taste a late-night favorite of the local bar crowd – midye dolma (stuffed mussels with rice and spices). You can find these stands along many of the bar-lined streets. After that, we sampled a spicy lamb soup, known by locals as the “great hangover cure.” Delicious!
Before stopping for lunch, we visited a local bakery and tried two favorites. Boyoz is a flaky, buttery pastry filled with chocolate and hazelnut cream. It was introduced to Istanbul in the late 15th century by Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Spain.
For lunch, we were treated to a family-style "tasting" meal at Çiya Sofrasi, whose chef, Musa Dagdeviren, was featured in an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix. Our tasting consisted of mucver, a zucchini-based fritter, dolmas, incredible okra, chickpea, tomato, and lamb stew (my personal fave), and hummus, eggplant yogurt, beets, and salad.
When Bahar cautioned us to pace ourselves early, she wasn’t kidding! By mid-afternoon, we were on to our 2nd lunch! The famous Kebab House Iskender, located in the Bursa district, was founded in 1867 and is still run today by generations of the same family. Their version of döner kabab is not served in a pita; instead, it’s served sliced and piled on top of small bites of pita bread, with yogurt and a fresh tomato on the side, and then covered with hot melted butter. Our plans to only try a small taste of this quickly went out the window after that first bite. Unbelievably good and a must if you visit Istanbul!
Our last stop was at Moda, an ice cream and pastry shop, where we sampled fresh baklava and a dense ice cream made from goat’s milk.
After parting ways with our guide, we took the ferry back to the European side and boarded a small yacht for a sunset cruise of the Bosphorus. We had incredible weather and a lovely two-hour cruise to top off our day in this magical city.
Tomorrow, we head to Venice for a few days before the start of our cruise. Ici geceler (good night)!